Nickel-in-the-slot phonograph — California Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the California Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the installation of the first jukebox 127 years ago in San Francisco.

Initially called a nickel-in-the-slot machine, Louis Glass of the Pacific Phonograph Company placed the first one in the Palais Royal Saloon and quickly placed more of the machines around the city.

From the Proceedings of First Annual Convention of Local Phonograph Companies of the United States Held at Chicago, May 28 and 29, 1890, published in 1890:


The Chairman: The next topic, gentlemen, in the order which was agreed on, is the subject of public exhibitions and the first under that head, is the-nickel-in-the-slot machine.

Mr. Gottschalk: Mr. Chairman, I would respectfully call on Mr. Louis Glass, who has had some experience with the machine, to give you his views on that topic first.

Mr. Glass: Gentlemen, I have very little to say except, that all the money we have made in the phonograph business we have made out of the-nickel-in-the-slot machine. I brought here with me when I came an exact statement of what each machine we have had out has earned for us, and I think Mr. Gottschalk has that paper.

I will state that our machines are not like the machine here, inasmuch as we have four tubes and dropping the nickel in any one of the tubes starts the machine, and only opens the particular tube in which the nickel is dropped: the other three remain closed, and anyone coining up and attempting to hear with either of the three other tubes would get no result, unless likewise they drop a nickel in that particular tube.

The instrument that we have out in California, we had to make ourselves; and we have not the facilities there, that you have east for that part of the work.

I will state that the first one we put out was placed in the Palais Royal saloon on November 23d, 1889, and we have taken in from that machine, up to May 14th, last, §1,035.25.

We likewise placed in the same saloon, a machine on Dec. 4th, and we have taken in on that machine up to May 14th, $938.57.

Mr. Chadbourne: Two machines in the same saloon.

Mr. Glass: Yes.

Mr. Chadbourne: Did they do as well?

Mr. Glass: Yes, and I will state right here, that we seem to have the same patrons all the time.

We change the cylinders every two days, and if a man puts a nickel in once and hears a piece of band music, he almost invariably goes over and hears a second one.

Mr. Chadbourne: He takes a drink before he goes.

Mr. Glass: We generally tell him at the end of the cylinder, to go over to the bar and get a drink.

We placed the third one on December 10th in a saloon, and $580.50 has been taken in with that machine, up to the 14th of May.

We placed the fourth one in the inside waiting-room of the ferry — we have a ferry, very similar to the ferry between Jersey City and New York; Oakland is the sleeping place of San Francisco, and this is the ferry which communicates — we placed that on January 14th, and on May 14th we had taken in from that machine $551.50.

The next one placed was on February 18th, in the Conclave saloon, we have taken in from that up to May 14th, $248.00.

We have fifteen machines out, but eight of them were placed during the latter part of April.

We have taken in altogether from those machines, eight of which were placed in April and May $4,019.00; figure out the details yourself.

Mr. Benson: Do you own that machine yourself?

Mr. Glass: Well, really, I own the whole business.

But I want to say, that when we got our machine out there, and made applications for our patent, we submitted it to our attorney, and asked him whether he thought we could control it for the civilized world, and he said we couldn’t do it, that the North American Phonograph Company had a right to give a man a guarantee as to his responsibility and we must rent him a machine, that being the case, a man could use a machine in our territory.

And I went right back to New York, with the patent that we had, and I am sorry to say that Mr. Gottschalk gouged us out of the most of it.

Nevertheless, gentlemen, there is money in the nickel-in-the-slot phonograph. There is an immediate result for every company in the United States.

If you will look over the income that we have had there you will see that where you furnish interesting material, the receipts do not materially drop off, and I believe that for three or four years there is an enormous amount of money right in the nickel-in-the-slot phonograph.

Mr. Benson: What percentage of this gain is used up in taking care of the machine?

Mr. Glass: It is very, very slight. In reference to that matter, I would say that we have one man whom we pay $75 a month in the city of San Francisco, who inspects every machine every day.

That man procures the material, and he submits to me, day by day, what he can put on every machine in the city one week ahead, so that I know it is always provided.

I will say further, that these machines are so attractive, that at the Palais Royal, where we have two machines, and White Wings saloon, the men who run those places, have leased those machines on regular rental simply as attractions to people that may come in there, for singing songs, cornet solo or something of the sort.

They do it for advertisement, and we supply them with machines. We pay ten per cent.


The California Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of Edison’s Phonograph Experimental Department in Orange, NJ, circa 1892.

California Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin