Wurlitzer Coin Pianos,
Photoplayers, and Organettes

and the Wurlitzer Patented Direct Drive Gear System

Wurlitzer Letterhead.

The House of Wurlitzer

The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, with its showcase principal factory located in North Tonawanda, New York, was one of the most prolific and aggressive marketers of various kinds of automatic musical instruments in the United States. The company distributed many kinds of hand-played musical instruments, as well as Regina music boxes, and it manufactured a myriad of coin-operated pianos and orchestrions all the way up to the incomparable (Hope-Jones) Wurlitzer Unit Orchestras (a.k.a., Theater Organs). Wurlitzer excelled at marketing and so it should come as no surprise that many Wurlitzer coin pianos and orchestrions from small to large survive to this very day.

Anyone who has ever drooled over a Wurlitzer color catalogue from the early 20th Century, with its often deliciously described automatic musical instruments, is well aware of the diversity of types, styles, and scope of the Wurlitzer line of offerings. They ranged from the distinctive and relativly compact Tremolo Piano (a Regina Sublima sold under the Wurlitzer name), the Tonophone (barrel operated pneumatic piano), the Automatic Harp, the Mandolin Quartette and Mandolin Sextette, and a myriad of assorted cabinet and keyboard instruments all the way up to the immense and imposing PianOrchestra and Paganini style orchestrions. Wurlitzer was proud to be the house of "everything musical," and this was no idle exaggeration. The company unabashedly advertised itself as having the "Most Complete Line of Automatic Musical Instruments Manufactured in the World." But while it is not covered within this particular Registry page, Wurlitzer was indeed a huge distributor of non-automatic hand-played band and orchestral musical instruments, as well as wide range of associated accessories and supplies, and it was engaged in the business of high quality "hand-played" instruments since its inception, long, long before coin-operated automatic musical instruments made their debut and became popular.

This particular page, for practical purposes, is to be limited to merely one aspect of the immense Wurlitzer business expanse, namely Wurlitzer coin-operated instruments and the closely associated photoplayer and organette lines manufactured in its sprawling North Tonawanda, New York, factory complex. The extensive line of Wurlitzer Band Organs are dealt with elsewhere in this Registry, as are the broad array of magnificent cabinet style Philipps orchestrions imported from Germany and sold by Wurlitzer under the PianOrchestra and Paganini name. This included several different categories of PianOrchestras, (Regular, Mandolin, and Concert PianOrchestras), as well as various cabinet style Paganini Violin Pianos and Orchestras. This page also does not include the Wurlitzer Automatic Harp, made by the J. W. Whitlock Company in Rising Sun, Indiana. Also excluded are the early spring-wound automatic predecessors to the coin piano, such as Regina music boxes, some of which were coin operated, or the Regina Sublima piano (a late style was supplied with an electric motor), for which Wurlitzer was a major Regina distributor.

Using the Information on this Page

This page continues with deteailed information and photos of various Wurlitzer coin opoerated pianos, photoplayers, and the Direct Drive Gear standards, all of which are important for a truly useful understanding of Wurlitzer, the database reports, and also to effectively fill in the On-Line Survey Reporting Forms.

Wurlitzer Coin Pianos, Photoplayers, and Organettes

Wurlitzer Logo from 1914 catalogue.

This page began life as the Wurlitzer Direct Drive Gear study project, which remains intact and begins below starting at The Wurlitzer Patented Direct Drive Gear heading. However, this inceptional study project is now gradually being merged into a new, larger scale project, one that includes both the coin pianos made by Eugene de Kleist for Wurlitzer up until January of 1909 (when Wurlitzer took possession of the de Kleist facilities) and the myriad coin pianos and photoplayers manufactured thereafter by Wurlitzer in its North Tonawanda factory complex, which incorporated the old de Kleist factory building.

Please note: The study text and detailed description of Wurlitzer styles and mechanical components, which will precede the current Direct Drive Gear study section, have for the most part yet to be written, but will be added piecemeal when ready for insertion. In the meantime, the Wurlitzer Coin Piano database already exists and contains numerous entries—thanks to Art Reblitz and Dana Johnson. So you can now begin to enjoy the usefulness of this merger of database projects by reason of the new database reports offered, and by the additional survey form for Wurlitzer coin pianos located near the bottom of this page.

Music Rolls—Wurlitzerized Music

WURLITZERIZED MUSIC is demanded by all musicians who want the best and know which is the best. This week's roll is far above the average. Good, tuneful melodies and rich harmonies. Don't fail to hear this roll. You will surely want it, and of course it's Wurlitzerized.

