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date: 13 April 2021


A Dictionary of Modern Design

Jonathan Woodham

Wurlitzer (established 1853) 

Celebrated for its classic jukebox designs of the 1930s and 1940s, this American company began life as a manufacturer of pianos. In the late 19th century it moved into the production of coin‐slot record players and, as film‐going became increasingly popular, cinema organs. After the 1929 Wall Street Crash, Wurlitzer diversified into jukeboxes and refrigerators, producing its first jukebox in 1934 (the ten‐selection Model‐P10) and appointing Paul Fuller as its chief designer in 1935. It soon became the leading company in the field, despite strong competition from Seeburg, AMI, and Rock‐Ola. During the thirteen years that Fuller remained with the company Wurlitzer designs were characterized by their adoption of theatrical lighting effects (such as those generated by ‘bubble tubes’, colour filters, and polarized film), coloured plastics, and chromium detailing. Amongst the classic models of these years were the 312 (1936), the arch‐topped 750 Peacock (1941), and the highly popular 1015 (1946). The latter was the most commercially successful jukebox ever, selling more than 56,000 units in the first eighteen months after its launch. Its key visual design characteristics provided the basis for new models in the heritage and nostalgia‐rich 1980s, including the One More Time CD jukebox, the internal workings of which were computerized rather than the much older gramophone technology of the pre‐Second World War ‘golden age’ of jukebox production. By the late 1960s jukeboxes were no longer fashionable, leading to the company ceasing production in the USA, although its German subsidiary has continued to manufacture them.