Wurlitzer Factory Tour – 1950

wurlitzer_factory.jpg

Charles Shopsin is a New York City-raised and Brooklyn-based software developer. In his spare time, he runs the Modern Mechanix blog, waits tables, and finds new ways to torture his cat. His dream girl is Jordan from the movie Real Genius.

When I was a little kid I saw an episode of Mr. Rogers where he visited a factory that made canned vegetable soup. The soup was made in giant vats and the ingredients — peas, carrots and whatnot — were poured in from giant overhead buckets. Then they went on to the canning, labeling and packing lines. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. I’ve been hooked on factory tours ever since.

I’m also a huge fan of ephemera and when you put the two together you get old factory tours. The best place I know of to find these is the online outpost of the Prelinger Library, hosted by Archive.org. I think I have watched almost every movie listed there and this week I’ll be sharing a few of my favorites.

The video I’m linking to today is called “A Visit to Wurlitzer:” made in 1950, this film visits the factory that made Wurlitzer jukeboxes. Maybe not the most exciting video to watch but it is fascinating. Think about all of the buzzwords relating modern production: just-in-time logistics, outsourcing, off-the-shelf components, sub-contractors, and even automation. Now think of the opposite and you’ll have some idea of what this factory was like.

Wood, plastic and metal go in one end, and jukeboxes come out the other. They make pretty much everything on site. There are chemists who develop and produce the varnishes, machinists who make the tools, and a sharpening room. They even make their own plywood. Because they produce pretty much everything from the cabinet to the smallest circuit on their assembly line, the schematics for a single jukebox cover 300,000 square feet of blueprint.

It’s a stunning example of the change the manufacturing industry has gone through in the last 60 years. Apple is one of the biggest electronics companies in America and I don’t think they actually own a single factory.

Skip to about 6 minutes in if you just want to see the tour and not a history of Wurlitzer.

Link (Part I, Part II)

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9 Responses to Wurlitzer Factory Tour – 1950

  1. Stefan Jones says:

    I’ve got a book here (American Jukebox by Vincent Lynch, Chronicle Books . . . thanks bruces!) that has trade adverts by Wurlitzer, aimed at distributors who place machines in restaurants and bars.

    They show how to best deploy your jukeboxes. e.g., when you get a fancy new machine, you put it in your swankest location. Then you take the one that was there and move it to a B-grade location. Both customers are happy because they’ve got an upgrade.

    Then you move the second location’s dowdy old machine to Luigi’s Greasy Spoon, and the dusty crap bucket that was grinding old tunes in Luigi’s you send back to Wurlitzer. Where a guy with a sledge hammer busts it to pieces so it doesn’t compete with their newer equipment.

  2. Chris Tucker says:

    Who is there among us who does not have a crush on Jordan?

  3. LogicalDash says:

    Rejected! Scrapped! Junked!
    I love the narrator’s style.

  4. salsaman says:

    Thrill-of-a-lifetime for me: visiting the Ford gumball factory in Akron, NY as a school field trip when I was 8. Of course we all got to leave with little bags of “defective” gumballs, which was part of the point– our teachers weren’t all bad! We still couldn’t chew gum in school, but we stuffed our mouths with as many as we could chew on the bus ride back.

    Charles: “picture picture” was the highlight of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood for me too! PBS Kids has six making-of movies online, though not the soup-making sequence you remember so vividly:
    http://pbskids.org/rogers/R_house/picpic.htm

  5. airship says:

    When I was a kid back in the Fifties and Sixties, Saturday afternoon TV was brimming over with industrial documentaries like this. I’m pretty sure I saw this particular film one afternoon when I should have been outside playing.

  6. mwisconsin says:

    On the other end of a Wurlitzer’s life, this video is from last summer, after the floods of 2008 decimated Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

    http://www.gazetteonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080618/NEWS/702587335/-1/rss01&rssfeed=rss01

  7. nixiebunny says:

    This film is actually from 1948, since that’s the year that they made the model 1100 jukebox being manufactured in the film. I’m lucky enough to have one of these fine machines. It’s very well made. It also sounds great, its 15″ woofer being well matched to the scratchy 78 RPM records of the day.

  8. philipb says:

    When I was about 9 we were taken on a week long tour of industrial complexes & factories with our school. Talk about a bunch of gob-smacked London kids, we were fascinated! The locals laughed that we’d never seen a factory before. Of course, this was back in the day when the UK still had heavy industry!

  9. Ethan says:

    That might be 6,000 feet of schematics, not 300,000 feet. The documentary’s narrator mentions 48 copies of the plans… I think the 300k feet is the total of the blueprints they made, not the size of one copy.

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