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History - Factory
Wurlitzer History

Company History

The Wurlitzer family started buying and selling musical items in Saxony as far back as 1659. Rudolph Wurlitzer came to the United States in 1853 and started an import business selling instruments to the U.S. government during the Civil War. Soon he became the largest instrument supplier in America and through a chain of retail stores in Chicago he started marketing a line of pianos which he manufactured. It wasn't long before Rudolph attached a coin slot to a player piano and literally started the coin-operated music boom of the late 1800s.

Rudolph Wurlitzer
Rudolph Wurlitzer (1831 - †1914)
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Wurlitzer became famous for the large theater organs that created sound for silent films. These large organs and many other types of automatic instruments were manufactured at a large facility in North Tonawanda, N.Y., where the factory still stands today. Rudolph Wurlitzer died in 1914, leaving the business to his three sons. As the demand for theater organs and automatic pianos weakened, Wurlitzer went through some difficult times. The depression of 1929 nearly put the company out of business.

In 1933, Rudolph's youngest son, Farny, entered into a deal with Homer Capehart. Wurlitzer would manufacture a coin phonograph engineered by "Erickson" called the "Debutante". The repeal of prohibition was imminent and the demand for coin-operated music was about to explode. It did, and by 1937, Wurlitzer had sold over 100,000 phonographs.

Dick Simonton-Bill Bunch-Farny Wurlitzer
Right: Farny Reginald Wurlitzer (1883 - †1972)
Homer Earl Capehart
Homer Earl Capehart (1897 - †1979)
Wurlitzer dominated the coin-operated phonograph business until the introduction of the 45 rpm record. At that point, Wurliter's mechanism could handle up to 24 records, playing only one side. Seeburg introduced a new mechanism that held 50 records and could play both sides, yielding a true 100-select jukebox. Wurlitzer made many attempts to compete with this by engineering new mechanisms for its machines, but never really caught up with Seeburg's domination of the jukebox market.

Operators in the early 1950s considered the new Wurlitzer mechanisms overly complex and not particularly reliable. After nearly giving up on jukeboxes in the early '60s and early '70s, Wurlitzer gave one last gasp in 1973 and tried to make a nostalgic-looking jukebox called the "1050". With only 1,600 units produced, the effort wasn't enough to bring back what was once the greatest jukebox manufacturer ever. Wurlitzer held on into the '70s but then when demand for jukeboxes faded, so did the Wurlitzer factory, eventually going out of business in 1974. The jukebox brand and trade-marks were sold to Wurlitzers own German subsiderary: Deutsche Wurlitzer GmbH.

Wurlitzer continued producing pianos and was purchased by the Baldwin Piano Company in 1985. At that time the largest piano manufacturer in the USA, however Baldwin was already facing revenue problems and could not retain its market position. Wurlitzer was then bought in 2001 by Gibson Guitar Corporation, a well known bran for Guitars. In 2006 Gibson also purchased Deutsche Wurlitzer GmbH. Jukeboxes bearing the Wurlitzer name were in production until the company ceased manufacturing in 2013.

In January 2013, Deutsche Wurlitzer GmbH continued independently when venture investors saved it from bankruptcy and bought it from Gibson. However already a month later, in February 2013, bankruptcy is filed but it can be averted in the autumn of that year. Nevertheless, no more jukeboxes were produced anymore. Finally, the insolvency proceedings were again initiated in 2015 and implemented in March 2016. That was the end of the Wurlitzer company.

Wurlitzer Factory