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Rudolph Wurlitzer Company
Founded 1853
Founder Rudolph Wurlitzer
Headquarters Cincinnati, Ohio and North Tonawanda, New York, US
Products Band organ
Pipe organ
Theatre organ
Parent Baldwin Piano Company
Website Wurlitzer Jukeboxes
Deutsche-Wurlitzer USA

The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, usually referred to as simply Wurlitzer, was an American company started in theatre organs popular in theatres during the days of silent movies.

Over time, Wurlitzer acquired a number of other companies which made a variety of loosely related products including kitchen appliances, carnival rides, player piano rolls, and radios. Wurlitzer also operated a chain of retail stores where the company's products were sold.

As technology evolved, Wurlitzer began producing jukeboxes and eventually became known more for jukeboxes and vending machines, which are still made by Wurlitzer, than for actual musical instruments.

Wurlitzer's jukebox operations were sold and moved to Germany in 1973. The Wurlitzer piano and organ brands and U.S. manufacturing facilities were acquired by the Baldwin Piano & Organ Co. (commonly called the Baldwin Piano Company) in 1988 and most piano manufacturing was moved overseas. The Baldwin Co., including its Wurlitzer assets, was subsequently acquired by the Gibson Guitar Corporation in about 1996. Ten years later, Gibson acquired Deutsche Wurlitzer and the Wurlitzer Jukebox and Vending Electronics trademarks, briefly bringing Wurlitzer's best-known products back together under a single corporate banner in 2006. Baldwin ceased making Wurlitzer brand pianos in 2009. Vending machines are still manufactured in Germany using the Wurlitzer name under Gibson ownership. The company ceased manufacturing jukeboxes in 2013, but still sells replacement parts.

The Rembert Wurlitzer Co., Wurlitzer's rare and historic stringed instrument department was independently directed by Rudolph Wurlitzer's grandson, Rembert Wurlitzer (1904–63), from 1948 until his death in 1963. Rembert's shop on 42d Street in New York City was a leading international center for rare and historic string instruments.[2]

Band organ
Theatre organ
Acoustic piano
Electric piano
Electronic organs
Electric guitar


  • History 1
  • Acoustic pianos 2
  • Band organs 3
  • Nickelodeons and player pianos 4
  • Theatre organs 5
  • The Mighty Wurlitzer as metaphor 6
  • Jukeboxes 7
  • Electric pianos 8
  • Electric guitars 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


Wurlitzer was founded in Cincinnati in 1853 by German Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer (1831–1914) from Schöneck, Saxony. It was directed successively by his sons Howard, Rudolph, and Farny. The company initially imported musical instruments from the Wurlitzer family in Germany for resale in the U.S. Wurlitzer was an early American defense contractor being a major supplier of musical instruments to the U.S. military during the American Civil War and Spanish–American War. In 1880 Wurlitzer started manufacturing its own pianos which the company sold through its retail outlets in Chicago.[3] In 1896 Wurlitzer manufactured its first coin-operated pianos.[4]

In the late 1800s, fairs were very popular and, as crowds grew and mechanical rides began to appear, a need for louder music was realized. The

directory search
  • Wurlitzer Band Organs
  • Wurlitzer Guitar history
archive sites
  • Wurlitzer Jukeboxes
  • Deutsche-Wurlitzer USA
official sites

External links

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  5. ^ Fairground organ
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  14. ^ Biography at American Theatre Organ Society website
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  16. ^ David H. Fox, Robert Hope-Jones. Richmond, Virginia: Organ Historical Society
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organs & keyboards
string instruments
current owner

See also

In 1966, music store owner Howard Holman used his contacts at the Martin Band Instrument Company, owned by Wurlitzer at that time, to convince Wurlitzer to distribute a line of electric guitars manufactured by Holman's start-up company in Kansas. Wurlitzer became the sole distributor of guitars made by the Holman-Woodell Company of Neodesha, Kansas, USA.[31] The guitar labels reflected Wurlitzer's Elkhart, Indiana location, but with the exception of a handful of prototypes made above Holman's music store in Independence, KS, the guitars themselves were built in a small two-storey building on Main Street in Neodesha. Three models were available: the Cougar, Wildcat and Gemini, all of which were functionally similar but featured different body shapes. The majority of the Kansas-made instruments were six-string guitars, with only a handful of basses being manufactured.[32] Distinguishing features of the first Wurlitzer branded guitars are the "W"-shaped cut-out in the tremolo mounting plate and the Rock/Jazz selection rocker switch above each pick-up. Another feature of the earliest Wurlitzer electrics was that they were wired for stereo output. In 1967, Wurlitzer ceased its affiliation with the Holman-Woodell Company, possibly due to problems with the finish on Holman-Woodell guitars which resulted in many instruments being returned to the factory. Beginning in 1967, Wurlitzer-branded guitars were manufactured by Welson in Italy, and the Wurlitzer line expanded to include semi-hollow body electric as well as acoustic guitars.[32][33] Wurlitzer continued to distribute Welson-made guitars under the Wurlitzer name until 1969 when Wurlitzer stopped selling guitars under its own brand name.