Wurlitzerized Music educates the masses to a keen appreciation of that which is the best in music. No matter whether it be a popular song, a ragged rag, or a classical selection, each has its devotees, and we have the music for them. This week's offering consist of five very popular hits, all good musically and poetically. It should be in every library, and to miss it would be to lose a treat. And don't forget it's Wurlitzerized. "Nuf said."

—From selected 1913 Wurlitzer Monthly Roll Bulletins

Wurlitzer music rolls for its coin operated instruments were for the most part arranged and manufactured at the North Tonawanda plant. The few exceptions include rolls for the Automatic Harp, for instance, which were arranged and cut by the J. W. Whitlock Company in Rising Sun, Indiana, and early rolls for the Regular PianOrchestra were arranged and cut by Philipps in Germany. Early Pianino, Mandolin Quartette and Mandolin Sextette, 88-Note Player Piano rolls, and the early 65-Note Automatic Player Piano rolls were arranged and cut at the de Kleist factory, but those facilities became the property of Wurlitzer in January of 1909. If you come across a purple Wurlitzer roll the changes are that it was made during the de Kleist years, or shortly thereafter.

Wurlitzer rolls for the North Tonawanda made coin operated pianos fall into several categories, as follows:

Manufacture Dating Guide

Serial numbers for Wurlitzer instruments were assigned at the time of manufacture; not when they were shipped, the two dates often being distant from each other and unrelated. The dating guide below combines four different columns of information, as follows:

  1. The year of possible manufacture, but more correctly the shipping date. In the earlier years the manufacturing date and shipping date was usually withing one or two months of each other. From the mid-1920s onward, when sales of automatic musical instruments were tapering off and later even slack, the spread between the manufacturing and shipping dates was much longer, and in some cases the spread could be a year or more.
  2. Wurlitzer Ledger serial numbers and shipping dates, plus extrapolated values by Dana Johnson to fill-in gaps of currently missing ledger information.
  3. Wurlitzer PianOrchestra serial numbers and shipping dates as shown in the Bowers Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments.
  4. Serial numbers and associated dates as shown in the Pierce Piano Atlas.

Combining the above into one convenient, easy to parse table will perhaps provide for a more accurate approximation of an instrument's manufacture and/or shipping date, as opposed to referring to only one of the three mentioned date references.

Date Approximation Table for the
Manufacture/Shipping of Wurlitzer
Coin Pianos, Photoplayers, and Organettes
Wurlitzer Ledgers,
plus extrapolated data.
PianOrchestra S/Ns
in Bowers
Piano Atlas
1903 8,600   1,910
1904 9,100   3,000
1905 10,000 10,000 4,500
1906 10,100 10,100 6,000
1907 10,900 10,900 7,500
1908 12,200 12,100 9,000
1909 12,800 13,900 10,300
1910 13,500 15,000 11,600
1911 15,000 16,500 13,000
1912 16,500 18,500 14,000
1913 18,500 20,000 15,000
1914 21,000 21,000 19,000
1915 23,100 23,100 22,000
1916 24,200 24,200 25,000
1917 27,300 26,900 28,000
1918 31,300 31,000 32,000
1919 36,800 36,000 36,000
1920 40,000 40,000 40,000
1921 45,000 42,000 45,000
1922 49,000   49,000
1923 54,000   53,000
1924 56,000   58,000
1925 70,000   63,000
1926 82,500   77,000
1927 95,000   80,000
1928 105,796   85,000
1929 107,600   93,000
1930 115,500   112,200
1931 113,500   118,000
1932 118,400   126,500
1933 120,500   130,300

Note 1. All serial numbers (at year boundaries) are rounded off to the nearest even 100 units.

Note 2. After 1925 there were fewer instruments made. It appears that machines were produced in small batches (though not necessarily in sequential serial numbers.) Most coin pianos shipped in the 1925-1927 period have 80,000 - 82,000 serial numbers with less than 100 units notated in the ledgers.

Note 3; Very few examples with serial numbers in the 89,000 - 95,000 range are known to this author, and the values in this range tend to be best guess extrapolations.

Note 4. A similar condition (explained in Note 2 above) carries through until about 1933, with serial numbers in the 105,000 -106,000  series. Only a few instruments were sold, mostly from stock on hand.

