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.

35-millimeter Photography

35mm film remained the standard for photography for decades until digital photography. The film is important because it enabled the miniaturization of cameras.


The Houston brothers invented roll film and sold the rights to George Eastman. Eventually, Thomas Edison purchased 70mm roll film from Eastman to make movies. Subsequently, Edison employee William Dickson sliced it in half, creating 35mm roll film.

Cameras at the time typically used 70mm or larger film. Consequently, they were large, lumbering things, not easy to carry around.

In 1913, the “American Tourist Multiple” became the first 35mm still camera available for purchase. However, it cost $175, just under an average year’s wages. Needless to say, it never caught on.

In 1913, Oskar Barnack, a Leica employee, began to develop a mass-produced 35mm camera. WWI interfered with the development and commercialization effort. However, Leica introduced the wildly popular company Leica I in 1925. Markedly, The small size was a dramatic departure from prior cameras.

35mm Cassette Fim

In 1934, Kodak released preloaded 35mm cassettes that dropped into a camera. Prior to that innovation, photographers had to load film into their cameras in darkrooms.

In 1936, the inexpensive Argus A 35mm camera was introduced. Combined with Kodak’s easy loading film, 35mm photography exploded in popularity. Subsequently, that same year, the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera was introduced, allowing photographers to see the exact image the film would record.

By the 1960s, SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses dominated the market. In the 1980s, Kodak release single-use cameras pre-loaded with film. Users took pictures and brought the entire camera, not just the film for developing. Kodak had invented and patented the digital camera a half-decade before, in 1975, but ignored the invention.

Digital Dominates

In 1997, Kodak sold over a billion rolls of film. Twelve years later, on June 22, 2009, announced the cessation of Kodachrome film after 74 years of production. The company declared bankruptcy in January 2012. Digital photography now dominates imaging. However, in 2019, the company still produces a limited line of traditional films for professional photographers.


We, the editors of innowiki, have reviewed thousands of inventions. We’ve read through countless idea, rejecting the vast majority not because they lacked merit but because they didn’t rock the world.


Of the innovations we accept there are very few who have more than one invention. Granted, the raw number of innovations does not balance to their impact. Doriot, the inventor of venture capital, created just one but the impact is more nuclear blast than a nudge in moving the world forward.

Still, very few people make more than one thing that genuinely matters, and many of those are hyped-up in hindsight.

Which is a long-winded way of saying Thomas Alva Edison is the real deal. We’re not ready to say he’s the greatest inventor in history because we’re still parsing. But we sure wouldn’t pick a fight with anybody who made that assertion.

Edison’s Phonograph

The phonograph, that changed the world of music and communications, is one of Edison’s lesser contributions. That’s not to say it is unimportant: it certainly belongs on the list of great inventions. It revolutionized music.

But because Edison invented it, and he invented so many other things (ex: the electricity plant and power grid), it tends to lay in the background. He moves the curve, so to speak.

Getting to the point, Edison’s phonograph records and plays back music. Which is a vast understatement. It’s like saying the power plant Edison later invented generates an electric current, which it does without explaining the value it creates.

The ability to record and playback music was, like many Edison inventions, a once-in-a-lifetime breakthrough that changed the world. Except that, for Edison, it wasn’t a one-time thing; it was one of the early, and lest significant, of his countless inventions. We’re tagging the phonograph as automation technology because that’s how musicians treated it. Despite our feelings Edison said “… of all my inventions I like the phonograph the best.” We assume that’s because it allowed him to listen to music while inventing all the rest of the stuff.

Electric Cars

Electric cars were a strong contender as a powertrain in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In 1899, the Electric Vehicle Company (EVC) was the largest vehicle manufacturer in the US. Early electric cars were quiet and drove smoothly. Most nineteenth-century taxis were electric cars.

On Year Year’s Eve, 1899, the US had more electric than internal combustion engine powered cars.

Oldsmobile overtook EVC in 1901. Ford eventually dominated the market with the low-cost Model T. The creation of the electric starter made internal combustion cars cheaper and easy to operate.

Electric cars made a comeback with GM’s EV1. No sooner did they gain in popularity than GM canceled the program and destroyed the cars. Eventually, internal combustion/electric hybrid’s gained market shared, typified by the Toyota Prius. Today, Tesla and most major auto manufacturers either produce or are developing electric cars.

Electric cars are simpler, with fewer moving parts, so tend to last longer, break less, and cost less to operate. Like immunotherapy, it took over a century for electric cars to mature but (also like immunotherapy) they’re likely to become dominant in the future.

Alternators / Long-Distance Transmission of Electricity

Alternators and Alternating Current enabled the long-distance transmission of electricity. Edison’s electrical plant ran on DC which does not transmit far. Under Edison’s system, there were electric plants every few blocks in cities (the inner Chicago loop had 25 electric plants at one point). Tesla’s AC system transmitted electricity much further; it’s the same we use today at both power plants, transmission, and in homes and businesses.


