The Shyvers Multiphone, released in 1939 by Kenneth C. Shyvers, was an early model of a coin-operated phonograph (also known as a jukebox). It allowed patrons at restaurants, cafes and bars to play music at their table, and worked through telephone lines. The user inserted the necessary amount of coins, and was connected to a team of all-female disc jockeys in Seattle, who manually put on the selected song on a phonograph, playing the music through the telephone connection. At the height of the products popularity, the 8,000 Multiphones were used in various establishments primarily on the west coast.
Kenneth C. Shyvers
Kenneth C. Shyvers, an inventor from Seattle, is best known for the creation of the Multiphone, an early version of a coin-operated restaurant jukebox that could hold up to 170 songs and required two telephone lines. He developed the product with his wife Lois in 1939, gaining a patent for its coin control device one-year prior. It was not until 1946/47 that he patented the music box itself. The product's design shows that Shyvers found inspiration from New York architecture, namely the Empire State Building. Although, the original Pre-War model of the music box (then called the "Music -Phone" more resembled a rocket ship. This design change might have been due to an increase in Shyvers' desire to show patriotism in the years after the war, or his ideas of what would appeal more to the costumers at the time. Shyvers is also known for his work on early interactive gaming machines. In 1936, he and fellow inventor Lyn Durrant designed one of the first "score totalizers," an aspect of gaming technology that is still prevalent today.
History of the Coin-Operated Phonograph
The Multiphone played an important role in the evolution of the jukebox, an invention that grew to become a staple of its time and is still often used in cafes and restaurants to recreate the temporality of the mid 20th century. The first recorded coin operated phonograph was presented in 1889, in a public demonstration at the Palais Royal Restaurant in San Francisco. Louis T. Glass, the operator of this initial model, is credited as “the father of the concept,” and went on to hold high offices at several telephone and telegraph companies. By 1891, the United States Patent Office had already registered 18 patents for phonograph coin control devices. Soon, Thomas Alva Edison gained business connections to the rising trend, and between 1900 and 1907 he released over 10 different models. The cafes, restaurants and bars that started housing the coin-operated phonographs became known as “juke-joints.” This term (along with the term “juke box”) started in the South, and was brought up with the northern migration of African-American workers in the early 20th century. It wasn’t until the late 1930s that the terms were released of the stigma of being considered ‘black’ terms and gained spots in the official vocabulary. The music boxes developed before 1900 each offered only one song selection, but soon models such as the “Gomber Multiplex” which could hold up to 12 songs, reached the market. In 1925/26, electrically recorded 78rpm records were released, solving amplification issues and changing the market. In the late 1930s, the market for the jukebox grew as it acted a source entertainment to help the public escape the possibility of war and the effects of the great depression. Companies such as the Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. and the J.P. Seeburg Corp. became some of the primary competitors in jukebox production, creating new models and finding fiscal success in the process. The Multiphone separated itself form the competition through its use of telephone lines, which allowed for a much greater selection of songs through connecting the device to a central music library. However, the Multiphone had ran its course as of the late 1950’s and failed to compete with modern coin-operated music boxes that could hold more songs and used 45rpm records.
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