Player organs and pianos were fairly common near the end of the Nineteenth Century. They used volumes of air to create musical notes or to open valves causing a note to be struck with a hammer. In the late 1890s the Saloon in Knox, North Dakota, obtained an interesting musical device to attract customers, but unlike the others, this device produced music with a plucking motion such as found in a music box.
It was known as a Polyphon and was operated by a large, flat, metal, record-like disk just under twenty-four inches in diameter. In the disk were small rectangular holes with the punched out area protruding from the opposite side of the disk. The disk was mounted over a set of combs whose eighty-three teeth, when plucked, produced notes similar to a piano keyboard. As the disk was rotated over the combs, each protruding part of the disk plucked a specific part of the comb thereby creating the musical notes, amplified by a soundboard. The whole device was powered by a spring-wound gearbox.
This instrument had been constructed by the Regina Music Box Company of New York and the model installed in the Knox saloon also had a snare drum, a bass drum and cymbals. According to Russell Reid, superintendent of the State Historical Society, this may have been the first Jukebox introduced into North Dakota.
The Polyphon was later sold to Theron Delameter, editor of the Knox Advocate, who operated a theater on the second floor above the print shop. The Polyphon was used between acts in the theatrical productions. When the print shop closed, the building’s second floor became a storage place for old crates. The jukebox slowly deteriorated until it was rediscovered by Theron’s son, Lyman who donated it to the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
On this date in 1950, music from the Polyphon was echoing through the halls of the Liberty Memorial Building on the Capitol Grounds. F. L. Harrington of the Historical Society had nearly completed the restoration of the device. He had hand-crafted approximately seventy parts and spent three months working on it, and it was once again able to play the twelve disks that were donated with it. The disks included such songs as “Come Take a Trip in My Air Ship,” “Meet me at the Fountain” and the not to be forgotten, “Please Come and Play in My Yard.”
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Bismarck Capital December 26, 1950