Orchestrions and soda jerks

Orchestrions aren’t the kind of item you encounter everyday. I’ve seen a few over the years, but their numbers pale in comparison to the number of orchestrions I have run into since being back in the Midwest.

I recently stumbled across several at a quirky little museum in Columbus, Indiana. Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor, established in 1900, is a step back in time. On one side is an old fashion soda fountain counter and restaurant. On the other side a museum of orchestrions and soda fountains.

Music filled the parlor from, of course, an orchestrion. The museum includes four different music machines. Three have information about their origins. One is a coin-operated piano (think forerunner to the modern jukebox). Another is a banjo orchestra. (I would have loved to hear that one play!) The remaining two contain organ pipes with metal cylindrical drums.

J.P. Seeburg Style L Coin Piano
Chicago, IL
first introduced in 1921
ca. 1925

Banjo Orchestra
D.C. Ramsey Piano Co.
Chicago, IL

M Welte and Sohne 
New York, NY

The rest of the museum is filled with early soda fountains. Apparently soda fountains were a huge business (and judging by the records of litigation over patent infringements and monopolies on the Internet, a rather cut-throat business).

I quickly realized that when I thought of soda fountains, I thought of soda fountain counters. I conflated the soda fountain with the counter that you typically see in American movie scenes from the early 20th century: young children stopping by the drugstore on the way home from school to pay a nickel to enjoy a soda at the counter. But, as the museum shows, the soda fountains are self-contained units. (Though it is hard to imagine a soda fountain without a long counter and soda jerks.)

The museum collection ranges from the 1850s (!) to 1902. The fountains are beautiful contraptions, orate-looking with marble (real or not) and shiny metal parts, built to house ice to cool the soda. Each soda fountain in the museum has information about its origin and history.

Otto Zwietusch Soda Fountain Apparatus
Milwaukee, WI
produced from late 1850s to early 1960s

Cottage Soda Fountain
James W. Tufts
Boston, MA
ca. 1869

The Oracle Soda Foundation
R.M. Green (who, by the way, is credited with inventing the ice cream float)
Philadelphia, PA
ca. late 1880s

Puffer Soda Fountain
James W. Tuffs
Boston, MA
ca. 1888

Shelburne Soda Fountain
Chas. Lippincott and Co.
ca. 1890

Haussling Soda Fountain
Newark, NJ
ca. 1890s

American Soda Fountain Co.
Boston, MA
ca. 1894

The Keynote Soda Fountain
Liquid Carbonic Acid Manufacturing Co.
Chicago, IL
ca. 1902

For a lovely collection of photos of the soda fountains, orchestrions, and the ice cream parlor, see Billshoot’s SmugMug site.

If you find yourself in Columbus (Indiana), stop by Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor for a treat from the soda fountain (served by soda jerks). Then wander over to the museum to check out the orchestrions and historical soda fountains.


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