A Swedish immigrant named Justus P. Seeburg founded the J.P. Seeburg Piano Company in 1902. The company began as a manufacturer of coin-operated electric pianos. These pianos were equipped with a music roll that indicated the notes to be played. The rolls could be changed depending on what music was popular at the time. In 1910 instruments were added to the automatic pianos, like violins, a mandolin, flute, snare drum, triangle and other percussion instruments to add to the quality of the sound it produced. This new design was called the “Orchestrion”.
Amplification was introduced in the 1920’s and allowed for a great improvement in the quality of 78-rpm record sound. Unfortunately, this also made player pianos less desirable, and as a result, less profitable. In 1927, the coin-operated non-selective phonograph was introduced and Seeburg stopped making player pianos and organs altogether.
In 1928 the “Audiophone” was introduced, which was a coin-operated 8-selection phonograph that played 78-rpm shellac records. It had 8 individual turntables that were mounted on a “Ferris-wheel” mechanism that was turned by a pneumatic pump. The large wheel with turntables would spin, allowing the customer to choose their songs. The cabinet for this phonograph was rather wide, to allow for the “Ferris-Wheel” within.
Seeburg was prospering in early 1929 and their engineering department developed a smaller and less expensive version of the Audiophone called the Audiophone Junior. Unfortunately, the stock market crashed later that year and the U.S. entered in to the Depression. Seeburg sales were nearly nonexistent so few Audiophone Juniors were sold, making it a rare model today.
During the Depression, the J.P. Seeburg Company had to diversify into other areas of manufacturing. They created coin meters for washing machines and refrigerators. They manufactured arcade games like the 1936 Seeburg Ray-O-Lite that utilized a revolutionary new light ray technology, developed by Seeburg. This game was encased in a beautiful wooden cabinet, as were the early Seeburg jukeboxes.
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Seeburg saw an increase in jukebox sales. They went back into production and introduced the “Selectophone” 10-selection phonograph. This new design had 10 separate turntables placed vertically on a spindle, each spaced so the tone arm could go up and down and between each turntable to play all of the records. This phonograph played 2 selections for a dime or one for a nickel. It was designed with an art deco-styled walnut cabinet that only needed 3 square feet of floor space.
In 1937 Seeburg introduced the “Symphonola” and the Melody King line of jukeboxes. This group consisted of the first machines with illuminated selection panels. In 1940 Seeburg added automatic record changers and phonographs to their line and became the largest supplier for companies like Stromberg-Carlson and RCA-Victor. Seeburg also manufactured their first bottle vending machine in 1940.
During WWII, Seeburg was dedicated solely to the development and production of electronics used by the US military. This earned Seeburg three Army-Navy “E” Awards (excellence awards). After the war, in 1948, Seeburg introduced “The Industrial and Commercial Music System”. It produced background music in offices, stores and factories with a 110-record automatic phonograph. The technology that made this possible was known as the Select-O-Matic mechanism. This was an impressive device that stored the records in a vertical position and was able to play both sides of both 78- and 45-rpm records. This technology was adapted and used in coin-operated phonographs as well, the first being the famous M100A. This very quickly made Seeburg the most successful manufacturer of jukeboxes. With improvements to record-making technology, the 45-rpm microgroove disc was introduced and Seeburg made the M100B that played 45-rpm records exclusively.
The years that followed brought many improvements to music systems that were copied by other manufacturers. In 1953 Seeburg was the first to introduce high-fidelity reproduction with a wide-range, low-distortion, multi-speaker instrument called the HF100G. In 1955 they came out with the first 200-selection phonograph.
In 1956 the Seeburg family sold their company to Fort Pitt Industries and the Seeburg Company became a subsidiary of Fort Pitt. In 1958 a Seeburg phonograph was introduced with a 160-record selection. This proved to be the ideal capacity for a phonograph. It was also in ’58 that Seeburg returned to the manufacture of vending machines. They produced an electric cigarette vendor and in 1959 followed that with hot and cold drink vendors.
In 1961 Seeburg addressed the introduction of the 33½-rpm record by introducing two phonographs that could play both 45 and 33½-rpm records. They were the AY-100 and AY-160. The Select-O-Matic DS100 and DS160 followed these in 1962. Seeburg was active in promoting the 33 1/2 –rpm record as the next big-profit item for manufacturers.
Throughout the 1960’s, Seeburg, or one of its affiliates acquired various companies including those that made electronic organs, musical instruments and vending machines. They expanded their operations abroad. They also continued to make electronics at their industrial division for the US government. In 1968 Seeburg was sold to Commonwealth United and then in 1972 to Seeburg Industries. Again the company was sold in 1984 to a group of industry inventors that formed the Seeburg Corporation. In 1986 they introduced the first CD jukebox, called the Seeburg SCD1. The production of CD boxes led to the end of the Seeburg jukebox’s popularity, and by the late 1990’s the company was finally closed.