Wurlitzer Pianos – A Rich American History
Wurlitzer is one of the most well-known names in the music industry, perhaps best known for being the creator of the original jukebox. Long before the jukebox, though, Wurlitzer pianos were an important piece of the fabric of the music industry. An industry leader in many areas during the late 19th and early 20th century, Wurlitzer continues to be a commonly heard name throughout the world. Wurlitzer’s pianos were considered to be middle of the road when it came to quality and good starter instruments. Many have grown up listening and playing products made by the Wurlitzer company. From jukeboxes to guitars the Wurlitzer brand stretched across many areas. Although the company no longer manufactures pianos or other musical instruments, their long history is one worth acknowledging.
Wurlitzer’s Company | Pianos & More
Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer founded the Wurlitzer company in 1853. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, the company began to import musical instruments from Germany to retail in the United States. The company factory was built in 1861 with manufacturing focused on melodeons and organs. The manufacturing of pianos began in 1880 with the instruments being sold through the Wurlitzer retail outlets. Wurlitzer pianos quickly became well known. Wurlitzer became one of the first defense contractors in the United States. They supplied musical instruments to the U.S. Government during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. During the later part of the 1800s, Wurlitzer entered into the manufacturing of band organs. Tariffs prevented the importation of European-built organs, so Wurlitzer stepped in to fill that gap. Powered by either steam or by hand, these organs were produced until 1932.
Wurlitzer faced many of the same challenges as other businesses in the music industry did, following the turn of the century. In order to overcome these challenges, Wurlitzer expanded and built the world’s first automatic jukebox, called the Wurlitzer Simplex. Wurlitzer became better known for their jukeboxes and mechanical instruments rather than traditional pianos and organs. In 1900 Wurlitzer began to produce coin-operated, nickelodeon pianos. This continued until the mid-1930s. During the 1920s, the company acquired the Melville Clark line of pianos and in 1935 introduced a piano just 39 inches in height to the market. This spinet-style piano did a good job of replicating the sound of bulkier, larger instruments. This was a timely introduction as many consumers during this period were looking for cheaper, smaller instruments.
Manufacturing developments continued into the mid-20th century. Wurlitzer was responsible for creating an electronic piano that was able to provide natural piano tone without any strings or soundboard. The electronic Rudolph Wurlitzer piano weighed just 68 pounds and could be transitioned into a suitcase-type device that was entirely portable.
‘…the name that means Music to millions’. – Past Wurlitzer Company Slogan
Changing Times and the end of Wurlitzer
By the 1950s Wurlitzer began to fall behind in the technology race. Their original jukeboxes were a hit, however, other companies soon began to take Wurlitzer’s place in that market.
The company began to go into a decline. In 1973 the company sold its famed jukebox brand to an overseas company. In 1988 Wurlitzer’s piano manufacturing brand was bought by their longtime competitor, Baldwin. After this, most of the piano manufacturing was moved out of the United States to overseas facilities. Production of pianos utilizing the Wurlitzer name continued until 2009 when Baldwin ceased the use of the Wurlitzer name on newly built pianos. The name continued to be used on new jukeboxes until manufacturing ceased in 2013. Today, the ‘mighty Wurlitzer’ brand is a thing of the past.
“…”Gee Dad, it’s a Wurlitzer.” – Past Wurlitzer Company Slogan
Wurlitzer’s Legacy | Innovation in the Music Industry
Wurlitzer brought a number of innovations and changes into the music world. Their focus beyond pianos included band organs, jukeboxes, guitars, theater organs, electric pianos, and even vending machines. Wurlitzer pianos are considered to be extremely durable. They featured the Wurl-On Finish which was resistant to cold, heat, dryness, and moisture. Wurlitzer pianos may not be considered to be on the same level as Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, or Yamaha but they are considered to be solid instruments. A good middle ground between quality and value. Due to their high output during their time in the piano industry, Wurlitzer pianos are a common sight in continued use and for sale as used pianos. If you are interested in the purchase of a historic Wurlitzer piano, get in contact with us today.