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The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, usually referred to simply as Wurlitzer, is an American company, formerly a producer of stringed instruments, woodwind, brass instruments, theatre organs, band organs, orchestrions, electronic organs, electric pianos and jukeboxes.

Over time Wurlitzer changed to producing only organs and jukeboxes, but it no longer produces either. The factory, in the same complex as that of the Eugene DeKleist company (another maker of band organs and orchestrions, acquired by Wurlitzer), is in North Tonawandamarker, New Yorkmarker, USA. The building is now home to a wide array of tenants ranging from an indoor batting cage to private apartments to various light industrial and commercial businesses. The building's current owner is in the midst of a vast restoration project and has recently replaced the original Wurlitzer sign with a new one.

Deutsche Wurlitzer, owner of the Wurlitzer Jukebox and Vending Electronics trademark, was acquired by the Gibson Guitar Corporation.

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

Wurlitzer 24-disc Jukebox
Wurlitzer 3500 Jukebox (1971)


Jukeboxes

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. Wurlitzer's success was due to a first rate marketing department (headed by future Indianamarker Senator Homer Capehart), the reliable Simplex record changer, and the designs of engineer Paul Fuller who created many landmark cabinet styles in the "lightup" design idiom. 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.

Replica jukeboxes bearing the Wurlitzer name are still available. The more recent models are able to play CDs, as well as brand new special edition units also with iPod connectivity.

Band organs

Known band organ models once produced by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of North Tonawanda, NY, and information regarding currently active models and their locations include:
Style: Active organ information and locations:
#18 N/A
#38 1913 Herschell-Spillman Carousel, Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michiganmarker, USA
#103 Flying Horses Carouselmarker, Oak Bluffs, Massachusettsmarker, USA
#104 N/A
#105 Museum Carousel, Museum of Carousel Art and History, Sandusky, Ohiomarker, USA

DeBence Antique Music World, 1261 Liberty Street, Franklin, Pennsylvaniamarker, USA DeBence Homepage
#125 1901 Parker Carousel, Heritage Center of Dickinson County, Abilene, Kansasmarker, USA
#126 N/A
#145-B Lakeside Carousel, International Market World, Auburndale, Floridamarker, USA
#146-A Dr. Floyd L. Moreland Carousel, Casino Piermarker, Seaside Heights, New Jerseymarker, USA

1920 Allan Herschell Carousel, Ross Parkmarker, Binghamton, New Yorkmarker, USA
#146-B 1912 Parker Carousel, Burnaby Village Museum, Burnaby, British Columbiamarker, Canada

1925 Allan Herschell Carousel, Recreation Parkmarker, Binghamton, New Yorkmarker, USA

1926 Wurlitzer 146-B Band Organ (modified with a Wurlitzer 153 Band Organ facade) at 1928 Paragon Park Carouselmarker, Nantasket Beach, Hull, Massachusettsmarker, USA
#147 N/A
#148 DeBence Antique Music World, 1261 Liberty Street, Franklin, Pennsylvaniamarker, USA DeBence Homepage
#150 1906 Bartholomew Murphy Carousel, City Park, New Orleans, Louisianamarker, USA
#153 1898 Carousel, Canobie Lake Parkmarker, Salem, New Hampshiremarker, USA

1914 Bushnell Park Carousel, Bushnell Parkmarker, Hartford, Connecticutmarker, USA

1925 Spillman Engineering Carousel, Tuscora Park, New Philadelphia, Ohiomarker, USA

#155 1909 Wurlitzer 155 Band Organ (model nicknamed "Monster"), Elitch Gardens Carouselmarker, Kit Carson County Fairgrounds, Burlington, Coloradomarker, USA
#157 1928 Spillman Carousel, Public Museum of Grand Rapidsmarker, Grand Rapids, Michiganmarker, USA

1926 PTC Carousel #79, Kings Islandmarker, Cincinnati, Ohiomarker, USA
#160 Wurlitzer 160 Band Organ (model nicknamed "Mammoth") (modified in 1915 to a Wurlitzer Style 165[?]), Joyland Amusement Park, Wichita, Kansasmarker, USA
#165 1926 Wurlitzer 165 Band Organ at 1921 Dentzel Carousel, Glen Echo Parkmarker, Glen Echo, Marylandmarker, USA
#166 N/A
#180 Jasper Sanfilippo Collection, Victorian Palace, Barrington Hills, Illinoismarker, USA


Some orchestrations made by the company can be found at Clark's Trading Post, Lincoln, New Hampshiremarker, USA, the Music Hall, Nevada City, Montana, USA, and the Jasper Sanfilippo Collection at Victorian Palace, Barrington Hills, Illinois, USA. The company's patents, trademarks and assets were acquired by the Baldwin Piano Company with their purchase of the keyboard division of Wurlitzer in 1988.