Electric guitars

From 1955 to 1982 the company also produced the Wurlitzer electric piano series, an electrically amplified piano variant.

Electric pianos

Wurlitzer 210 Electric Piano

Jukeboxes bearing the Wurlitzer name were in production until the company ceased manufacturing in 2013. The German jukebox and vending machine manufacturer which made them was acquired by the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 2006. The more recent models are able to play CDs, as well as special edition units with iPod connectivity. Wurlitzer still sells jukebox replacement parts.

Wurlitzer's original jukeboxes played twenty-four 78-rpm records, one side only. With the advent of smaller 45 rpm records, Wurlitzer was beat to the punch by Seeburg mechanisms which could play both sides of 50 different records, yielding 100 song choices.[3] Although Wurlitzer ceded the crown of industry leader to rival Seeburg in the 1950s, Fuller's designs are so emblematic of jukeboxes in general that 1940s era Wurlitzers are often used to invoke the Rock n' Roll period in films and television. Wurlitzer struggled on for 20 years or so and made one final effort to keep its jukebox business viable with a nostalgic 1971 model called the "1050." The model didn't sell well and only 1600 units were produced. The jukebox line was sold to a German company in 1973.

The Wurlitzer was the iconic jukebox of the Big Band era, to the extent that Wurlitzer came in some places to be a generic name for any jukebox. (In Hungarian, "wurlitzer" still means "jukebox", for example – despite Hungarian only using the letter W for foreign language words). Wurlitzer's success was due to a first rate marketing department (headed by future Indiana Senator Homer Capehart), the reliable Simplex record changer, and the designs of engineer Paul Fuller who created many cabinet styles in the "lightup" design idiom. Another significant factor contributing to Wurlitzer's success was the end of Prohibition in 1933 and the resulting increase in the market for coin-operated music machines in bars and dance halls.


The metaphor is unusual as Robert Hope Jones (of the UK) was a primary force behind the creation of the Theatre Organ or Cinema Organ but no such or like or similar metaphor has been used to describe UK propaganda.

The metaphor has evolved into a somewhat generalized way to refer to US propaganda overall. An example of this is a recent article posted on Crytome called "Sony Pictures Presents: the Propaganda Model The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On". [1]

Senior CIA official Frank Wisner coined the term "Mighty Wurlitzer" to denote a propaganda campaign labeled Operation Mockingbird that could "play any tune" to the news media of his day.[29][30]

The Mighty Wurlitzer as metaphor

[28] (ATOE) was formed to preserve remaining theatre organs, including those by other builders, such as American Theatre Organ Enthusiasts In the 1950s, the

[26] Another example of the large-scale Mighty Wurlitzer can be found in the

Mighty Wurlitzer type 250 (Berlin Musical Instrument Museum)

Wurlitzer organs still in their original locations (although perhaps altered) include:

  • Opus 2129, now installed in [20] Opus 2129 originally had a slave console, and the 5-manual console was created by combining the two original consoles.[21]
  • Opus 1571, originally built as a 4-manual instrument; it was expanded to a 5-manual and is part of the Place de la Musique collection, at the Jasper Sanfilippo residence.[22] The console was custom-built for this installation, and was patterned after the original Paradise Theatre 5-manual console.

Two other instruments presently have five-manual Wurlitzer-styled consoles, although they were not built by Wurlitzer but were either custom-built or created by combining two smaller Wurlitzer consoles:

  • Opus 1351, (28 ranks), originally installed in the Racine, Wisconsin. Six additional ranks were added, to make it a 34-rank.[18]
  • Opus 1587, (21 ranks), originally installed in the Marbro Theatre in Chicago. It's now installed at the Providence Performing Arts Center in Rhode Island.[19]
  • Opus 1942, (21 ranks), originally installed in the [20]

5-Manual theatre organ consoles are extremely rare, and only three were built by Wurlitzer:

The largest Wurlitzer organ originally built (in terms of pipes), was the four-consoles. While Denver's is the typical "master-slave" system, Radio City is the only surviving original Wurlitzer installation to have two identical and completely independent consoles playing the same organ. Both instruments have been substantially altered in more recent years.

