Excerpted from a Larger Work of Unknown Origin
The short video presented on this page is thought to have been filmed circa 1928 by a European crew, and possibly for the purpose of honoring a very successful Swedish citizen, Mr. J. P. Seeburg, founder of the J. P. Seeburg Piano Company of Chicago. The source of the original film footage currently remains a mystery to this author, but it at some point the Seeburg related footage was excerpted and transferred to a modern video format (i.e., PAL a European video format). From the condition of the film images it is clear that the original motion picture film was obviously in a state of deterioration at the time of conversion to a video format.
The source of the VHS video tape (from which this brief video excerpt was made) is Don Teach, a collector of automatic musical instruments, and his source was the late Claes O. Friberg (1945 - 1996), a music machine collector, historian, and dealer (Mekanisk Musik Museum) in Copenhagen, Denmark. Claes supplied a PAL (European format) video tape from his archive, and that tape was converted to VHS after he sent it to Don Teach.
There is NO audio with this video presentation. The visual quality of the images are good to poor, due to film deterioration occurring before capturing and transferring the vintage images to a PAL video format. But, subsequently, there have been more quality losses due to the transfer from PAL to the VHS video format, and then a little more resolution was probably lost when capturing the old VHS tape and converting the image data into standard DVD quality 720 x 480 AVI files. Moreover, because the Mechanical Music Press web site has no associated media server the screen size for this video presentation has been kept relatively small so as to conserve bandwidth and thereby provide a reasonably smooth flow of video data.
The video, with a running time of approximately two minutes, consists of several sequential categorical sections, as follows:
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Beginning in 1887, Justus P. Seeburg spent 18 years working in the piano industry in the Chicago area, first for C.A. Smith (which later became Smith, Barnes & Strohber), then Bush & Gertz, then as manager of the Conover piano manufacturing facility of the Chicago Cottage Organ Company (which became the Cable Company), and then by co-founding the Kurtz-Seeburg Action Company in Rockford, Illinois.
J.P. Seeburg (1871-1958) had one son, N. Marshall Seeburg (1898-1972). In turn, Marshall had two sons, J.P. Seeburg II (1922-2002) and N. Marshall Seeburg Jr. (1924-2016).
In 1905, Seeburg returned to Chicago and entered the coin-operated piano field at the Marquette Piano Company, where he and his associates built the first coin pianos and operated them "on location" in the city. In 1907, he founded the J.P. Seeburg Piano Company, which distributed the entire output of the Marquette Company. By 1909, the J.P. Seeburg Piano Company began selling pianos with the Seeburg name and mechanisms. Beginning at this time, Seeburg purchased pianos from several different manufacturers and built and installed the player mechanisms at the Seeburg factory.
For the next 20 years, Seeburg went on to manufacture a complete line of coin-operated pianos and orchestrions with art glass fronts, and photoplayers for silent movie theatres. When prohibition was enacted in 1919, J.P. Seeburg’s son Marshall finished his education and came to work with his father. The two opened the new Marshall Piano Co. for the purpose of manufacturing their own pianos, and then consolidated the old company into it, reverting to the J.P. Seeburg Piano Company name. With the manufacturing of almost all components including the cabinets and strung piano backs in their new Dayton St. location, Seeburg became the dominant manufacturer of compact keyboardless coin pianos and orchestrions for speakeasies. During the 1920s, Marshall also established a large network of distributors throughout the U.S. and later, worldwide. The firm’s last major product line before amplified radios and phonographs caused the demise of the automatic piano industry was a series of self-playing piano/organ combinations sold mainly to mortuaries.
Marshall became interested in developing a coin-operated phonograph by the mid-1920s, and had the new Seeburg Audiophone, an 8-tune selective model, on the market by 1928. From this time on, Seeburg became one of the world’s largest makers of coin-operated phonographs. J.P. retired and moved to Stockholm, Sweden, his country of origin, in 1954.
With substantial inheritance taxes looming, the family sold the company to Ft. Pitt Industries in 1956 and J.P. passed away in 1958. After selling the company, Marshall and his sons focused their attention on real estate (including land development around O’Hare International Airport, which had just opened in 1955) and other financial ventures.
Historical information courtesy of Art Reblitz, Terry Hathaway, and Mick Seeburg (son of J.P. Seeburg II).
Video courtesy of the late Claes O. Friberg and Don Teach. PAL/VHS video capture and digitizing by Terry Hathaway.