Rudolph WurliTzer and his three sons founded the famous WurliTzer company in 1856. No, that is not a typo. The WurliTzer name originally had a capital T in it.
Starting in Cincinnati, Ohio, they learned the music business by successfully importing European music machines and selling them in the United States. They also successfully sold the products of the Regina Music Box Company. By the 1890s, they were the largest distributors for the Regina Music Box Company in the United States and were responsible for convincing Regina to add coin slides to their larger music boxes.
The WurliTzers were introduced to the coin operated music business at the turn-of-the- century when a builder of merry-go-round organs located in North Tonawanda, New York, developed a coin operated automatic piano, called the DeKleist Tonophone, and asked WurliTzer to distribute it. The machine was a success making DeKleist a millionaire. In 1909, the WurliTzers decided to buy out DeKleist, who had lost interest in the business, and established the WurliTzer headquarters in North Tonawanda, New York.
The Wurlitzer factory was almost one quarter mile long. It was the largest woodworking, metal working and assembly plant in the world devoted to the production of musical instruments. It produced tens of thousands of pianos over the years and the only Wurlitzer factory to produce jukeboxes.
The Wurlitzers again became world famous by building and promoting large pipe organs for use with silent movies in the palatial movie theaters of the 1920s.
Then came the depression and movies with sound. The depression almost put Wurlitzer out of business. In 1928, Wurlitzer's shares sold at $119 a share. In 1933, the price was $10 a share and the company was $5 million in debt.
Never giving up, Wurlitzer was still willing to take a chance and bought the Simplex Manufacturing Company that invented a new record changing system called the Multi- Selector. This invention allowed people to push a button to select the record they wanted to listen to, rather than the next record in sequence. Homer Capehart bought the rights to the Multi-Selector. Wurlitzer later convinced Homer Capehart, who owned the rights to the Multi-Sector, to sell them to Wurlitzer and join the company as its general manager to sell their new music machines - jukeboxes. Capehart, who years later became a U.S. Senator, led Wurlitzer back to success.
Even in the depression people could afford a nickel for a song and before long Capehart propelled Wurlitzer into a multi-million dollar company. In 1933, when Capehart joined Wurlitzer it sold only 300 jukeboxes. In 1936, Wurlitzer sold 44,000 jukeboxes.
Wurlitzer became world famous once again when it introduced the Model 1015 jukebox in 1946, after World War Two. Fifty six thousand 1015s were sold in less than two years.
Seeburg, however, quickly introduced a new record changer and quickly overtook Wurlitzer. During the 1950s, Seeburg dominated the jukebox market.
Still, the Wurlitzer name was not finished. In the 1980s, a renewed interest in the 1950 era led to the resurrection of the Wurlitzer 1015 jukebox. In 1986, the Wurlitzer company decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1015 by manufacturing, once again, the celebrated Wurlitzer 1015 jukebox, calling it the "One More Time". This new jukebox had the design of the classical 1015, but with the latest technology of a modern jukebox.
The new jukebox was so successful that it reestablished the Wurlitzer name and the 1015 jukebox as an American icon. As a result in 1995, the U.S. Post Office issued a new stamp commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Wurlitzer 1015 jukebox.
The stamp is intended for use by business mailers who presort their mail. Although, the stamp has no denomination, it has a 25 cent value. The stamp is available in rolls of 500, 3000 and 10,000. Postal officials have indicated that the stamp along with an additional 7 cents of postage can be used to mail a first class letter.
If you want to experience a part of the glory of Wurlitzer's history, you can still drive to the now defunct Wurlitzer factory in North Tonawanda, New York. The building even has the original Wurlitzer neon sign on its top. Even though they no longer make jukeboxes in the North Tonawanda factory, you can see and even buy one of the famous Wurlitizer jukeboxes from WURCO, one of the country's leading jukebox and gameroom showrooms, which is located in the Wurlitzer factory building. For directions, call 716-694-6247.
While you are in North Tonawanda, you may also want to visit the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum. And don't forget the little tourist attraction down the road called Niagara Falls. For coin machine enthusiasts, the real attraction in Buffalo/Niagara Falls area is the Wurlitzer building
Additional information on jukeboxes can be found in the following books: Vintage Coin Machines by Dick Bueschel ($39.95); and Jukebox Art by Chris Pearce ($29.95). There are also Jukebox Service Manuals available for almost every jukebox made. These books are available from the GameRoomAntiques Bookstore.
Copyright: 1996 Ken Durham.
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