(Table information courtesy of Dana Johnson)

Roll Frames and Revolver Mechanisms

Wurlitzer 1925 Bulletin: Care of Roll Changer

Considering the early gear drive failures, most likely due to lubrication issues, it seems appropriate to demonstrate the importance Wurlitzer placed on keeping the Wurlitzer Direct Drive Gear properly lubricated. This is especially the case for any surviving early style worm gear standards, which were not "self-oiling," like the later fully enclosed models. Pages 13, 14, and 15 from the June 1, 1925, Wurlitzer booklet, Care of Roll Changer, detail the maintenance recommended for the worm gear standard. True, this 1925 bulletin refers to the late Type SA-BB worm gear standard, with ball bearings on the worm shaft, but the general instructions for the care of this late unit does, nonetheless, apply equally well to the earlier fully enclosed non-ball bearing units, and to a great extent to the earliest version introduced in 1906. Please click here to read excerpts from the 1925 Wurlitzer bulletin.

The Wurlitzer Patented Direct Drive Gear

Wurlitzer Direct Drive Gear System.This Wurlitzer Direct Drive Gear study project started out as nothing more than a few insignificant seeming observations and accompanying notes regarding the gear drive while studying the de Kleist journals. Getting into the 1906 range of entries spawned an interest in seeing if there was any mention of when the Direct Drive Gear might have been introduced. There was nothing definitive one way or another, but it was already known that the gear drive system was originally advertised as an important feature in the 88-note player piano, as well as the novel sounding Mandolin Quartette and Mandolin Sextette. This suggested the new gear system began commercial use about February of 1906, when the first of the 88-note players and Mandolin Quartettes began shipping. Being that the journal had been silent on the subject, nothing more was done about understanding the new all gear system, other than to continue monitoring the journal entries, so as to make note of anything that might relate to it. There was nothing, not one peep, until, that is, November of 1906, when a sudden flood of journal entries detail the hurried express shipments of Direct Drive Gear repair parts. Chattering amongst ourselves about the sudden and substantial onset of gear drive failures, it is easy to speculate that de Kleist and Wurlitzer must have been disheartened and maybe went about desperately searching for a solution to the sudden rush of customer complaints and required replacements. What follows is the outcome of our study efforts, starting with virtually no interest and then suddenly burgeoning into an avalanche of research activity that ended up revealing some very interesting developmental trends, along with a bountiful treasure chest of additional information useful for mechanical music collectors and restorers alike.

Understanding the Direct Drive Gear System

Anyone who was accustomed to dealing with the incessant maintenance issues common with the early flat belt drive systems, namely those installed in the Wurlitzer Tonophone and Pianino, must have exuberantly welcomed the introduction of the Direct Drive Gear system as a godsend, at least initially. The first instrument to be mentioned in the de Kleist Journals and that was also advertised as being equipped with the Direct Drive Gear was an 88-Note Player Piano, listed on February 6, 1906. No serial number is given, but by comparing the de Kleist journals with the Wurlitzer 10,000 series ledger it is reasonable to presume that the first 88-note player in both documents represent the same instrument. The first 88-note player shown in the Wurlitzer ledger is serial number 10104, and it is dated February 24, 1906. Thus, a few weeks after the de Kleist journal entry the first 88-note player turns up in the Wurlitzer ledger. This delay of a few weeks between a de Kleist and Wurlitzer ledger entry date is not unprecedented, albeit unusual, and so it is probably reasonable to presume that the first 88-note player mentioned in the de Kleist Journals was number 10104. The next 88-note player to be listed in the Wurlitzer ledger was number 10292.

The introduction of the 88-Note Player Piano is key to the discussion of the Direct Drive Gear system because it is the first de Kleist coin operated instrument specifically advertised as featuring this new drive system. Hence, it suggests a starting date for its use. According to a Wurlitzer catalogue description for the 88-Note Player Piano, “It contains our newly patented gear arrangement which transmits the motive power directly from the motor to the bellows without the use of the troublesome belts or pulleys.”

Then on February 24, 1906, the first Mandolin Quartette, #10210, is listed in the de Kleist Journal. The Mandolin Quartette is another instrument style that was initially equipped with the direct drive gear system. At this point there were now two de Kleist instruments known to be featuring the new gear drive system.

The New Direct Drive Gear Pianino?

Following quickly on the heels of the first Mandolin Quartette, three days later, on February 27, 1906, Pianino #10177 is entered into the journal, and also specifically noted as a “new style.” Does this refer to a new case style, or new mechanicals, or both? How this new style differs from previous Pianinos is unknown, and there has been nothing obvious in the de Kleist Journals up to this point that suggests or details a new direct drive gear system for use in Pianinos—other than it is known through Wurlitzer advertisements that the 88-note player and Mandolin Quartette featured the direct drive gear from the get-go. Although this is mere speculation, it is possible that Pianino #10177 was the first Pianino to feature the new direct drive gear system, and the timing would seem to make sense.

