The first Jukebox “nickel-in-the-slot player” entertained customers at the Palais Royale Saloon of San Francisco today in 1889. Now WE know em


Coin-operated player pianos were the first form of automated musical devices.

These instruments used paper rolls, metal disks, or metal cylinders to play a musical selection on the instrument, or instruments, enclosed within the device.

Then the phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison on July 18, 1877.

His first phonograph used tin foil wrapped around a hand-cranked cylinder.

Thomas Edison's cylinder player made its debut in the late 1870s (photo courtesy Russell Bingham).

Thomas Edison’s cylinder player made its debut in the late 1870s (photo courtesy Russell Bingham).

Within a few years Edison developed wax cylinders licensed by Charles Sumner Tainter, Alexander Graham Bell, and Chichester Bell, as the American Graphophone Company.

By the late 1880’s wax cylinders were mass being marketed.

These cylinders had sound recordings in the grooves on the outside of hollow cylinders of wax.

These cylinders could easily be removed and replaced on the machine which played them.

Early cylinder records would commonly wear out after they were played a few hundred times.


Then the first version of what we call the jukebox was built by the Pacific Phonograph Company. It consisted of an Edison Class M electric phonograph, retrofitted with a device patented under the name Coin Actuated Attachment for Phonograph. It all fit inside an oak cabinet, with four stethoscope-like listening tubes attached to it. The tubes were for users to listen through, as the machine had no amplification.

The Nickel in the Slot machine was also designed so that each tube operated independently of the others, each activated by the insertion of a nickel, meaning that four different people could listen to the same song simultaneously. Towels were supplied so that listeners could clean the tube after each listening.

Palais Royale Saloon

Entrepreneur Louis T. Glass installed the “nickel-in-the-slot player” at The Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco on November 23, 1889.

Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco.

Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco.

It becomes an overnight sensation, and its popularity soon spread around the world.

The term “jukebox” did not come into use until around 1940, apparently derived from the familiar “juke joint”, derived from the Gullah word “juke” or “joog” meaning disorderly, rowdy, or wicked.

During the first year of the jukebox, from November of 1889 until the summer of 1890, quite a few coin-op music machines were produced in San Francisco.

Glass told other operators and manufacturers during the “First Annual Convention of Local Phonograph Companies of the United States” held at the Auditorium Hotel in Chicago on the 28th and 29th May, 1890, that his first 15 machines had brought in a little more than $4,000.

That was quite a lot of money those days.

The success of the jukebox eventually spelled the end of the player piano, then the most common way of pounding out popular music.

However, it is important to mention that the first really successful and reliable coin-op phonograph in the States was developed and patented in 1891 by Albert K. Keller.

He then assigned his patent rights to the Automatic Phonograph Exhibition Company headed by Felix Gottschalk in New York.


Picture of Keller‟s coin-op phonograph, 1890

Picture of Keller‟s coin-op phonograph, 1890

The Albert K. Keller designed automatic phonographs with Edison mechanism were at first manufactured in collaboration with Ezra T. Gilliland of the Gilliland Sales Co., and installed in arcades in many big cities.

In 1918, Hobart C. Niblack patented an apparatus that automatically changed records, leading to one of the first selective jukeboxes being introduced in 1927 by the Automated Musical Instrument Company, later known as AMI.

In 1928, Justus P. Seeburg, who was manufacturing player pianos, combined an electrostatic loudspeaker with a record player that was coin operated, and gave the listener a choice of eight records.

Later versions of the jukebox included Seeburg’s Selectophone, with 10 turntables mounted vertically on a spindle.

Then greater levels of automation were gradually introduced.

Song-popularity counters told the owner of the machine the number of times each record was played (A and B side were generally not distinguished), with the result that popular records remained, while lesser-played songs could be replaced.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now WE know em


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