The Wurlitzer family began cultivating its reputation for making and selling fine musical instruments during the 17th century. The father of the original Wurlitzer company, Rudolph Wurlitzer was born in Schilbach, Saxony in 1829. At age 24 he immigrated to America, and three years later, in 1856, he founded The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. Initially he imported musical instruments from his family in Germany to sell them on the American market, but soon made his way into manufacturing. In 1880, the first Wurlitzer piano was built in the U.S., followed by the first coin-operated electric piano in 1896. This was just the beginning of what would prove to be a continuing success story, as the first Wurlitzer Jukebox was just a step away.
The next major musical venture for Wurlitzer came with the introduction of cinema and theatre organs. These instruments, dubbed Mighty Wurlitzers, created an instant sensation when they appeared on the market during the silent movie era. The introduction of Wurlitzer-driven musical soundtracks to movies fostered dramatic changes within the motion picture and entertainment industries.
Wurlitzer has historically implemented a philosophy, still valid today, of channeling flexibility and advanced technology into the development of innovative products. Consequently, Farny Wurlitzer, successor of the founding father, bought a patented jukebox mechanism in 1933 and hired highly skilled professionals for design and marketing. From their new location in North Tonawanda, New York, these imaginative inventors developed the first Wurlitzer Jukebox, the Debutante. Over the next few years, Wurlitzer Jukeboxes became widely embraced by operators, and by the late 1930s, Wurlitzer was producing over 45,000 jukeboxes a year. The jukebox became known as the "small man's concert hall."
The Golden Years
In the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s, the styling of Wurlitzer Jukeboxes was taken to a new level by a gifted designer named Paul Fuller. Among the models introduced during the early '40s were the 700, 750, and 850. With their sophisticated and artistic use of plastics, glass, and wood, these designs became instant classics, and established Wurlitzer as a definitive force within the industry.
As fate would have it, this was also the time when war broke out. In 1941, the U.S. government mandated that the Wurlitzer factories be used to produce war-related materials. The use of metal and plastics were also severely restricted during this period. Wurlitzer responded to these obstacles by releasing several now-legendary models including the 42-Victory and the 950, which relied heavily on wood and glass.
At the end of the war, in 1946, sales of the Wurlitzer 1015 Jukebox went off with a bang. People were mesmerized by the styling details, including animated bubble tubes, revolving color columns, and a revealed record changing mechanism. This forerunner to today's One More Time model sold over 56,000 units during its first 18 months on the market—going on to become the most successful jukebox of all time.
Throughout the next few decades following the jukebox's golden years, Wurlitzer continued to steadily release innovative designs. The record selection capacity increased. The audio quality of the jukeboxes became more powerful, and stereo sound quickly replaced mono. During this period, musical standards also shifted from 78 RPM vinyl records to 45s and LPs. Wurlitzer was consistently an early adapter of these new technologies. The popularity of jukeboxes, however, began to wane slightly in these years as television took over as the dominant form of entertainment.
In recent years, a renewed interest in jukeboxes has arisen. The nostalgic look of the Wurlitzer Jukebox has become a symbol of the "good old days," and today many vintage Wurlitzer Jukeboxes have become much sought after collector's items. The Wurlitzer revitalization began in 1985, when the company introduced new jukeboxes which utilized the latest available technologies. The first Compact Disc jukebox from Wurlitzer was produced in 1989.
Among the latest jukebox designs from Wurlitzer are the 1015 One More Time CD Jukebox, the Princess CD Jukebox, the Elvis Presley Limited Edition CD Jukebox, and the Johnny One Note CD Jukebox. The One More Time is a nostalgic reproduction of the original Model 1015 that has been updated with state-of-the-art digital technology. The Rainbow has fast become a favorite among commercial operators with its outstanding features and powerful sound. Wurlitzer is also recognized worldwide as a premier manufacturer of vending machines, having introduced some of the industry's biggest advances.
In July of 2006, Gibson Guitar Corp., known worldwide for producing classic models in every major style of fretted instrument, acquired Deutsche Wurlitzer from Nelson Group Overseas. The deal brought the Wurlitzer Jukebox and Vending Electronics brand wholly under the distinguished Gibson banner, which includes Epiphone, Dobro, Valley Arts, Kramer, Steinberger, Tobias, Slingerland, Maestro, Baldwin, Chickering, Hamilton, and now Wurlitzer. Gibson Guitar Corp. is owned by CEO and Chairman Henry Juszkiewicz and President Dave Berryman.
With a manufacturing plant and headquarters in Hullhorst, Germany, Wurlitzer employs over 260 persons worldwide and has branch distribution and sales offices in the U.S. and U.K. The U.S. office for Wurlitzer Jukebox Company is located in Gurnee, Illinois, and the U.K. office is in Oxfordshire, England.
A global network of representatives, dealers, and importers provides the expert knowledge and experience to support Wurlitzer customers all over the world. Development and technical engineers, along with production, assembly, quality control, sales, and marketing teams work together to produce products that Wurlitzer is proud to put its name on. All of these talented individuals have earned Wurlitzer Jukeboxes a reputation for uncompromising quality, spectacular sound, and cutting edge design.
Since acquiring Deutsche Wurlitzer, Gibson Guitar Corp. has developed new product prototypes including a DVD/CD Vending Machine, a 1941 Wurlitzer 850 Peacock replica for Compact Discs, and the Princess Jukebox powered by Ecast.
Proud to share in Wurlitzer's rich history of crafting iconic jukeboxes, as well as its innovative and growing line of quality vending machines, Gibson hopes to accelerate the growth of business through broader international distribution and product development.