However, confusing the issue, on March 30, 1906, Pianino #10276 is shown as shipped to Wurlitzer in Cincinnati, Ohio, with the notation: “New style action and new arrangement on rewind spool.” What is the new style action, and what does this new style action include? Was it just a new wind-chest with attached pneumatic action, or all new action, i.e., bellow, wind-chest, etc., including the new direct drive gear system? What was the new arrangement on the take up spool, and does this change have anything to do with a new kind of drive system? Currently, from what is contained in the de Kleist Journals, there is no way to answer any of these questions one way or another.

The upshot here is that either Pianino #10177 or Pianino #10276 might be the first Pianino to incorporate the new “Direct Drive Gear” system. Whether one of these, or a different Pianino, was actually the first one is quite unknown. Keep in mind that anything postulated here is only speculation, and it is possible that neither of these two instruments mark the Pianino's transition to the new direct drive gear system.

Who Made It?

Who made the direct drive gear mechanism? Nothing has been yet observed in the de Kleist Journals that sheds much light on this question. But in the “Materials” and “Machinery” accounting sections various suppliers are mentioned, and sometimes, especially for machinery vendors, there is a terse often cryptic, indication of what had been supplied. Occasionally a description is detailed and thusly provides a real glimpse into the scope of what on-site machining capabilities de Kleist might have enjoyed. Here are some exceptionally detailed “Machinery & Equipment” entries for March 16, 1906, and that are specifically noted as to where they were used:

From this evidence it seems certain that de Kleist at the very least had some sort of minimal machine shop and was actively doing at least some degree of metal machining work. Various castings were used in de Kleist instruments, which included parts for roll mechanisms and crankshafts. It is reasonable to assume that the company did machine the small and relatively simple castings, but did the company also machine the crankshaft billets, or not? This would have required lathes and skills beyond that of a simple machine shop. How extensive the machine shop facilities might have been remains unknown.

During the early part of 1906 the de Kleist company did deal with at least two companies that could have supplied castings: Acme Foundry Company and Frontier Iron Works. Thus, there is tangible evidence that de Kleist was buying castings, albeit what these castings might have been is unknown. Moreover, it is unlikely that either of these two aforementioned foundry enterprises also did machining of castings produced. So, then, there is the real possibility that de Kleist bought raw iron castings from one or both of these companies and did some or all of the machining in house, and, in the case of the direct drive gear system, they could have bought steel rods, gears, and other hardware from already established accounts with hardware companies, of which several are regularly mentioned throughout the Journals.

While it seems plausible that de Kleist had some degree of machine shop capability, the extent of the company’s capability remains a mystery. However, a brief article titled, Strike Delays Work on Organ, provides a glimpse into the de Kleist company and somewhat answers the machine shop capability question.

Strike Delays Work on Organ

North Tonawanda, N.Y., May 4, 1901. The strike among the machinists, so general in Buffalo as well as here, has extended to the barrel organ factory of Eugene de Kleist, at Sawyer’s Creek. De Kleist was rushing a $5,000 military band instrument for the Pan-American. All his machinists went out this morning and his plant is almost at a standstill.

—The Music Trade Review Vol. XXXII, No. 19 (May 11, 1901)

This above article implies that the machine shop was not only a substantial part of the factory operation, but an integral one, too, if this kind of work stoppage basically caused the factory to be idled. It is thought from other research that the de Kleist machine shop staff may have included about twenty-five people.

From research by Dana Johnson there is more than just an idle hint as to the person who may have been directly responsible for thinking up and/or designing the direct drive system. The 1925 Wurlitzer Factory Department and Key Employees list shows Frank L. McCormick as Wurlitzer's "Master Mechanic" in the Metal Working Shop, which included the machine shop. Moreover, over the years there are numerous Wurlitzer patents with McCormick's name affixed to them. Although unknown, it is possible that McCormick was the head of this department. But what does this have to do with the de Kleist operation? Patent #899993, applied for in 1908, was a joint patent between de Kleist and McCormick and assigned to de Kleist. Thus, de Kleist and McCormick very likely had an ongoing business relationship prior to 1908, which in turn poses the interesting question: Was McCormick also de Kleist’s “Master Mechanic?” But there is more to the de Kleist - McCormick business relationship: The basic mechanical arrangement found in most Wurlitzer pianos takes shape around 1910 as shown in another joint de Kleist - McCormick patent #1043056, applied for 5/6/10 and issued 10/29/12, and assigned to Wurlitzer.

When Did the “Direct Drive” Idea Take Shape?

