The Wurlitzer IX “Red Key Electrical Piano” was part of a collection owned by Paul Eakins, the curator of a museum in St. Louis, MO called the Gay 90s Museum during the mid-twentieth century, and was advertised as a 1920 Wurlitzer IX. The museum disbanded in 1976, so the machine went to the Walt Disney Company prior to becoming a part of this collection.
There is a story that the red keys on a machine lent itself to a “certain type of establishment.” It is safe to presume that nickelodeons often surfaced in bars and brothels; however, the connection between the red keys and the brothel should be regarded more as a legend more than as fact.
Below the keyboard, is a glass panel, behind which are the inner workings of the machine. This is a great opportunity to see the electric motor – since all American-made nickelodeons depended on electricity to function. The motor operates the bellows system that creates the vacuum that works the entire machine. This is a pneumatic process, which means it is air powered. The bellows are connected to the tracker bar with tubing similar to this right here. The tracker bar, with holes on one side and tube fittings on the other, uses the tubes to connect to the actual instruments inside the machines. The paper rolls have the music on them, which scroll over the keys on the tracker bar and trigger the music to play only when the vacuum created by the bellows is broken by the holes in the roll. The paper rolls look similar to traditional IBM computer paper. Think of this as the forefather of the modern computer.