Prohibition in the United States from 1920 to 1933 kickstarted the Jazz Age and made way for a new secret night life culture where people would find any way they could to smuggle, brew or distil their own alcoholic drinks and listen to music.

Prohibition disposal

Hoagy Carmichael, one of the great 20th century composers, said that with prohibition “came a bang of bad booze, flappers with bare legs, jangled morals and wild weekends.” 

Party-time, 1920's style

It resulted in tens of thousands of saloons throughout the country closing their doors, enabling mobsters of the day such as Al and Ralph Capone of Chicago and Owney Madden of New York to capitalize on the situation by setting up illicit speakeasies where jazz was the perfect fit for the party mood of the era.

A night-club map of Harlem


It was F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of the 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, who hailed the era “the Jazz Age” characterizing this period as the “Roaring Twenties”. According to Scott Fitzgerald, during Prohibition “The parties were bigger…the pace was faster…and the morals were looser.”

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott-Fitzgerald


Soon, the bar owners found themselves in competition with one another for the best performers for their speakeasies. Jazz performers such as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Paul Whiteman were in high demand.

In Prohibition’s first year, Bessie Smith, a rising African-American jazz singer, sold one million records. In the same year, the first commercial radio stations went on the air. The popularity of jazz soared as more records were cut, top musicians performed in clubs in New York and Chicago and the music was broadcast on the airwaves. 

Bessie Smith

More technological advances followed; coin-operated phonographs, known a decade later as “Jukeboxes”, began to take over, with the introduction of 78 rpm records, made with amplified electronic sound in 1926. The first “coin-op” electronic record machine was introduced in 1927, with ten 78 records (20 song selections). The new cultural phenomenon of listening to jazz on high-fidelity 78 rpm records on a nickel-per-play machine became a hit. Furthermore the jukebox was color blind in a segregated world, with most listeners never having seen the performer in person. 

By the late ’20s, Chicago was regarded as America’s jazz capital with its famous line of clubs on the city’s South Side. 

David C Rockola established the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corp in 1927 at 800 North Kedzie Avenue, Chicago. He saw the repeal of prohibition in the USA in 1932 as an opportunity to expand his amusement business into coin-operated phonographs, to be placed in the now legal bars and nightclubs.

David C. Rockola outside the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corp, Chicago

Rock-Ola went on to become one of the most recognized brand names of American pop culture, standing proud today as The Only Authentic American Jukebox Manufacturer.

Listen to our exclusive 'Jukebox Jazz' playlist, curated especially by Rock-Ola Jukeboxes for Jazz Appreciation Month 2023.