When did development of the direct drive gear system begin? When was the idea initially hatched? Because the 88-Note Player Piano and Mandolin Quartette were first delivered in February of 1906 (and both featured the new open gear standard), obviously the direct drive gear system has been more or less “perfected” by then. So, then, how much lead time was necessary? Once the basic idea had been formulated, there had to be some lead time in finding suppliers, making patterns, setting up jigs for machining and probably experimenting with gear materials and gear ratios, etc. How long this incubation period took is unknown, but it is reasonable to suggest that development was probably underway by the middle of 1905, and probably for good reason. It is very likely that the old, troublesome flat belts and pulleys crammed into the Tonophone, and especially so in the little Pianino cases, were indeed a source of constant complaints to Wurlitzer, which would in turn have been passed on to de Kleist.


The direct drive gear system was probably, at least in theory, a lot more trouble free than was the older flat belt drive with counter-shaft system. But how trouble free was it? In September of 1906 the honeymoon with the new Direct Drive Gear system appears to have abruptly ended. Journal entries suddenly and consistently indicate a lot of sustained activity in regards to both mailing and expressing replacement “worms and shafts,” “steel worms and shafts,” “brass worms and shafts,” and, if the journal descriptions are accurate, at least one order for four "cast iron worms and shafts." “Gear Drive complete” assemblies were also shipped to various Wurlitzer customers, but relatively few compared to the "worm and shaft" only orders. In an effort to avoid confusion with some of the above quoted wording, and although not explicitly stated as such in the journal, it is presumed that "brass worm and shaft" refers to a brass worm gear on a steel shaft, and, similarly, "cast iron worm and gear" implies a cast iron worm gear affixed to a steel shaft. While a brass worm and brass shaft would be serviceable, economic, and easy to construct, a cast iron worm on a cast iron shaft would be neither durable or economic. Machining a straight cast iron shaft, without a gear as part of the structure (compared to using readily purchased inexpensive steel shaft stock) would be relatively difficult and expensive, and once the small diameter shaft was installed it would be brittle, fragile, and subject to easy breakage.

The frequency of drive gear related journal entries hint that there may have been a sense of desperation in finding a solution to the rapidly accelerating spate of gear drive failures, trying steel versus brass worms and who knows what else in an attempt to forestall what may have seemed like an accelerating calamity. Perhaps de Kleist and Wurlitzer even flirted with the painful idea that maybe the direct drive gear system might not be less troublesome than the old flat belt system. Nobody knows the answer to this question, but it is known that quantity orders for the “Worm & Shaft” assemblies had suddenly become common, with up to 12 units per order observed, and at a unit cost of $2.15 each (or $2.75 each for a cast iron worm and shaft). In contrast, the complete Direct Drive Gear unit was usually ordered one at a time and cost $7.25. But while the number of replacement gear drive parts and complete assemblies sent out to customers may have been relatively minor when compared to the total number of gear units shipped, these journal entries do, nonetheless, suggest a serious and ongoing failure issue for the early style Direct Drive Gear units. But what is not made clear in the journal books is whether the worm gear units failing were the "short" gear units that required an 1150 RPM motor (as in the 88-Not Player Piano and the Mandolin Quartette), or the taller ones that were installed in the Pianino, which used a 1725 RPM motor. It seems logical that the higher speed units would be more susceptible to lubrication woes and any resulting troubles, but there is no way to ascertain from the historical record which type of gear standard (short or tall) was most prone to failure, or if both were equally troublesome.

The early Direct Drive Gear units had brass oil cups to keep the two crankshaft bearings oiled, but relied on a small oil sump in the cast iron base to keep the fiber gear, the high-speed worm, and the cast iron worm shaft bearings lubricated. There was not much leeway here for negligence. If the instrument saw heavy use oil would be gradually but continually be lost due to seepage through the worm shaft bearings. And there was no provision for recycling oil that wicked out through the cast iron bearings from being flung off the high speed shaft, thereby slowly depleting the remaining oil in the sump. Failure to keep the oil sump full enough and, in turn, the rotating parts sufficiently oiled may have been a contributing factor in direct drive gear failures. By 1912 a redesigned gear standard had become available, known as the Style-B, with the gears being self-oiling and all but the actual cranks themselves being completely enclosed and protected from dust and grit. While it is obvious that improvements in the gear assembly design had occurred over the years, the timing of such changes is yet somewhat of a mystery. Nevertheless, with the introduction of the fully enclosed unit, in or around 1912, the Direct Drive Gear system had become much more durable, rugged, and better able to suffer the normal negligence imposed by route operators. It was fitted with a large oil sump and had bearing end plates on the high speed shaft that captured any oil that seeped past the actual bearing area. Although the early Style-B worm gear standards still had brass oil cups for the crankshaft gears, in its successor, the Type SA-1B, the oil cups were replaced by two internal large diameter oil-rings that rode on the crankshaft, each one dipping down alongside the fiber gear and catching drips and oil splash from the worm gear, so as to deliver an excess of oil to the crankshaft bearings. Narrow external catch basins beneath the crank bearings captured any oil that seeped out of the crankshaft bearings. With the Style-B design all oil seeping through bearings was recycled, which probably eliminated most, if not all, of the earlier lubrication failure issues, or at the least it provided enough of a safety net to eliminate the majority of the former lubrication failure problems.