There are two basic types of electricity, Direct Current (DC) and Alternating Current (AC).

DC current flows in one direction making it easier to work with and arguably less likely to electrocute people, two important factors for early electrical pioneers. Edison built his electrical plant and equipment using DC.

However, DC cannot be transmitted far without the electricity fading away. In the earliest days of electricity, where electrical plants were for businesses and wealthy people located in city centers, this hardly mattered. At one point, there were 25 electrical plants in the Chicago loop. Manhattan had electricity plants.

The European team ZBD had developed and patented an efficient an inexpensive method for AC generation and transmission. George Westinghouse, who had become wealthy innovating a better brake for trains but was hoping to move into the field of electricity, licensed the patent and went into business, competing against Edison’s DC plants (and patents). Another AC company was the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, that also relied on AC.

Tesla & Westinghouse

Westinghouse continued building AC plants and infrastructure and soon came across a young immigrant who had worked briefly for Edison then left to work on his own electrical innovations, Nicola Tesla. Tesla believed that AC electricity was far more practical than DC. He worked on innovating AC generators, transmitters, switches, appliances: everything required to build an AC electrical grid. He also built an AC motor, which electrical engineers at the time though impossible.

This brought about two competing electrical standards, AC and DC. Edison and Tesla each tried to sell their standard leading to the infamous “War of the Currents.” At one point, things ran so out of control that Edison, a capital punishment opponent, suggested New York State contact Westinghouse to build an AC electric chair, demonstrating the inherent danger of AC. Edison proposed using the term “Westinghoused” rather than electrocuted.

Centralized Electrical Plants

Over time, the benefits of a central large electrical plant became obvious (see: Insull). Generating electricity at one large central facility, then distributing it widely, is more efficient. Since this model did not work for DC, which could not be distributed more than a few kilometers, AC won out. Eventually, Thomson-Houston merged with Edison Electric company to form General Electric; the company focused on AC. Edison never showed up to work after the merger.

Today, AC electricity is what powers the houses and factories of the world though there are still limited largely low-voltage uses for DC electric. In any event, AC and DC are now largely interchangeable; while wall sockets are AC, computers, phones, tablets, and LED lamps run on DC power.

Movie Camera & Projector

In 1878, Muybridge famously created high-speed moving photos, calling his machine a Zoopraxiscope. His photos illustrated how people and animals move. Eventually, Walt Disney and other animators and artists later famously used the strips to create more realistic animations.

Eventually Edison’s Kinetoscope, publicly demonstrated in 1891, was a primitive device that showed moving pictures to one person at a time. Initially, Edison did not view his Kinetoscope as a substantive invention; it was a novelty for use in carnivals.

Subsequently, the Lumiere brothers of France, built off Edison’s work to create the first genuine movie camera and projector. They patented their movie equipment, which used perforated film Feb. 13, 1895.

The brothers showed the first movies on Dec. 28, 1885, at the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris, projecting ten films. Despite their success, the Lumiere’s refused to sell their movie equipment to others, making commercialization impossible. Later, they would create an early color film company, and had a family film company that was already doing well, so they prospered financially, just not from movies.

The Lumiere’s built upon Edison’s work because Edison failed to register European patents, believing his innovation to be impractical. Therefore, Many consider the Lumiere’s the true inventors of movies since multiple people could watch at the same time. Eventually, Edison did improve his movie camera and projector and built it into a successful business.


Mimeographs are essentially low-cost but low-quality and easy-to-use printing presses. They produced good-enough copies at a cost far lower than hand copying.

Copies are produced from user-created stencils. Mimeographs remained the dominant form of document duplication for almost a century until photocopy machines became inexpensive and ubiquitous.

For decades, mimeographs were the only way to cost-effectively self-publish magazines and short books.

“Within a few years the position of copyist, scribe, or scrivener disappeared,” said Frank Romano, president of the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Edison invented and patented core mimeograph technology. He sold it directly and also licensed it to the A.B. Dick Company of Chicago that trademarked the term “mimeograph.”

This is an odd case where a different company reaped the bulk of the profit from an Edison invention.

Induction Motors

“Intelligent people tend to have less friends than the average person.”

Nikola Tesla

There are two types of electricity, Direct Current (AC) and Alternating Current (AC).

Vastly simplifying, in DC electrical systems the current flows in one direction, like current in a stream. This makes designing certain appliances easier; the motor turns in the direction of the current much like a stream turns a water wheel. Spinning a motor or clicking a telegraph is relatively straightforward.

In AC the current flows both directions. The primary advantage over AC is current can travel much further than DC without a loss of power. However, turning a motor – harnessing the electricity do something useful – is more complicated. A water wheel if the current goes back and forth simultaneously is not all that useful.