Theater organs

Perhaps the most famous instruments Wurlitzer built were its pipe organs (from 1914 until around 1940), which were installed in theaters, homes, churches, and other public places. "The Mighty Wurlitzer" theatre organ was designed, originally by Robert Hope-Jones, as a "one man orchestra" to accompany silent movies. In all, Wurlitzer built over 2,200 pipe organs (and indeed more theater organs than the rest of the theater organ manufacturers combined); the largest one originally built was the 4 keyboard / 58 rank (set of pipes) instrument at Radio City Music Hallmarker in New York City. The Music Hall instrument is actually a concert instrument, capable of playing classical as well as non-classical repertoire. It, along with the organ at the Paramount Theatre in Denver Colorado are the only Wurlitzer installations still in use that have dual identical, but independent console.

Other large Wurlitzer organs still in their original locations include the Chicago Theatermarker in Chicago Illinois (the oldest); Byrd Theatermarker in Richmond, Virginia; Fox Theatremarker in Saint Louis, Missouri; Lorain Palace Theatremarker in Lorain, Ohio; Weinberg Center in Frederick, Maryland; Fox Theatremarker in Detroit, Michigan; Shea's Theatermarker in Buffalo, New York; Bardavon 1869 Opera Housemarker in Poughkeepsie, New York, Riviera Theatremarker in North Tonawanda, New York; the Tennessee Theatremarker in Knoxville, Tennessee; the Alabama Theatremarker in Birmingham, Alabama; Coleman Theatre in Miami, Oklahoma; the Denver Paramount Theatre in Denver, Colorado; the Egyptian Theatremarker in Coos Bay, Oregonmarker and the Paramount Theatermarker in Seattle, Washington, also the Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon, Washington,The Plaza Theatre, El Paso Texas, the Rose Theater , the Orpheum Theatermarker in Sioux City, Iowamarker, and the Orpheum Theatermarker in Downtown Omaha, Nebraska. The Paramount Theatremarker in Cedar Rapidsmarker, Iowamarker was home to an impressive Wurlitzer organ on a lift that raised and lowered it from beneath the stage however, the console, lift, and blower of the Mighty Wurlitzer theater organ were destroyed by the 2008 flood. Smaller instruments in the UK exist in their original installations, such as the Gaumont State Cinemamarker, Kilburnmarker and the Blackpool Towermarker Ballroom in the UK. These instruments are still being played several times a week. Chaminade High Schoolmarker, in Mineola, New York, is currently the only high school in the USA to have one in their school. It was bought from an adult movie theater.

Another example of the large scale Mighty Wurlitzer can be found in the Instrument Museum in Berlin. The large four manual, 16 rank Mighty Wurlitzer type 250 special was purchased by Werner Ferdinand von Siemens in 1929 and installed in the Siemens' concert hall in August of that year. At the end of World War II the organ and the concert hall became property of the German Reich. The Mighty Wurlitzer survived the war, but was seriously damaged in 1962 by a fire, which was caused by a careless cigarette. From February 1963 to December 1963 Marvin E Merchant, a Berlin stationed G.I. repaired the organ at his own expense. In 1982 it was given to the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, where it was restored completely and installed in the museum by Eberhard Friedrich Walcker GmbH & Co. in 1984. In the Musical Instruments Museum of this institute, where the organ is still located today, it is played every Saturday at 12:00 PM (noon).