Chronology of Improvements

At its inception the Direct Drive Gear unit, albeit a great improvement over the earlier flat belt drive system, was, nonetheless, rather basic in design. Fundamentally, it consisted of a base casting with a small central oil sump and upward extensions on either side to support the crankshaft bearings. On top of the base casting was a hollow cast iron extension that protected the worm gear, the bottom third of the fiber crankshaft gear, and more or less kept oil from being freely slung out and splattered all over the interior of the instrument. The bearings for the high speed worm and shaft were nothing more than a hole bored through the junction line between the base casting and the upper hollow cast iron extension. There was nothing in the design that attempted to recapture oil that escaped through the worm and shaft bearings, or oil from the brass oil cups that dripped off of the crank bearings. Such shortcomings were eventually resolved in later designs, but the improved worm gear standards introduced circa 1912 were never used on the Pianino.

Oddly enough, while Wurlitzer made great strides in improving the reliability, durability, and serviceability of the worm gear standard, it continued to use the early tall open gear design in the regular Pianinos up until the introduction of the flat front Pianino circa 1921, and in the Violin-Flute Pianino right up to the point when production ceased. Moreover, Pianinos with the tall open gear standard used a different motor, gear ratio, and pump than did other coin piano models, such as the Mandolin Quartette and 65-note pianos. Violin-Flute Pianino No. 106468 is next to the last one shipped, and it has a 4-pole, 1725 RPM electric motor driving a tall open gear standard that contains a 50-tooth fiber gear, with a gear ratio of 25 to 1.

There has been a lingering question as to why Wurlitzer continued to use the old style tall open gear standard in the Pianino up until the introduction of the (Jameson) unit valve stack, when better alternatives were available. The answer may be as simple as the type of rewind trip system used in conjunction with the belt driven spoolbox. When the early de Kleist-originated horizontal rewind pneumatic with mechanical latching system was abandoned, a new more powerful and positive acting mechanical rewind trip mechanism was devised, and it was integrally connected with— and part of— the tall open gear standard. A triangular cam was added to the side of the crankshaft gear with an attached cam-follower and lever. This assembly was bolted to the side of the open gear standard. A small pneumatic next to the base of the gear unit moved a latching lever in such a way that it hooked the cam-follower lever and set the rewind linkage attached to the spoolbox into action. The tall open gear standard with the rewind cam and linkage therefore remained in use after the fully-enclosed standard was used in keyboard-style orchestrions.

When the unit block valve (or Jameson chest) was introduced into the Pianino the rewind system was also dramatically changed. Now a single large pneumatic with a unit valve lock and cancel system standing next to the roll frame engaged the rewind function, completely obviating the need for the old style complicated rewind linkages involving the gear standard. At this point at least some Violin-Flute Pianinos, with unit valve chests, do not have the tall open gear units, but instead have a short open gear standard mounted on a tall wooden block, to bring the shorter unit's high-speed shaft in line with the motor shaft. But, then, why not install a more modern Style-B enclosed worm gear standard with the same gear ratio and spatial requirements? This much improved worm gear standard was available and used in the 65 note pianos. Perhaps it was an opportunity to use up a few remaining short open gear units still sitting unused on a stock room shelf. Or perhaps it was thought that it would be easier for someone to apply oil to the top of the large gear if it was unenclosed than to try and drip oil into the oil-saver rim of an enclosed standard, since it was located behind the pipes and hard to reach. (In contrast, it was easier to reach the gear standard in the bottom of a keyboard piano).

What follows is a rudimentary chronology of improvements, which will probably become more detailed and accurate as more and more information is accumulated and analyzed.

