Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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Coin-operated phonograph. In 1889 a cylinder phonograph in San Francisco was equipped with four ear-tubes and a coin apparatus that accepted a nickel. The success of this and later devices revived interest in the phonograph, which had enjoyed only a brief success as a novelty and had failed as an office machine for use in the dictation of correspondence. Coin-operated phonographs of this era reproduced recordings acoustically, usually offered only one piece of music and employed primitive coin mechanisms. They were installed in ‘phonograph parlors’ and penny arcades. By 1908 they had been superseded by the louder player piano and the motion-picture nickelodeon.

Use of coin-operated phonographs grew with the development of machines offering multiple selections and, after their electrification in 1927, amplified music. Although official figures do not exist, it is reported that 25,000 machines were in use in 1933. The repeal of Prohibition in that year marked the beginning of a ‘golden age’ of jukeboxes, and by 1939 over 300,000 were in use in America. They also served the record industry by providing a showcase for new releases and a barometer of a recording’s commercial potential. The major manufacturers of the eye-catching, multicoloured and streamlined machines (see illustration) were Wurlitzer, Rock-Ola, AMI and Seeburg.

In the 1950s the jukebox industry in America was the subject of congressional investigations into the influence of organized crime on machine and record distributors. Competition from other electronic entertainment devices and the diminishing interest in singles, contributed to the decline of the jukebox in the early 1980s although the advent of the compact disc has led to a generation of smaller machines able to offer vastly greater selections of music.

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