Nikola Tesla worked briefly for Edison but quit. Westinghouse, the inventor of air brakes for trains, funded him. Among Tesla’s many inventions is a motor that uses AC electricity. Besides operating from long-distance electrical lines, the Tesla “induction” motors use magnetism and do not require brushes, which DC motors used to harness the electricity. This meant fewer moving parts and less friction, making them more powerful and longer lasting. Additionally, Tesla’s motors did not require inverters and started up immediately.

Almost all electric motors today are induction motors, including those that power electric cars.

Edison and others believed AC-based motors, like induction motors, were impossible.

Electricity Factory & Distribution Network

After inventing the long-lasting light bulb, Edison needed an electrical grid to deploy his innovation. Remember that, at this time, all electrically powered devices ran off batteries.


The Edison Electric Illuminating Company, founded after the light bulb company, funded both an electrical generation station, grid, and all supporting equipment.

Edison innovated better dynamos, circuits, switches, meters, fuses, and lots of cabling. The electrical factory and grid are vastly more complex than the light bulb. It required a herculean effort innovating technology and business methods.

The directors (Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan) of the Edison Electric Light Company a different predecessor, funded the station with $80,000. Additionally, Edison also contributed significantly from his own wealth.

Recognizing that a one-off electricity factory wouldn’t work, Edison eventually built factories to manufacture dynamos, bulbs, and the rest of the equipment.

He personally helped dig up the streets of Manhattan to run underground electrical wires, which could only be done between 8 PM and 4 AM. Finally, Monday, Sept. 4, 1882, the first electrical plant came online, Pearl Street Station. Among the first customers to have electric lighting were the offices of the New York Times.

The whole project was a relatively quick success. Factories were especially eager to switch from gas to electric since electric lamps were less likely to start fires. Edison created successor small companies that eventually coalesced to become General Electric.

Edison Burns Out

Though the primary innovator of this is marked as Edison it is arguably Tesla, who briefly worked for Edison, that devised much of what enables a modern electrical grid.

As the business evolved, Edison’s companies acquired and merged with countless other companies. However, Edison never liked the merger that became General Electric. He asked that his name be dropped from the company.

He sold his 10% share in GE and used the money to finance an iron-mining project that never panned out.

Thomas Edison did not make a substantial amount of money from General Electric. When he died his estate was worth $12 million. The industry he created, at that time, was worth about $15 billion.

Long Lasting Light Bulb

Edison’s bulb is well-known but what’s less understood is the enormous infrastructure required to power it. Edison created a power plant in New York City, power cables, transformers, power meters, insulators. When the lights finally came on, at the New York Times building, it represented the end of a herculean undertaking and the beginning of a new era.


At the simplest, Edison’s long-lasting bulb lowered the cost of doing things at night.

Countless people, dating back to 1802 (77 years prior to Edison’s bulb), invented various lightbulbs. Russian engineer Paul Jablochkoff lit up the Avenue de l’Opera in Paris using arc lights from an AC generator. American William Wallace used arc lights to illuminate his foundry. But arc lights were too bright for ordinary use (they’d been in use, in lighthouses, since the 1860’s) and they were dangerous, routinely throwing sparks.


Edison, by then already a well-known innovator ー the “Wizard of Menlo Park” ー invented the first bulb suitable for indoor use, safe, long-lasting. Edison’s low-cost bulb represented a revolution. It was neither too bright, nor too dark, and safe.

Edison realized a series of centralized dynamos, rather than batteries, could create long-lasting electrical current, an electricity factory. He also worked out that the key to electrical distribution, and a lamp, was low amperage but (relatively) high voltage, requiring less copper wire to power the system.

“No Matches Are Needed…”

Edison’s Pearl Street Station came online Sept. 4, 1882.

Yesterday for the first time The Times Building was illuminated by electricity. Mr. Edison had at last perfected his incandescent light, had put his machinery in order, and had started up his engines, and last evening his company lighted up about one-third of the lower City district in which The Times Building stands. The light came on in sections. First there came in a series of holes in the floors and walls. Then several miles of protected wires, then a transparent little egg-shaped glass globe, and, last of all, the fixtures and ground glass shades that made everything complete.

The lamp is simplicity itself… To turn on the light nothing is required but to turn the thumbscrew; no matches are needed, no patent appliances. As soon as it is dark enough to need artificial light, you turn the thumbscrew and the light is there, with no nauseous smell, no flicker and no glare.

The New York Times, Tuesday, September 5, 1882.

Using carbon thread, created from burnt cotton, in a vacuum tube the bulb that would light, and change the world, was born.

Decades passed before Edison’s low-cost light bulbs became ubiquitous due to a lack of widespread electrical grid.

Cornelius Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan financed Edison’s work.