Introductory Open Worm Gear Standard (1906):

Early type Wurlitzer Direct Drive Gear standard.Functionally quite basic, with an exposed main crank gear design. Requires frequent attention to make certain that unit is properly lubricated. There are three observed variations of this early worm gear standard design, as follows:

  1. "Short" Gear Standard: This style stands about 6-5/8" high to the top of the fiber gear, or 6-3/4" to the top of the brass oil cups. The base footprint is 4-7/8" deep by 5-1/2" wide (as viewed when installed in an instrument). It was commonly installed in the early 88-note player, the Mandolin Quartette, the Mandolin Sextette, and early 65-note pianos. It featured brass oil cups to lubricate the crankshaft bearings, which consisted of either brass or pot metal bushings inserted into the cast iron bearing supports and caps.
  2. "Tall" Gear Standard: This style stands about 8-3/4" high to the top of the fiber gear. The base footprint is 4-3/4" deep by 5-1/2" wide (as viewed when installed in an instrument).It was commonly installed in Pianinos. It featured brass oil cups to lubricate the crankshaft bearings, which consisted of either brass or pot metal bushings inserted into the cast iron bearing supports and caps. It was usually fitted with a 5" O.D. wooden belt pulley to power the spoolbox.
  3. "Tall" Gear Standard with rewind trip cam-work: This variation is nearly identical to the aforementioned "tall" unit, standing about 8-3/4" high, except for the following: The base casting is different so as to allow for a flat space on its front side, where a cam-follower and rewind trip lever assembly is firmly bolted. The front-side cast iron support flange for the fiber gear is also different, and has an integrally cast triangular cam, which is machined on its three outward facing surfaces. This cam is followed by a roller and lever arrangement that acts as the rewind trip mechanism, which is activated by a small pneumatic located near the gear standard. This variation was also usually fitted with a 5" O.D. wooden belt pulley to power the spoolbox.

Key features include:


Style-HG Fully Enclosed “Self-Oiling” Heavy Gear Standard (circa 1912):

Style-HG fully enclosed Wurlitzer Heavy Gear Standard.Functionally rugged and quite durable and with a relatively large oil sump, this style features a fully enclosed self-oiling gear design with oil capture and recycling capabilities for any oil that weeps through bearings. There are what appear to be two variations of this design—an early and late version—as follows:

  1. Early Heavy Gear Standard that looks like the more commonly observed Type SA-200-HG-3 (as identified by nameplate), except that of the several specimens observed this mystery look-a-like bears no nameplate to designate its type, and it has brass oil cups on the crank bearings (like those used on the early open gear standards) Like the nameplate identified Heavy Gear Standard, this unit has the shallow rectangular depression in the top of the cast iron cover with a small hole to administer oil as may be necessary.
  2. Heavy Gear Standard Type SA-200-HG-3 easily identified by nameplate and its sheer size. On the brass nameplate the "Type" designation reads, "SA 200 HG 3," but only the last digit—in this case the number 3—is die-stamped; while all other "Type" characters ("SA 200 HG") were permanently embossed on the nameplate when it was manufactured, and were not intended to be altered. It is unknown what the digit "3" designates. Does it represent the third design iteration for the Heavy Gear Standard, or something else?

Key features include:


Intermediate Style-B Fully Enclosed “Self-Oiling” Worm Gear Standard (circa 1912):

Wurlitzer early Style-B Worm Gear Standard.

In many ways the Style-B Worm Gear Standard—not to be confused with the Style-BB described below—is mechanically like the Heavy Gear Standard mentioned above, except that it is smaller, more compact, and commonly uses the same gear ratio as do the much older short open gear units introduced circa 1906. It also features a fully enclosed self-oiling gear design with oil capture and recycling capabilities for any oil that weeps through bearings, although in one specimen examined the crankshaft bearing caps were drilled for oil cups, but the holes were plugged with some kind of hard material. The sampling of the SA-1B units is still relatively small, but it seems as though some of the earlier made units used the Heavy Gear Standard nameplate (instead of the Worm Gear Standard nameplate), with the Gear Type field in the format of "SA-200-HG-1B." In most instances the "200-HG" portion of the type designation is scratched out and/or otherwise obliterated, leaving intact only the text "SA-1B." It is currently unknown if there are any variations to the basic Style-B design, which for the time being seems limited to the Type SA-1B, as follows:

Key features of the Style-B, Type SA-1B include:


Late Style "BB" Fully Enclosed “Self-Oiling” Worm Gear Standard (circa 1920):

Late Style "BB" (Ball Bearing) Wurlitzer Worm Gear Standard.This style is essentially identical to the above described Style-B Worm Gear Standard, but with the following improvements and/or changes:


Wonder Light

The Wurlitzer Wonder Light remained basically the same throughout its use by Wurlitzer. It was more or less a truncated brass cone with narrow mirrored facets around the edge, and with a belt driven rotating brass bulb centerpiece, which was fitted with an assortment of colored glass jewels. Inside the brass bulb was a stationary electric light, which when lit shone through the glass jewels onto the surrounding mirrors to produce a dazzling effect. The unit was belt driven, although the method of getting the belt up to the Wonder Light pulley varied over time. Although the Wonder Light design remained constant, the wooden gallery that hid the belt drive and support structure for the for the device changed to fit the design of the furniture case.