Between 1887 and 1911 his company employed 112 workers at its peak, producing 246 organs.[16] But shortly after merging his organ business with Wurlitzer, he committed suicide in 1914 in Rochester, New York, frustrated by his new association with the Wurlitzer company, it is said.[15] Moving the business to their Beer, Devon. Regular concerts and shows are hosted on the Beer Wurlitzer[17]

[15] Among his sound innovations were a kind of

  • That a pipe organ should be able to imitate the instruments of an orchestra
  • That the console should be detachable from the [14]

Englishman silent movies. Hope-Jones' concept was based on two principles:

Perhaps the most famous instruments Wurlitzer built were its The Mighty Wurlitzers".

The keyboard of a "Mighty Wurlitzer", from the Museum of Musical Instruments in Berlin

Theatre organs

Wurlitzer may have sold player piano mechanisms to various manufacturers who simply installed Wurlitzer components in their own pianos and sold them under various brand names. One example is the Milner player piano company. Milner pianos were built in Cincinnati at a time consistent with Wurlitzer's presence there. Company records suggest that Wurlitzer may have acquired the Milner company[13] in addition to the several other companies acquired by Wurlitzer over the years but it is possible that Milner may have simply used Wurlitzer components in their own product.

Wurlitzer also produced an automatic roll changer system so when a roll finished rewinding another was put on in a carousel like system. An 'X' at the end of a model number indicates that model was fitted with a roll changer.

They produced various models of nickelodeons, such as the early Wurlitzer Mandolin Quartette, which was Wurlitzer's alternative to the Regina Sublima Piano. This has a reiterating piano with mandolin attachment along with an accompanying piano. Later, they introduced the Wurlitzer A.P.P roll, which was a universal roll to be used on all subsequent Wurlitzer nickelodeons. Models such as the B(X), C(X), D(X) and I(X) use this roll.

Wurlitzer, starting around 1900 through approx 1935 produced nickelodeon pianos, or coin pianos, which are electric operated player pianos that take coins to operate, like a Jukebox.

Wurlitzer nickelodeon

Nickelodeons and player pianos

See List of Wurlitzer Band Organs for detail list of models.

Some orchestrions made by the company can be found at Clark's Trading Post, Lincoln, New Hampshire, USA, the Music Hall, Nevada City, Montana, USA, and the Jasper Sanfilippo Collection at Victorian Palace, Barrington Hills, Illinois, USA.

The production of Wurlitzer organs ceased in 1942, the last organ to leave the factory being a style 165 organ in a 157 case (done because Wurlitzer had an extra 157 case remaining in the factory and the owner didn't mind the change). During the Great Depression leading up to the end of production, various cost-cutting measures were made, such as the substitution of brass horn and trumpet pipes for ones made of wood (though arguably the change from brass to wood may have been due to the shrill sound produced by the brass pipes which some people may have found unpleasant; wood pipes produced a mellower sound).

The only substantial changes between the Wurlitzer U.S.-made organs and the European originals they copied is that the Wurlitzer models operated on Wurlitzer's unique roll scale. These included the 41-note style 125 roll (used by styles 103, 104, 105, 106, 125, and 126), the wider 46-note 150 roll (used by styles 145, 146, 147, 148, 150, and 153), or the still wider 75-note 165 roll (used by styles 157, 163, 164, 165, 166, and 175). Due to Wurlitzer's success and domination of the market, many smaller American manufacturers adopted scales similar to Wurlitzer's. Wurlitzer abandoned production of nickelodeons in the early 1940s but continued to manufacture the paper player piano music rolls through a wholly owned subsidiary called the Endless Roll Music Company.

Wurlitzer bought De Kliest out of the business in 1908 and took over operation of the North Tonawanda factory. The new company invested in new technology, resulting in the adoption of electric motors, and the music source was changed from pinned barrels to perforated paper rolls similar to a player piano roll. Some larger organs such as the style 157 and style 165 have duplex roll frames, on which one roll plays while the other rewinds, allowing for continuous music. Each paper roll contained about 10 songs. During the Great Depression this was changed to 6 longer songs to save money on arranging.

As demand for organs grew from the fairground operators, Wurlitzer was approached by Pan-American Exposition, Wurlitzer invested in his company.

As parts were not subject to import tariffs, almost all Wurlitzer band organs are copied from designs by European manufacturers. For example, the style 104 and style 105 were copied from a Dorney Park was one, but it was destroyed in a fire). And, the style 165 is copied from the Gebrüder Bruder "Elite Apollo Orchester."

After the barrel organs, playing from a pinned barrel and powered by either steam or cranked by hand. Many of these organs have cases finished in dark (and sometimes black) wood, with gold incised designs, not unlike those of the European manufacturers of barrel organs.