Much larger, and more versatile, theatre organs have been built in the last 20 years by well-heeled private enthusiasts, the largest being the magnificent 5/80 organ at the Sanfilippo Estate in Barrington, IL. Other examples include the San Sylmar, CA Nethercutt Collection 4/77, the Organ Stop Pizza, Mesa, AZ 4/78, and the John Dickinson High Schoolmarker Wilmington, DE 3/66 mostly W.W. Kimball. These were built by a combination of older organs, and new pipework to achieve results.

New digital recreations of these instruments have also reached technological peaks in the last few years. Companies such as Walker Theatre Organs, Allen Organ Company and Rodgers Instrumentsmarker have utilized high-level, digital sampling of original pipe organ sounds to incorporate into their electronic instruments, resulting in very close duplications of these original musical wonders (with the usual electronic-organ limitations).

In the 1950s, the American Association of Theater Organ Enthusiats (AATOE) was formed to save and preserve theater organs that still remained. (There were other builders as well, including The John Compton Organ Co. LTD, Hill Norman and Beard, W.W. Kimball Company, M.P. Moller, Inc., Robert Morton Organ Company, George Kilgen and Sons, Marr and Colton Organ Company, the Bartola Musical Instrument Company (Barton Organ Company), and the Wicks Organ Company.) The AATOE is now know as the American Theater Organ Society . and there is smaller but comparable society in the UK, the Cinema Organ Society.

Wurlitzers in Britain

There were a number of Wurlitzers in Britain in the period before the Second World War (1939-45). The first was a very small, six rank instrument installed at the Picture House, Walsall in the West Midlands. The organ is now located in the Congregational Church in Beer, Devonmarker, a small fishing village on the south coast, where it is now being lovingly restored to its former glory. The percussions and "toy counter" division were removed and re-cycled when the organ was installed in the church, since it was not considered necessary for church purposes; although compatible replacements are now being sourced and fitted to replace those which were removed. Before the instrument was bought by the church it had been in a private residence in Sedgely, Staffordshire, after its removal from the cinema.

The second to be installed was also a 2-manual 6-rank instrument. This was at the Palace Cinema in Tottenhammarker, North Londonmarker. It was opened by the organist Jack Courtnay on 6 April 1925. This Wurlitzer remained at the Palace Cinema until 1957 when it was sold to the Grammar School at Rye, East Sussexmarker. Rye College, as it is now known, has been home to this Wurlitzer ever since. Originally the console was installed sideways-on on a blacony above the school hall. In recent years "Friends of Rye Wurlitzer" have raised funds to move the organ's console onto its own lift rising from beneath the stage.

Many Wurlitzers were in the larger cinemas and broadcasts were made by the BBC on a regular basis. The more famous of these organs were at the Empire Cinema in Londonmarker, The Tower Ballroom Blackpoolmarker and at the Granada cinema in Tootingmarker - which is currently undergoing a lengthy restoration. It was recently played in public for the first time in 33 years. British organist Reginald Dixon was well known for his performances and broadcasts on the Blackpool organ.

The Trocadero Elephant and Castlemarker Wurlitzer, was the largest organ ever to be shipped to the UK, installed in 1930 in time for the grand opening of the 3,400-seater Cinema. Organist Quintin Maclean is always associated with the instrument. This was closely followed in size by the Paramount/ODEONS at Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. The Cinema Organ Society has an extensive list of British cinema organs.

The Blackpool Opera House organ was the last new Wurlitzer to be installed in the UK in 1939 and was designed by Horace Finch. The Granada, Kingston also received a Wurlitzer in or around 1939, but most of this came from an earlier installation in Edinburgh. This was the last Wurlitzer installation to be opened and Reginald Dixon was at the console.

The Worthing Assembly hall houses the biggest Wurlitzer organ console in Europe, this console was installed in 1981 after being brought from Blackpool.This organ was originally built in the late 1890s and was re-conditioned and brought back up to service in the 1960s, it was then bought by the national organ trust in the 1980s and installed in Worthing in 1981, the organ has been slowly upgraded to an electric air pump system, programmable pre-sets and a full pipe system.

Many of these organs have survived and are installed in private homes, Town Halls, Concert Halls and Ballrooms all over the country. The largest fully functioning Wurlitzer in a British cinema today is the four-manual organ in the Gaumont State Cinema in Kilburn, Londonmarker (now a bingo hall).