The inspiration for the Wonder Light probable came from the “Magic Lamp” (or “Wunderlampe”) used for certain Philipps Pianella Orchestrions (imported and sold as PianOrchestras by Wurlitzer). For example, the Philipps Pianella Model 47 (a.k.a. the Wurlitzer Style 47 Mandolin PianOrchestra) featured two “magic lamps,” one on either side of the instrument, and with a Peacock light effect in the center.

Wonder Lights are known to have been used on various styles of Wurlitzer 65-note Orchestra Pianos, the 44-note Bijou Orchestra, and on at least one special keyboard style 65-note piano, which incorporated three Wonder Lights across an upper case extension. Whether Wurlitzer made the Wonder Light in-house or bought them from an outside supplier is unknown.

The Wurlitzer Coin Piano Database

Much of the primary information that went into building up the Wurlitzer Coin Piano database has been gathered meticulously over a long period of time by Dana Johnson, an expert in the restoration of automatic pianos and organs and the fabrication of reproduction parts for them, and a long-time Wurlitzer band organ aficionado. Whenever Dana has had access to, or enjoyed the opportunity to repair or rebuild a Wurlitzer instrument, he has carefully recorded mechanical and historical details of interest and collected photographs of many examples. Another major source of detailed information, especially for Wurlitzer orchestrions equipped with the Wurlitzer Automatic Roll Changer, was restorer and music arranger Art Reblitz. Dana and Art have spent countless hours painstakingly researching various mechanical details and working together to document them, while Terry Hathaway painstakingly compiled the thousands of details into the well-organized and easily-understood Wurlitzer registry presented at the end of these history pages.

Of course, there are many other mechanical music friends who have graciously contributed, and that are listed under Acknowledgments in the Introduction to the Registry. The wonderful upshot here is that this treasure trove of information, now in database format, and never before brought together in any comprehensive, easily searchable, understandable, and displayable way, is now conveniently available to anyone interested. And as more and more details emerge regarding mechanical details and usage patterns for various inventions and improvements employed by Wurlitzer (i.e., pneumatic stacks, roll-frames, rewind trip mechanisms, feeder pumps, the Direct Drive Gear system, etc.) and are pulled together into a logical database format, a clearer picture of the development and evolution of Wurlitzer systems begins to reveal itself in new and interesting ways.

Updating the Database and Reporting Errors

We cordially invite and solicit additional information for the database on any Wurlitzer coin operated piano, photoplayer, or the Direct Drive Gear units that are not in the current database report and/or if you have additional details for instruments or gear standards that are already listed, but have little information.

To ADD ANOTHER ITEM TO THE DATABASE or to facilitate the reporting of errors regarding any Wurlitzer coin operated piano or Direct Drive Gear unit please click on the Wurlitzer Coin Piano Survey Reporting Form button in the options panel below. Please note: We welcome any survey information, whether it be only the type, style, and serial number, or all requested details. We realized that it can be difficult (even for an experienced restorer) to find certain details without partially disassembling an instrument. Nonetheless, please submit a form regardless of how many spaces you can currently fill in.

All database report information is offered "as is," without any guarantee or warranty whatsoever of any kind, neither stated, implied, nor inferred, as to the accuracy, correctness, exactness, suitability, or usefulness of any content.

Distribution of Database Information
Last Updated on January 9, 2017

Get Adobe Acrobat Reader.The database PDF report files and the Survey Reporting Form require Adobe Acrobat Reader (or its equivalent) to view, use, or print their contents. The free Acrobat Reader can be downloaded from Adobe by clicking on the icon at left.

Download the current database reports as a PDF file by
clicking on the appropriate report button, or report another
Wurlitzer instrument by clicking on the On-Line Survey Button.
Coin Pianos and Photoplayers Direct Drive Gear
Download the Wurlitzer coin piano serial number order database report.
33 pages.
Download the Direct Drive Gear by Piano Serial Number database report.
4 pages.
Download the Wurlitzer coin piano by style database report.
35 Pages
Download the Direct Drive Gear by Gear Type database report.
6 pages.
Coin Piano Button to report new or corrected database information. Direct Drive Gear Button to report new or corrected database information.

Research, data aggregation, and consultation: Art Reblitz, Dana Johnson, Rusty King, and Terry Hathaway.

Composition and Graphics:

Terry Hathaway.