Wurlitzer Military Band Organ
(Shirl Belle, Waltham Watch City Festival)

Band organs

Wurlitzer excelled in piano design. They developed their "Pentagonal Soundboard", "Tone crafted hammers", and other unique innovations to help their pianos produce a richer, fuller tone. In 1935, they were one of the first manufacturers to offer the spinet piano to the mass market. This 39 inch high piano was an instant sensation. The spinet came at an opportune time, when many Americans could not afford a full upright or baby grand.

Beginning in about 1880, Wurlitzer built a full line of upright and grand pianos. In 1914, Wurlitzer became the sole distributor of Melville Clark Pianos and in 1919 acquired the Melville Clark company. Wurlitzer continued to manufacture pianos at the Clark factory in DeKalb, Illinois under the Melville Clark name. Other brands which have been manufactured by Wurlitzer are Apollo, De Kalb, Julius Bauer, Farney, Kingston, Kurtzman, Merrium. Schaff Bros. and Underwood.[11]

Keyboard of a Wurlitzer acoustic piano

Acoustic pianos

Wurlitzer's piano-making assets and brand were bought by the Baldwin Piano Company in 1988. Baldwin was subsequently acquired by and run as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Gibson Guitar Corporation. Meanwhile, Gibson acquired Deutche Wurlitzer Jukebox and Electronics Vending brand in 2006, briefly bringing the primary Wurlitzer product lines back under the Gibson flag. However, Baldwin stopped using the Wurlitzer name on pianos by the end of 2009. Gibson now uses the Wurlitzer brand name exclusively for jukeboxes and vending machines.[10] Wurlitzer continues to manufacture jukeboxes and vending machines at its factory in Hullhorst, Germany. Wurlitzer world headquarters are also located in Hullhorst while the company has branch distribution and sales offices in Gurnee, IL (U.S.) and Oxfordshire, England.

While original Wurlitzer jukeboxes sold very well, technology soon outpaced Wurlitzer. By the 1950s other companies dominated the jukebox market. Wurlitzer sold its Martin rights to a French company (LeBlanc) in 1971, perhaps in an effort to stay afloat and recapture dominance in the jukebox market.[9] However, in 1973, Wurlitzer sold its jukebox brand to a German company and closed the North Tonawanda factory. Piano and organ manufacturing continued in Mississippi and Arkansas factories for a number of years.

In the 1960s Wurlitzer ventured into new instrument markets. In 1964, Wurlitzer bought the rights, registered trademarks, copyrights, patents, engineering records and tools of the Henry C. Martin Band Instrument Company which manufactured brass wind instruments in Elkhart, Indiana (not to be confused with the C.F. Martin & Company guitar maker). In 1967, Wurlitzer entered the guitar market as the sole distributor of Holman-Woodell guitars, which were originally sold under the Wurlitzer brand. (See Electric Guitars, below.) Wurlitzer then switched to an Italian guitar maker, Welson, before abandoning guitar sales altogether in 1969.

The firm's violin department, independently directed by Rembert Wurlitzer (1904–63) from 1949 until his death in 1963, became a leading international centre for rare string instruments.

Among Wurlitzer's electronic instruments, beginning with electric pianos.

Wurlitzer Model 44 [8]
Wurlitzer Model 805 monophonic synth (upper mini key)

Starting in about 1933, the Wurlitzer name gradually became more and more closely associated with jukeboxes than with actual musical instruments. In 1942, organ production at the North Tonawanda factory ceased and production was shifted to the manufacture of bomb proximity fuses for World War II. After the war, normal production efforts resumed but with more focus on radios, jukeboxes, and small electronic organs for private homes.

In addition to business acquisitions, Wurlitzer also entered into several joint ventures with hurdy-gurdy's for amusement parks, circuses, roller rinks, and carnival midways. Amusement rides, particularly carousels, were also assembled at the facility.

With the onset of World War I, imports from Germany became problematic and Wurlitzer found it necessary to increase manufacturing efforts in the U.S. In the late 1930s or early 1940s Wurlitzer built a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing and marketing facility in North Tonawanda, complete with employee recreation areas, showers, and an on-site cafeteria.[6] Wurlitzer abandoned production of nickelodeons but continued to manufacture the paper player piano music rolls through a wholly owned subsidiary called the Endless Roll Music Company. Wurlitzer also took over production of Lyric brand radios from the All American Mohawk Radio Company in Chicago. Lyric radios were a very high-end console radio which retailed for as much as $425 in 1929 (approximately $5,800 in 2014 dollars).[7]

American Mohawk Lyric Radio as Mfd. by Wurlitzer circa 1920s
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