Rock-Ola’s daring race to the Queen Mary

Rock-Ola’s daring race to the Queen Mary

We daresay you don’t have to spend too long on our website to know the name of David C. Rockola. As the man who founded our company all the way back in 1927, Mr. Rockola was the original visionary behind Rock-Ola jukeboxes, and by association the man who shaped the world’s image of jukeboxes. Today, he’s a household name across the globe, and the company he founded is the world's last manufacturer of truly authentic American jukeboxes. But back in the 1930s, Rock-Ola was one of several huge names bringing out the world’s most innovative jukeboxes, all vying to be top dog in the global jukebox game. And therein lies the story of the original Rock-Ola Multi Selector Jukebox, and the race to the Queen Mary…

 

The Rock-Ola jukebox that helped change music forever

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? By all accounts, the 1930s were a tough time for the recording industry. The development of microphones and new techniques of electrical recording had advanced the industry significantly in the mid-twenties, but in just a few short years, hard economic times and fierce competition from radio and cinema meant that relatively few ordinary Americans could afford new electric phonographs and recordings.

What changed all that was the coin-operated phonograph, which was basically the forerunner to the modern jukebox. Suddenly there was an inexpensive, public form of entertainment that the masses could enjoy - and just like that, the recording industry started to recover. There were a couple of people spearheading that particular revolution - and as you’ve probably guessed, one of the most prominent was our very own David C. Rockola.

Of course, pretty much every company in the industry was busy working on their own coin-operated phonograph, and it was amidst fierce competition in 1934 that Mr. Rockola introduced his Rock-Ola Multi Selector. It allowed a choice between as many as 12 selections. That may not seem like much now, but at the time it was revolutionary! The release of the Multi-Selector turned out to have far-reaching ripples - not only did it help to secure the future of the Rock-Ola Corporation by putting it one step ahead of competitors but was arguably instrumental in setting a blueprint for all modern jukeboxes. It was a truly impressive achievement and one which is often underestimated by contemporary accounts.

A new era of good food, good drink, and good music

Let’s not forget, the timing of its launch was particularly important too. Prohibition had just ended, having started all the way back in 1919 and finally ended in 1933. After years of sobriety (or covert imbibing, anyway), the United States was ready to buckle down and fill its glasses. Now in 1934, the bars, taverns, and cocktail bars still hadn’t been open all that long, and now more and more of them were starting to stock the Rock-Ola Multi Selector jukeboxes. Restaurant owners were quick to seize on the money-making potential of the machines too, and before long every restaurant owner with a music machine was being advised to instruct his staff to suggest music frequently to patrons. Some even printed it on their menus, with slogans like: “Music adds to the pleasure of this meal. The latest in music from our coin-operated phonograph.”

The roaring success of the new jukebox helped pave the way to Rock-Ola’s eventual establishment as one of the four largest jukebox companies in North America, head-to-head with Seeburg, AMI, and Wurlitzer. Only one of those companies is still fully operating today. (We’ll give you three guesses as to which!)

 

An unmissable chance from the eminent Queen Mary

In the same year that the Rock-Ola Multi Selector launched, the UK launched a little something of its own - the eminent RMS Queen Mary, an arresting ocean liner which sailed her maiden voyage from Southampton on 27 May 1936. She arrived in New York a few days later on June 1, and it’s here that her tale becomes entwined with David C. Rockola’s.

Now, the American media were just as captivated with the Queen Mary as much of the British media were. She was described as “a new peak in luxury at sea” by the New York Times, and “just about the most beautiful ship afloat” by the New Yorker. She was proclaimed as “regal a ship as ever ruled the waves” by the New York American. With a reputation like that, it’s not hard to see why Mr. Rockola decided that he couldn’t miss an opportunity to install one of his Multi Selector jukeboxes aboard - so when such an opportunity presented itself, he didn’t hesitate.

The timescale was the only issue. Anyone who’s ever bought, sold, or owned a jukebox knows exactly how hard they can be to move, especially with the kind of care that such exquisite machines deserve. That was exactly the problem faced by Rockola one bright morning in 1936. Worse, he supposedly only had two hours to get the jukebox aboard the Queen Mary before she was due to leave.

In the end, Mr. Rockola opted for the simplest and most effective option - he had the jukebox strapped to the top of a taxi and sent careening towards the dock. It was one heck of an assignment for the driver, and perhaps unsurprisingly rumors circled that a special squad of private detectives had been hired to assist the regular police department to clear the way for the taxi so that it could reach the Queen Mary on time. Its arrival was witnessed by large crowds gathered at the dock, which led to some speculation that the whole thing was a PR stunt devised by Mr. Rockola himself. Are any of those rumors true? Well, who’s to say…

We’ll tell you one thing though - if you’re looking for the world’s finest authentic American jukeboxes, you’re in exactly the right place. Here on our website, you’ll find a stunning range of iconic jukeboxes, including the brand new authentic Bubbler Vinyl 45 with Bluetooth capability. What’s more, we’ve even produced legendary Rock-Ola Bubblers in the liveries of some world-famous US brands, including Jack Daniels and Harley Davidson. Why not take a look around, and see what you can find?