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The Wurlitzer Jukebox Company

July 22nd, 2009 · 16 Comments

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Restored Wurlitzer 1015 Jukebox

The Wurlitzer family had a reputation for purchasing and making very fine instruments dating back to the 17th century in Saxony (a German-speaking region that became part of Germany in 1945). In 1853, 22-year-old Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer emigrated to the U.S. to make his own way, rather than joining the family business as was traditionally done. Starting out in New Jersey and travelling to Philadelphia, he was unable to find employment until he found a job in Cincinnati as a door-to-door salesman. In 1854 he got a cashier job at a bank and was able to save enough money to contact his family back in Europe and request they send him some of their high-quality instruments. He sold a selection of woodwind instruments direct to local retailers that had previously gone through a succession of middlemen to import their instruments.

In 1856 Wurlitzer officially founded The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company in Cincinnati, Ohio as a musical instrument import business. He started out operating out of 3 small rooms on a part-time basis while still working at his job as a cashier at the bank. Wurlitzer’s import business grew quickly and moved to a new building in 1858. He opened a retail store with a showroom in 1860. He supplied drums and other musical instruments to the U.S. Army during the Civil War and by 1865 he was the largest supplier of band instruments in the country.

Wurlitzer made the transition from importing to manufacturing, and in 1880, Wurlitzer built and sold the first American-made Wurlitzer piano. The manufacturing took place in a factory located in North Tonawanda, New York. In 1889, Wurlitzer’s son, Howard joined the business. In 1896 they introduced the first coin-operated electric piano, called the “Tonophone”. In 1901 the Tonophone won the Gold Medal Award at the Pan American Exposition. The next major innovation produced by the Wurlitzer Company was the Mighty Wurlitzer. This was an organ that was used in cinemas and theaters during the silent movie era, supplying some background music.

The combination of “talkie” movies and the onset of the Depression of 1929 created very hard times for Wurlitzer. Their stock had fallen from a high of $119 a share in 1928 to $10 in 1933 and the company was in serious debt. The Wurlitzer Company convinced Homer Capehart to join their company to serve as their general manager and bring with him his rights to the Multi-Selector record-changing system that he had bought from the Simplex Manufacturing Company. This device allowed customers to insert a nickel and select a particular record to listen to on a phonograph, rather than only being able to listen to the records play in the order in which they were stacked. The Wurlitzer Company knew that Prohibition would soon be coming to an end and there would be a huge demand for coin-operated music. By 1937 Wurlitzer had sold over 100,000 phonographs and they dominated the phonograph market. The jukebox became known as the “small man’s concert hall” and today the Wurlitzer jukebox will always be associated with the Big Band Era due to its great success during that time period from the 1930s to the late 1940s. This is referred to today as the Golden Age of jukeboxes.

In 1946 the model 1015 Wurlitzer jukebox was introduced and they sold 56,000 units in less than two years. But Wurlitzer lost their edge in the jukebox market with the creation of the 45-rpm record. Their chief competitor, Seeburg, released a phonograph that was able to hold 50 records as opposed to Wurlitzer’s 24. Also, Seeburg’s jukebox was capable of playing both sides of a record, making it the first 100-selection juke. Wurlitzer was not able to come out with a competitive mechanism and Seeburg succeeded in dominating the jukebox market throughout the 1950s.

By the early 1970s Wurlitzer had virtually given up all jukebox production. They had some success in the 1980s with a return to retro and the re-release of the Wurlitzer 1015 jukebox. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1015 in 1986, it was released once more and called the “One More Time”. It was a unique juke, with 1946 styling and state-of-the-art music technology. The Gibson Guitar Corporation bought the Wurlitzer Jukebox Company in 2006 and they continue to produce jukeboxes today in their manufacturing plant in Hullhorst, Germany.

Wurlitzer 1015 Turntable

Jukebox 78 -RPM Records

Tags: Manufacturer Histories · Wurlitzer

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 robert johnson // Nov 24, 2009 at 11:11 am

    I just got a wurlitzer 24 from my dad.
    do you know where i can get parts or help
    wiith repairs?

  • 2 vintagevending // Nov 24, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Robert,

    For jukebox restorations, we recommend Victory Glass (2nd-sight.com/victoryglass/default.htm) They have a large supply of reproduced parts and used parts for many brands and models of jukeboxes.

  • 3 Devon Smith // Jan 23, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Hi
    I am interested in buying a working Juke box

    Thanks

  • 4 Jerry Cichocki // Feb 15, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    I have a model 2150 juke box that I need to sell to close out an estate. Have you any suggestions on how to go about this?

    Also, how do I go about locating a qualified repair person in and around western new york?

  • 5 vintagevending // Feb 16, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Jerry,

    We aren’t able to give estimates on the value of jukeboxes anymore, but you could try contacting Steve Hanson at New England Juke Box. He might be able to help you with the value and how you might be able to sell it. He can be reached at nejukebox@aol.com.

  • 6 Tony // May 6, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    what is the cityscape on the Wurlitzer Americana 111

  • 7 vintagevending // May 7, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Tony,

    I’m not sure, but here is a link to a picture in case anyone else knows….
    http://www.retroaudiolab.com/pictures/equip/w3300/w3300top.jpg

  • 8 Tom S // Oct 3, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    I am trying to restore a 616A, but the veneer is gone. The pictures I find are not clear. Any idea of the type of veneer in front.

  • 9 Jeffrey // Mar 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    To whom it may concern I own a 1977 Seeburg Juke Box & All Of A Sudden it has Stopped Working. Do you know where I Can Find A Teq to come out & repair it so I can use it again. If so Please contact me I Live in Toronto Ontario Canada. Can U Hook me up about the Info Thx

  • 10 Larry Kelly // May 4, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I have a Wurlitzer Multi-Selector Jukebox
    Model 3660
    I am located in Raleigh,NC and would like to know the nearest service company that could repair my Jukebox.
    Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.
    Larry

  • 11 Florence // Dec 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I have a 1015 Wirlitzer Bubbler in mint condition for sale. Please let me know if you are interested. flossie764@aol.com.

  • 12 JOHN CONLEY // Feb 10, 2012 at 11:11 am

    NEED A REPAIRMAN FOR 1970 WURLITZER JUKE BOX.PLEASE REPLY

  • 13 Diana // Sep 19, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    I am interested in buying a vintage, working juke box (to play 45’s). You can contact me at Dlvigneau@comcast.net

  • 14 Donna // Nov 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Larry,

    I live in Raleigh and was wondering if you found someone to work on your Jukebox? I have a Wurlitzer R 2700. If so, please furnish me contact information.

    Donna

  • 15 Beck Stafford // Nov 16, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Hello All. I’m looking for a Wurlitzer jukebox (round top with lights) to borrow for a PTA program my school is doing on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. I would need it for 3 days-M-T-W. It is a prop for our play, Jingle Bell Jukebox, so it just needs to sit on the stage for decorations.
    Would anybody be willing to help our students with their Christmas program. Please email me at bstafford@harnett.k12.nc.us.
    Thanks everyone. Merry Christmas!

  • 16 Trish Lennick // May 23, 2013 at 11:50 am

    What would be the value range for a totally restored 1015 Wurlitzer jukebox with 78 rpm early rockn’ roll records from the Platters, Coasters, Fats, etc. There is nothing wrong with this box.

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