The History of Music Boxes


Inspired by snuff boxes and enduring as ring tones, music boxes have survived and adapted across the centuries.



Music boxes have existed in some form since the 16th century, but it was the 19th century that was truly the century of the music box. Some of the finest music boxes still existing owe their beauty to the mechanical craftsmanship of that era. It's in the 19th century then that our history of music boxes begins.


Early inspirations


The first designers of music boxes drew their inspiration from snuff boxes and clocks. In fact, it was a Swiss watchmaker, Antoine Favre, who is credited with inventing the music box. The Swiss were renowned at that time for their clockmaking skills, and thus they played a prominent role in the early history of music box production. The first music box factory was opened in Switzerland in 1815.


The earliest music boxes made use of a spring-powered revolving metal cylinder or disc to produce music. During the second half of the 19th century, cylinders were replaced almost entirely by interchangeable discs that permitted music box owners to play a variety of music box movements.


Modern music box history


Music boxes gradually fell out of favor in the 20th century as newer inventions such as Thomas Edison's phonograph captured the public's imagination. By the mid-20th century, most Swiss companies had abandoned music box production.


But the history of Swiss music box production was not at a complete end. Today, the Reuge company of Switzerland continues to create music boxes so extraordinarily beautiful that some sell for more than $4,000. One such Reuge music box is handcrafted from burl walnut and features tunes from classical composers Verdi, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, and more.


Music boxes continue to evolve in the 21st century. Music box companies can be found worldwide, from America to China, Taiwan, and Japan. Today's technologies are presenting new and greater frontiers for music boxes to conquer. The Japanese music box company Sankyo Seiki has even licensed its music box movements for use as cellular ring tones.


--Joshua Avram

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