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Jukeboxes are a pay-per-use version of phonographs (see entry under 1900s—Music in volume 1), record players, and, more recently, compact disc (see entry under 1980s—Music in volume 5) players. Often found in bars and nightclubs in the 1930s and after, jukeboxes were invented to provide an inexpensive form of musical entertainment. Customers could put coins in a slot, choose the records they wanted to hear, and then enjoy the music. Jukeboxes could also play records one after the other, providing almost nonstop entertainment. They became popular during the Great Depression (1929–41; see entry under 1930s—The Way We Lived in volume 2), when many people could not afford to buy records and many nightclubs could not afford to hire live bands. At a nickel per play, jukeboxes provided an easy way to hear good music.

Coin-operated music machines existed prior to 1900, but the first jukeboxes date from the 1920s. Some of the major manufacturers were the Automatic Music Company, Wurlitzer, Seeburg, and Rockola. Since the technology was largely the same, jukebox manufacturers distinguished themselves through their boxes' fancy decorative designs, many of which featured colored lights. The term "jukebox" comes from the Southern term for dancing (see entry under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1), called "jooking." "Juke joints" were bars where recorded music was played. Thus, jukeboxes referred to the machines themselves. By the mid-1930s, there were more than five hundred thousand jukeboxes in use.

Jukeboxes also helped record companies survive the Great Depression. Jukebox owners had to supply their machines with the new records that listeners wanted to hear. Many machines could keep track of which songs were played most, allowing record companies to learn what kinds of music people most wanted to hear. Jukeboxes played a large role in helping rhythm and blues (see entry under 1940s—Music in volume 3) and rock and roll (see entry under 1950s—Music in volume 3) music take off. Jukeboxes helped convince record companies that there was a market for this new music. Jukeboxes also allowed people to hear this music when early radio programs refused to play it. Jukeboxes declined in popularity after the 1950s, when more people could afford to buy records, but they played an important role in the development of American popular music and can still be found in many diners (see entry under 1900s—Food and Drink in volume 1), bars, and clubs.

—Timothy Berg

For More Information

Boehlert, Eric. "Put Another Nickle In." Billboard (November 1, 1994).

Chapple, Steve, and Rebe Garofalo. Rock and Roll Is Here to Pay. Chicago: Nelson Hall, 1977.

Durham, Ken. "History of Jukeboxes." GameRoomAntiques.http://www.gameroomantiques.com/HistoryJuke.htm (accessed February 11, 2002).

The National Jukebox Exchange.http://www.nationaljukebox.com/index.html (accessed February 11, 2002).

Rock & Roll Generation: Teen Life in the 50s. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1998.