Believe it or not, the name Rock-Ola is actually derived from the name of the company’s founder. It also happens to be a real cool name for a jukebox, implying a “rock ‘n’ roll’ play on words. David Cullen Rockola was born in Canada and as a young boy worked as a mechanic in a shop that repaired coin-operated devices. By 1926 he had his own company manufacturing coin-operated scales.
In the 1930s Rockola moved into pinball games and many other devices. As the demand for coin-operated phonographs increased the temptation to enter the jukebox arena, Rockola purchased a mechanism from a man named Smythe. Rockola reengineered this 12-select mechanism and started making jukeboxes in a big way (1935 Rock-Ola). Farny Wurlitzer viewed this a huge threat to his business based on Rockola’s success in other machines. Wurlitzer tried to convince David Rockola that there was no room in the industry for another manufacturer. Wurlitzer then filed a $1 million lawsuit claiming patent infringement on the Smythe mechanism. Rockola eventually won the suit but not until he had spent half a million dollars in legal fees. This hurt Rockola but didn’t kill him. He continued manufacturing and in 1939 introduced a series of very successful jukeboxes called “Luxury Light-Up”.
David Cullen Rockola (1897-1993)
During World War II, Rock-Ola led the industry in telephone-line music transmission systems. This was very popular because it allowed for many selections to be offered at a time when jukebox manufacturing was nearly halted because of the war effort. After World War II, the jukebox industry was booming. Boys were coming home and it was party time. Wurlitzer came out with the model 1015, probably the most popular jukebox of all time, and Rock-Ola introduced the “Magic Glow” series. These were models 1422, 1426, and 1428.
In the 1950s and ’60s Rock-Ola was a formidable competitor on the jukebox field. The company came up with many new ideas, including a full-featured jukebox that was so small it could be hung on the wall! As the demand for jukeboxes went down in the ’70s, Rock-Ola wound down the business to almost nothing. In the early 1990s Rock-Ola sold the business to Glenn Streeter, owner of Antique Apparatus Co. In Torrance, Calif. Streeter has taken the Rock-Ola name and given it new life, making it now one of the top jukebox manufacturers in the country, featuring a full line of commercial and home jukeboxes (Rock-Ola). In July 2019 Rock-Ola was aquired by Alexander Walder-Smith a British entrepreneur and owner of the The Games Room Company in the UK.