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Pick Your Tune

Upright jukebox manufactured by Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation, 1939.

Before disc jockeys and music streaming services, many establishments had jukeboxes to keep the music going. For National Jukebox Day, we’re highlighting one that embodies the smooth, streamlined aesthetic that became popular in the 1930s. During that decade, swing music and streamlined design went hand-in-hand. With its lively melodies, swing provided an affordable way for average Americans to escape the Great Depression, even briefly. The economic downturn also forced manufacturers to make products that married cutting-edge design and technology for less. They rose to the challenge, selling streamlined jukeboxes, radios, and microphones nationwide. Some companies hired professional designers to modernize their product lines, while others relied on in-house talent. Chicago’s electronics industry thrived during the 1930s, generating sales of about $75 million annually ($1.2 billion today). Easy to operate and less expensive than live bands, jukeboxes populated scores of American bars and nightclubs during the 1930s. This Rock-Ola Stardust jukebox (1939) lit up when played, giving it more “eye” and “sales” appeal, according to company advertising. The machine also featured a state-of-the-art record changer and sound system. It was designed by David C. Rockola for Rock-Ola Mfg. Corp., which he founded in Chicago in 1927. This jukebox was one of the many examples of streamlined design in Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America. In our Chicago History article that complemented the exhibition, learn about some of Chicago’s quintessential streamlined products, including Radio Flyer wagons, Sunbeam appliances, and Farmall tractors, that became national best-sellers and remain icons of modern American design. Read the Article

The front and back interior views of an upright jukebox produced by Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation, 1939. Left: CHM, ICHi-170337. Right: CHM, ICHi-170341. 

Chicago History Museum Magazine

For fifty years, the Chicago History Museum’s Chicago History magazine has been featuring scholarly articles that tell Chicago stories, shedding light on well-known events and giving voice to lesser known people and happenings that have also shaped the city’s history. The magazine’s pages have covered everything from reshaping Chicago’s waterways to the history of the city’s murals, from the mayor’s office during Prohibition to Black abolitionists during the mid-nineteenth century, from the songs of the labor movement to streamlined modern design. Read the Magazine

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