Thomas Edison had announced the invention of the phonograph in November 1877 and, within a decade, the technology had found an army of manufacturers and distributors who wanted to exploit its commercial potential.
Realizing that the cost of purchasing a phonograph was beyond the reach of most consumers, Louis T. Glass and William S. Arnold of the Pacific Phonograph Company created their device to allow the public to pay to hear a single recording. Their invention featured an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph inside a wooden cabinet, which was fitted with four listening tubes resembling stethoscopes. Customers inserted a five cent piece in the slot to listen.
The first machine was installed at the Palais Royal Saloon in San Francisco, just two blocks away from the offices of the Pacific Phonograph Company. Although the bar closed within a year, the invention was incredibly successful. Glass boasted that he made more than $1,000 in the first six months of operation and, spurred on by the promise of such high earnings, the concept soon spread.
The first devices were limited to playing back a single wax cylinder. However, following the introduction of recordings pressed on to discs, improvements were made to public phonographs that eventually allowed customers to choose from a broad range of music.
In the 1940s these devices, many fitted with carousels to provide a wide choice of records, had become known as jukeboxes. By this time up to three-quarters of all records produced in the United States went into jukeboxes, arguably making the ‘Nickel-In-The-Slot Phonograph’ the catalyst for the modern music industry.