The Jukebox is an automated coin-operated music player which plays individual songs. The differentiating factor of the Jukebox from a simple coin-operated record player is the ability of an automated machine to replace live music in a restaurant or bar.


Louis Glass and William Arnold modified Edison’s record players to operate by coins. These contained multiple listening stations before the introduction of the loudspeaker. Eventually, these record players evolved but, until the 1930s, they were not for widespread use. You couldn’t dance to the early Edison phonographs.

Literature often confused and co-mingles the Jukeboxe and the Nickelodeon. However, they’re entirely separate.

However, player pianos existed since the late 1880s, including coin-operated models. By 1896, the Wurlitzer company was selling coin-operated player pianos. In 1924, de Forest’s electric tube amplifier enabled amplified music and the Jukeboxes that followed.

Golden Years of Jukeboxes

In the early 1930s, Americans lacked both money and fun. The Great Depression and prohibition of alcohol put a damper on the fun. Phonographs were not expensive but were not free, and neither were the recordings.

In response, various inventors created the modern Jukebox. It is a machine that plays 45rpm single-song recordings over a loudspeaker, one after another, for an affordable price.

Two groups found the jukebox controversial. First were Americans who believed that jukeboxes encouraged immorality and crime. Organized crime did control jukeboxes in New York City, reinforcing this negative impression.


However, organized crime also controlled the low-cost speakeasy’s the jukeboxes originally played in until the repeal of prohibition in 1933. Realistically, these people didn’t like the influence of the music, especially on young people. Jukeboxes often played jazz and, later, rhythm and blues and later rock and roll. This music was tied to African Americans and the “concerns” certain people are little more than thinly-veiled racism.

Another group with a more substantive concern were musicians. Before jukeboxes, musicians routinely played in bars and pubs throughout the US and Europe. Live music was the norm, not the exception. However, whereas a bar owner paid musicians the jukeboxes produced revenue. Even if mobsters ran the jukeboxes, they still cost the bar owner nothing, unlike live musicians.

Jukeboxes created a cultural convention that people could have the music they wanted when they wanted it for a reasonable price. While the machines eventually faded away, the demand for individualized music did not.

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