Company HistoryThe 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 WurlitzerShortly 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.
WurliTzer building in North Tonawanda, NYIn 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.
Farny Wurlitzer (right)