The Automatic Musical Instrument Company – or AMI for short – have left quite a legacy in the world of jukeboxes. If you’ve seen any of their jukeboxes amongst our own stock here at the Games Room Company, you’ll probably have more than an inkling of why! Even today, their machines are capable of effortlessly entrancing all who pass by them, with their distinctive aesthetics and flawless “vinyl to valve” sound.
These pioneering designs earned AMI a place in music history as one of the ‘Big Four’ jukebox manufacturers – joining giants such as the Seeburg Corporation, Wurlitzer, and of course Rock Ola. The company produced some awe-inspiring designs at the height of Golden and Silver Ages of Jukeboxes in the mid-20th century – which is part of what makes so many of these jukeboxes so highly sought-after today.
How AMI joined the Big Four
When the company first began in 1909, it was under a completely different guise. Back then, it was known as the National Automatic Music Company, and created coin-operated self-playing pianos. The company comprised two separate but closely-related divisions – one of which was responsible for actually manufacturing the pianos, and the other of which handled the operation of them.
It motored on quite happily like this for a decade or so, before it underwent some major restructuring in 1925. The piano manufacturing division became its own entity entirely, assuming the name of the National Piano Manufacturing Co. As for the other entity, that went on to become what the world would eventually know as the Automatic Musical Instrument Company.
AMI didn’t wait long to make history, releasing its very first jukebox just a few years later in 1927 – billed as the National Automatic Selection Phonograph. (OK, so admittedly the name could have been a little snappier.) It was essentially a record player hooked up to a loudspeaker and a selector, which could switch between ten records.
Now, it wasn’t technically the first multi-selection record machine, but it was the first device to combine a record player, selector, loudspeaker amplification and a coin slot. Effectively, AMI had created the world’s first selective jukebox! It was just the phenomenon you’d expect, and it cemented AMI’s reputation as a pioneer in the fast-evolving coin-op industry.
Like its contemporaries at Rock Ola, the company suspended production between 1940 and 1945, retooling its factories to assist with the war effort. But once the Second World War ended in 1945, AMI was the first to bounce back into the jukebox market, releasing the famous Model A in 1946. This jukebox quickly became affectionately known as the ‘Mother of Plastic’, inspired by the opalescent plastic that framed the glass, as well as the coloured glass gemstones inset into its front.
This marked the start of the Golden Age of Jukeboxes. Exhausted by years of war, people in the 1940s were all too keen to start singing, dancing, and living again, and jukebox manufacturers were all too happy to indulge this newfound zest for life. As one of the Big Four, AMI was at the forefront of this charge. Around this time, its factory was producing 100 machines a day for 245 working days every year. The technology that underpinned their machines was fast evolving too, and AMI jukeboxes often showcased this cutting-edge technology to the wider public.
Such was AMI’s success, the company arranged a number of licenced manufacturing agreements to allow partner companies to produce similar jukeboxes under licence on its behalf, allowing it to reach global markets that had previously been out of reach. (Interestingly, one such market was the UK, which at the time prohibited many types of goods from being sold unless 53% of their content was manufactured locally. Happily, there are no such qualms with UK vendors like ourselves selling AMI jukeboxes today!)
The designs shaped by an era
AMI’s jukeboxes have always been notable for reflecting certain elements of contemporary popular culture and technology – which many people still find to be amongst the most intriguing aspects of their design.
Take the AMI Singing Towers for example, first produced in the early 1940s. There’s something distinctively sci-fi in its design, which appealed no end to an American public already enraptured by contemporary pulp magazines, and stories by young writers like Robert A Heinlein or Isaac Asimov. Then there was the AMI I 200, from the Golden Age of Jukeboxes, whose chrome styling echoed the design of automobiles of the time.
AMI kept its finger on the pulse of pop culture for the release of the AMI II Continental in 1962 – a jukebox which captured all the excitement and anticipation of the Space Race. The boundless expanse of space – and all the possibilities it entailed – now seemed closer than ever, and popular TV shows like Star Trek and Captain Scarlet gave tantalising hints of what society might one day look like.
So you can imagine how taken the public was with the AMI II Continental, with its space-age bubble and ‘radar dish’ of selections. AMI intended it to set ‘a new standard of style’ and boy did it succeed. Even today, it remains perhaps one of the company’s best known jukeboxes.
That same year, AMI were brought under the new ownership of Rowe AC Services, but that didn’t stop them from producing jukeboxes. In fact, they continued making jukeboxes all the way through the end of the Silver Age, even as far as the 70s and 80s.
AMI is still around today as the AMI Entertainment Network, focusing its operations on more digital forms of media. Though it’s no longer making new jukeboxes, its vintage treasures continue to be much loved the world over, and you’ll find no shortage of them right here at the Games Room Company!
All of our AMI jukeboxes have been restored by our very own specialist engineers, so that they look and sound just as magnificent as they did when they first left the doors of AMI’s factory all those years ago. Why not stop by expansive Weybridge showroom to discover them for yourself?