Origins of Music boxes
The year of 1796 is marked as origin of music boxes in history, as Antoine Favre from Geneva incorporated his first musical gadget. He was a watchmaker and developed many mechanical machines for nearly two centuries. For his contributions in mechanical devices, he is known as the Father of mechanical dreams. Antoine used watches, pendants, and perfume bottles to make the musical gadget. This gadget was known as a music comb. It was made from tampered and hardened steel. The comb had springy teeth of different lengths. Each of the springy teeth is plucked to produce a musical note. The length of the particular tooth is determines which musical note is produced. The comb can produce a different note from each tooth.
History reveals that the musical clocks and musical boxes were constructed for the entertainment and amusement of the wealthy and also for royalty during the 16th century. At that time, music was played by striking a pin on a revolving cylinder or disc.
Snuff boxes were originally produced by artisan watchmakers. Switzerland was the center for the bulk production of musical boxes during the 19th century. Samuel Junod and Jeremie Recordon were two entrepreneurs that started the first music box factory in Switzerland. There were also a few factories in Germany and Bohemia at that time. Some manufacturers in Europe also opened factories in United States by the end of the 19th century.
The first music boxes were of varying sizes that ranged from a tiny container which could fit in a pocket, to the size of a hat box, to the size of large pieces of furniture. Most were used as tabletop art pieces. The operative part of these instruments was cylinder that was fabricated from metal and powered by a spring. These cylindrical music boxes were used to provide live music only. They produced a melody of a bell choir or of harpists. However, there was a limitation since they had their own in built-in musical notes.
Manufacturers of cylindrical music boxes tried to remove this limitation by incorporating a method to shift the cylinder to change the melody in a box. The box incorporated several sets of pins, each representing one song. As one set of pins rang the musical notes of the comb, other sets of pins passed silently. When that particular song ends, the cylinder would pass by and other sets of pins would line up with the comb teeth, so, that one musical box could play different tunes. It is reported that some of them could play as many as 12 different tunes in that era of piano music.
In 1862, further improvements were made which permitted the cylinder to be removed to change the melody of a particular box. There were interchangeable cylinders and each cylinder had different tune. Any cylinder could be removed and replaced by a cylinder to provide a different tune.
Cylindrical music boxes were rapidly replaced by the Polyphone and other instruments made with interchangeable metal disks. By the end of the 19th century, instruments with metal disks were mass produced and people switched over to these from music boxes with cylinders. With the invention of disc players, the middle class was able to enjoy the enchanting melodies and popular music of that time in their own homes. Music boxes were great success not only in Europe, but also in America.
Symphonion, in Leipzig, Germany manufactured the first mass produced disc music boxs. The company made music boxes affordable and inexpensive, and it was easy to add more musical selections. Symphonion used a technique that punched holes onto a steel disk that plucked the comb teeth. Some of these were able to play 24 or 27-inch diameter disks. Another could play various song discs. More music was added so that bells would play with the music. The bells could be turned on or off with a switch. These improvements were added in a box named Musical Bell Symphonium.
Many manufacturers of disc music boxes also built masterpieces with mechanisms that were incorporated into hall clocks. Some even had dancing dolls built-in. The boxes were also used in birdcages, jewelry boxes, snowballs and many other art pieces.
In 1877, the phonograph was invented by Thomas Alva Edison. This instrument had major impact on the music industry of the time.
It wasnt long before there were new instruments introduced to the market like Polyphone, Kalliope, Sireon, Fortuna, Empress and Alder to name a few. All of these were produced in Switzerland and Germany. Polyphone took over the music market in America in 1892. Gustave Bachhausen from Germany, who was co-manufacturer of Polyphone disk boxes, established Regina Musical Box Company in New Jersey in 1892. Regina boxes were a huge success and achieved a milestone of 100,000 boxes sold before it disappeared from the market in 1921.
Disk music boxes were highly popular in the 20th century. These instruments were able to produce and arrange new music. Owners of these music boxes could purchase new discs to play in their machines.
In the 19th century, the player piano, phonograph, orchestrion and nickelodeon were invented and quickly became the primary instruments for home entertainment in and the contemporary coin-operated music industry. Coin-operated music boxes were placed in places like parks and train stations in Switzerland. These boxes were able to produce different musical tunes.
The Gramophone eventually replaced music boxes entirely. These record players were easy to use and affordable and permitted a choice of songs. They also offered the option of vocal or orchestral play back.
The Phonograph was invented during the First World War. The Great Depression of1929 crashed the music box industry and removed it from prominence in the market. Most of the manufacturers switched their focus and started producing products such as typewriters, watches and movie cameras that were in much-higher demand.
Today, Reuge of St.Croix, Switzerland is one of the few manufacturers that still produces music boxes of all shapes and sizes. Sanyo of Japan is the leading music box manufacturer with its own designs that compete successfully with the quality and sound of Swiss products.