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Manufacturing Music

Jeffrey Syken

In Western New York State, in the town of North Tonawanda – just a few miles from Niagara Falls, The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company produced the finest coin-operated phonographs (a.k.a. “Jukebox”) in the world. Founded in 1856, the company produced musical instruments during the Civil War for the Union Army and in later years pipe organs, pianos and accordions.

In 1933, they produced their first Jukebox which was enjoyed by millions. By the early 1950s, the North Tonawanda plant was a model of efficiency, quality and self-sufficiency. The company made their own machine tools, testing equipment and dried the ten million board-feet of lumber used annually in their six dry kilns. Scrap lumber was used to produce heat and electricity for the plant and the huge woodworking shop was free of sawdust thanks to an innovative air-cleaning system.

The Jukebox was an incredibly complex product that mixed old world craftsmanship (as evidence by their fine cabinetry work) with state-of-the-art electronics, metalwork and use of thermo-plastics. In fact, Wurlitzer was one of the innovators in the use of decorative plastics in the post-WWII years. With a skilled and dedicated work force and expert engineering, all that was needed to complete the equation was the music.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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