The St Albans Organ Theatre offers monthly concert demonstrations of a three manual, ten rank instrument.Originally installed in the Empire music hall (later the Granada) in Edmonton, North London in 1933 and opened by American organist Don Baker, this WurliTzer was regularly featured by the famous Granada team of top organists. Fully restored in 1992; an unusual feature of this instrument was the provision of a dedicated chamber for percussion, controlled by an additional expression pedal.The installation at St. Albans boasts a Weber Duo-Art grand piano; playable from the WurliTzer console.

The Villa Marina Arcade in Douglas, Isle of Manmarker houses a Wulitzer built in 1929. It was in use at the City Cinema Leicester until 1957. After a period of storage, it was bought for private use by Mr Allan Hickling. He installed the Wurlitzer in his house and it became well known and was played on BBC Radio 2 programme “The Organist Entertains” by an organist called Brian Sharp. Acquired by the Isle of Man Governmentmarker in 1989, it became popular entertaining tourists at Summerland until its closure in 2004. The Wurlitzer has now been fully restored by renowned organist, Len Rawle and is the focal point of the newly refurbished Villa Marina Arcade.

Electric pianos

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

Electric guitars

The Wurlitzer brand was applied to several lines of electric guitars during the 1960s. The first family of solid body electric guitars and basses were manufactured by the Holman Company of Neodosha, KS, from late 1965 until 1967. Models included the Cougar, Wildcat and Gemini, all of which had different body shapes. The majority of the Kansas made instruments were guitars, with only a handful of basses being manufactured.

The second family of guitars debuted in 1967, and were manufactured in Italy by the Welson company, and were semi-hollow in construction.

In popular culture

  • The Wurlitzer model 1015, originally produced in 1948, is the design which most people across the world associate with the term "jukebox," with bubbling tubes and columns which constantly change color. Reproductions of this design have been made by Wurlitzer itself as well as most other commercial jukebox builders. Current models are usually CD, though even digital download models are now available. The original played 78 rpm records.
  • In John Betjeman's documentary Metro-land (1973), Len Rawle performs on a Wurlitzer organ from the Empire cinema in Leicester Squaremarker, which he had installed in his house in Chorleywoodmarker.
  • The Mighty Wurlitzer is used as a metaphor for centralized control of media in politics and government.
  • A Wurlitzer appeared in the film adaptation of V for Vendetta in 'V's home, the Shadow Gallery. Banned by the Fascist Government, Norsefire.
  • The Mighty Wurlitzer is the title of episode 16 in series 6 of The Goon Show, first broadcast on January 3 1956.
  • A Wurlitzer jukebox is mentioned in Joni Mitchell's song "The Last Time I Saw Richard" off of her album Blue.
  • Tori Amos regularly uses Wurlitzer on her records, most recently on Abnormally Attracted to Sin.
  • Josh Ritter compares someones heart to a Wurlitzer in his song "Kathleen."
  • Young Marble Giants have a song entitled "Wurlitzer Jukebox" which appears on their album Colossal Youth.
  • The gangster Meyer Lansky was once the Wurlitzer Distributor for New York and New Jersey


History

American firm of instrument makers and dealers. Started in Cincinnati in 1853 by Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer (1831-1914), it was directed successively by his three sons until 1941, when it moved to Chicago. From importing musical instruments it turned in the 1880s to marketing automated instruments, including disc-changer machines and coin-operated pianos; the ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’ theatre organ was introduced in 1910, followed by the successful coin-operated phonograph, or juke-box (1934-74). In 1909 the company began making harps; they were far more durable than European prototypes, and from 1924 to the 1930s eight acclaimed models were available. The firm's violin department, independently directed by Rembert Wurlitzer (1904-63) from 1949, became a leading international centre for rare string instruments. Among Wurlitzer's electronic instruments, beginning with electric reed organs in 1947, the most important have been the fully electronic organs, especially the two-manual-and-pedals ‘spinet’ type (from 1971 with synthesizer features) for domestic use.

The history of the Wurlizer Company came to an end sometime in the 1980's when Wurliter was bought by the Baldwin Piano Company. Although (electronic) organs are no longer manufactured, Baldwin does place the "Wurlizer" name on its lower-end line of pianos..

References

External links




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