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History of the Music Box

The idea of a self playing music box was developed from the carillon bell towers used in Europe where a rotating barrel, pinned with cogs in certain positions, would move hammers to strike tuned bells at the proper time to produce music. The next invention to make a music box possible was the tuned steel music note or tooth, in the late 18th century. This invention led to a new industry, the music box industry, which was started in Switzerland, and grew to employ over 100,000 workers in Europe and America. Early makers included F. Nicole, Reymond Nicole, Nicole Freres, LeCoultre, Henry Capt and others. During the mid 19th century as demand for music boxes ( often called musical box or boxes) grew, additional makers named B.A. Bremond, Mermod Freres, Charles Paillard, Paillard Vaucher Fils – P.V.F., Langdorff, L’Epee, Heller, George Baker, Samuel Troll, Baker-Troll, and many others, from snuff boxes, necessaries, and bird boxes to mandoline, sublime harmonie, interchangeable cylinder and orchestra cylinder music boxes. The cylinder music box industry flourished until the late 1880s when a new invention was developed for the market, the interchangeable disc music box.

The first maker of disc music box to go into mass production was Symphonion of Leipzig, Germany. The new industry quickly grew to include Polyphon, Kalliope, Adler, Fortuna, Sireon, Libellion, Stella, Mira, Lochmann, New Century, Britannia, and others with production based in Germany and Switzerland. In 1892 Polyphon recognized the huge market potential in America and sent a team of employees to establish the Regina Music Box Company, in Rahway, NJ. Regina was soon joined by competitors Capitol cuff, Criterion, Olympia, Euphonia, Crown, Sterling, Imperial Symphonion, Mira, Empress, Perfection, Monarch, Triumph, and other makes of disc music boxes in America.

The industry grew rapidly in Europe and America as the new disc music box invention allowed the owner to purchase new music for his disc music box as new music was arranged and produced by the music box maker. This boom in the disc music box industry lasted only until the turn of the 20th century. New inventions such as the phonograph, player piano, nickelodeon, and orchestrion came into the market and quickly became the dominant instruments in the home entertainment and coin-operated musical entertainment industry. Regina tried to compete with the addition of a line of Reginaphone (combination music box and 78 RPM phonograph) models to their product offering. Regina was not successful in their competition with phonograph makers Edison, Victor, Columbia, Pathe, Zonophone and many other makers of modern music machines.

Most of the disc and cylinder music box makers went out of business by 1910. A few survived past 1920 by diversifying production to include vacuum cleaners (Regina), cameras and typewriters (Paillard), and some made the transition to phonographs (Mira Miraphone and Polyphon). Today’s music box industry is dominated by Sankyo of Japan. Their product line primarily consists of novelty music box movements for use in toys, jewelry boxes, figurines and man other applications. Reuge, S.A. in Ste. Croix, Switzerland, is the last of the Swiss makers who currently produce a full line of product from novelty items to large old style cartel music boxes.