What is a musical box?

A musical box is an automatic musical instrument that produces sound when the pins on a revolving cylinder or disc pluck the teeth of a steel comb.


The exact date of when mechanical music first started is unclear. However, it can be ascertain that the concept of pinned cylinders was the beginning of mechanical music.

Pinned cylinders are first applied to carillons and the earliest known appearance according to a Rouen manuscript was in around 1321, built in the tower of St. Catherine’s Abby, near Rouen (a city on the River Seine, North of France).

The next few centuries was filled with many different inventions that included mechanical musical instruments.

Around 1750s, Pierre Jaquet-Droz created the first musical clocks.

1784: The Jaquet-Droz brothers, clockmakers from La Chaux-de-Fonds, created the mechanical singing bird.

1796: Antoine Favre-Salomon, a clock maker from Genève, Switzerland, patented the first cylinder musical box that utilizes a metal comb with tuned teeth to produce the music.

1800: Isaac Daniel Piguet in Geneva produced repeating musical watches with a pinned horizontal disc operating radially arranged tuned steel teeth.

1811: The first musical boxes are produced in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland.

1862: Paillard invented the interchangeable cylinder musical box.

1875: The first production line factory for musical boxes opened in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland.

1877: Thomas Edison invents the phonograph.

1886: Musical box artisan, Paul Lochmann, of Gohlis (north-west from the city of Leipzig, Germany), patented the cardboard disc, which was soon replaced by a metallic one.

1887 - Emile Berliner invents the disc type gramophone.

1889: Paul Wendland, engineer for Symphonion Musikwerks, patents the star wheel.

1890s: Disc-type musical boxes became popular and came to displace the cylinder musical box market.

1914: Start of World War 1.

1929: Start of the Great Depression.

Economic crisis caused by World War 1 and the Great Depression in the early 20th century coupled with the emergence of the gramophone brought about the downfall of the musical box industry.

During those times, most of the musical box manufacturers converted to making other products that requires precise mechanical parts while some went back to making time-pieces and some others sold their businesses to larger musical box companies.