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The History of the Wurlitzer Jukebox

You might not have heard of this company before, but if you ask your great-grandparents, they’ll reminisce on the ‘good old days’ of Wurlitzer Jukeboxes. Back in the late nineteenth century, Wurlitzer was beginning its journey in the entertainment sector unaware it was to become a jukebox giant. With nearly two centuries of experience, the Wurlitzer Company still produce some of the best jukeboxes available worldwide. Built by a family based in the production of musical instruments, they had the knowledge and dedication to create a business that not only changed the silent film era but also became a staple in the decades following the Second World War.

You may still find some of their classic model’s available buy (for a hefty price tag), but the Wurlitzer Company is always developing new designs that add style to any business, or home. But, you might be wondering where did the Wurlitzer jukeboxes journey begin? You also might not care, but I’ll tell you anyway because it’s more interesting than you think.

At the Beginning

So, our story begins in Germany, with the birth of the Rudolph Wurlitzer. He was born in Schilbach, Saxony in 1829 before he immigrated to America at the age of 24. Three years later he founded The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company in Cincinnati, Ohio, and it was here, he began his journey in the musical industry, importing musical instruments from his family in Germany to sell them on the American market. However, Wurlitzer wanted more. He wanted to go beyond importing someone else’s creation. So, he made his way into manufacturing in the United States. Soon, it was 1880, and the first Wurlitzer piano was made in America, followed closely by the first ever coin-operated electric piano in 1896. And so the Wurlitzer name began establishing itself in the entertainment industry, perhaps unaware of the jukebox phenomenon soon to be created under its name.

The Wurlitzer Company’s first significant impact in the entertainment sector was through the introduction of the cinema and theatre organs. The instruments, dubbed Mighty Wurlitzers, became an instant success, hitting the market during the silent movie era. This led to a dramatic change within the entertainment industry, with soundtracks created from Wurlitzer instruments. Imagine the films you watch today, before Wurlitzer, most films were silent, with ‘subtitles’ a must to express characters emotion and dialogue. Wurlitzer altered this forever, with soundtracks, movies had more passion, more meaning and more excitement to them.

After Rudolph has established the business as an entertainment icon, it was his successor, Farny Wurlitzer, who began the company’s delve into the jukebox world in 1933. Farny bought a patented jukebox mechanism and hired skilled professionals to help with the design and marketing. Now based in New York, Farny and his inventors created the very first Wurlitzer Jukebox. It didn’t take long for Wurlitzer’s Jukeboxes to become famous, and by the end of the 1930s, the company was producing 45,000 jukeboxes a year.

 

During and After WW2

Paul Fuller, an amazing designer at the time, joined the Wurlitzer team in the late 1930s, leading to a revamp in the styling of the jukeboxes. This continued throughout the 1940s, with the 700, 750 and 850 models introduced. These designs were an instant hit amongst consumers and businesses, with their use of plastics, glass and wood. While these materials may seem like everyday things to use, the stylistic application of them to create jukeboxes made products that were mesmerising to the eye, and still are today.

Wurlitzer was becoming an unstoppable force in the entertainment and jukebox industry. And, despite the outbreak of the war, they continued to develop and grow. The war resulted in all Wurlitzer factories being used to produce war-related material, so the use of metal and plastics were restricted, impacting the creation of the popular jukeboxes of the era. But, Wurlitzer persisted through this period, with the release of new models such as the 42-Victory and the 950. These models relied more on wood and glass, meaning their production wasn’t as constricted.

When the war ended, in 1946, the new Wurlitzer 1015 Jukebox was an instant sensation. The design of the animated bubble tubes, revolving colour columns and a revealed record changing mechanism left people astonished. It sold over 56,000 units during the first 18 months on the market, becoming one of the most successful jukeboxes of all time.

 

In More Recent Years

Unfortunately, jukeboxes started to lose popularity with the introduction of television. But, in more recent years there has been a renewed interest in featuring interactive entertainment systems like jukeboxes in businesses such as pubs and restaurants. In the domestic sphere, many Wurlitzer jukeboxes have become sought-after collector’s items, as a reminder of the ‘good old days’.

More recently, the Wurlitzer company revitalised, beginning in 1985, when they introduced new jukeboxes which utilised the latest technologies. This led to their first Compact Disc jukebox produced in 1989. Designs included the Princess, the Elvis Presley Limited Edition and the Johnny One Note CD Jukeboxes. They also reproduced their original 1015 model through the new design One More Time. It was updated with state-of-the-art technology, making it one of their most popular styles.

 

Wurlitzer Today

 

In July 2006, Gibson Guitar Corp acquired Wurlitzer from Nelson Group Overseas. This meant the Wurlitzer jukebox was brought under the established and distinguished Gibson banner.

The Wurlitzer Company still has a manufacturing plant and headquarters in Hullhorst, Germany where the original founding family were from. It employs over 260 people worldwide and has a branch distribution and sales offices in the U.S and U.K.

Every team member in the company works hard to provide expert knowledge of the products as well as support customers all over the world. Along with the production, assembly and engineering teams, they work together to create products worthy of the Wurlitzer name, keeping the same fabulous sound, innovative design and uncompromising quality that gave them their reputation.

All jukebox lovers, distributors and creators can easily say that if Rudolph and Farny were able to see the journey of the Wurlitzer Jukebox across the decades, they would be proud of its impact on entertainment.

With so many different designs, jukeboxes can add class or retro vibes to any occasion. They are the perfect way to make your wedding or birthday party really memorable. With their iconic look combined with the cutting-edge digital technology, it’s time to bring back the jukebox and party the night away to all your favourite songs, old and new. If you are interested in renting a jukebox, then contact us today for more information.

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