Ristau Story

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Who is Ristaucrat?

When I first heard the Ristaucrat phonograph name I wondered if it was one of those names like Rockola, a family name.  Did his given name cause David C. Rockola to get into the jukebox business? It’s a natural!   In 1897 when David was born in Manitoba Canada the pianola, victrola and amberola had not yet been invented and the litany of phonograph companies that emerged after 1915 with names ending with ‘ola’ from Amerinola to Westrola hadn’t yet been established and rock ’n roll music hadn’t yet been played.

I had to learn more about these Ristaus? I have researched, repaired and restored many of their high quality table top juke boxes.  From where does this ‘engineering elegance’ come? Who is Gustav Ristau and the Ristau Brothers?


Ristaucrat comes from the popular German family name Ristau. Perhaps it’s a play on the word aristocrat meaning anything regarded as the best, most elegant or most stylish of its kind. The first Ristaucrat juke box phonograph, the Console Model A introduced in 1931 could easily be considered as stylish and as elegant as its high-end competitors such as the Mills Automatic Phonograph Hi Boy Model 801- $650, Mills Troubador- $1150, Capehart Models 10 and Amperion ~ $1200.

Gottleib Ristau was born 1847 in Neudeck (near Heinrichau), then West Prussia Germany.  I had some difficulty getting consistent translated information about the Ristau family from Neudeck now Ogrodzieniec in Poland, renamed after World War II.

From the book, History of Outagamie County Wisconsin by Thomas Henry Ryan, published in 1911, Gottleib and his first wife Ameila (Karth) bore their first son Charles on October 3, in 1866 while living in West Prussia. Ameilia died the following year.  Two years later, Gottleib married his second wife Minnie (Zimmerman). Gottleib and Minnie immigrated to the United States with their first son Charles (by Ameilia) and settled in Herkimer, NY in 1871.

They had a second son (by Minnie) Gustav in 1872 (b. February 12th). Then in 1874 the family, Gottleib, Minnie and half-brothers Charles and Gustave moved to Wisconsin; Gottleib died that year at the young age of twenty-seven.  Gus’ mother Minnie subsequently married William Falkenberg and the family then moved to Williamsburg Iowa where Gus was educated.

At the age of eighteen (in 1890) Gus moved to Kaukauna, WI. Eleven years later (in 1901) at age twenty nine, Mr. Ristau was united in marriage with Miss Millie Zittlow, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Zittlow of Wrightstown, Wisconsin.  This is a photo of Gustav and Millie; it appears that they are playing a game of crochet. I can't confirm but guess that the older gentleman is Frank Zittlow.

On September 25, 1901 the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, published a story about their marriage noting Gustav worked at the Ristau Brothers firm at the Ristau Hotel.

According to a June 1993 article published in Gameroom Magazine, Gustav (Gus) worked in the paper mills, the brewing business and a neighborhood saloon.  At age 33, Gus got into the automatic piano business while still running the Ristau Hotel which he had acquired a few years earlier partnering with his older step-brother Charles.

On April 13, 1906, the Kaukauna Times reported that the partnership between Gus and Charles had dissolved with Charles taking over all of the property interests.    In 1907 Gus visited the Automatic Musical Company (later to become the Link Piano and Organ Company).  For the next ten years he placed AMC’s coin pianos in service from the base of Lake Winnebago (Fond du Lac) up through northern Wisconsin. Gus also was one of the Regina Company’s (Rahway, NJ) earliest route operators servicing the six cylinder acoustic coin-op phonographs throughout that region.

Glenn Thomas author of the NickelodeonHouse.net web site describes early coin-operated Nickelodeons as “the forerunners of radio, jukeboxes and other forms of musical entertainment.

Whether Gus Ristau anticipated the ultimate decline of the coin-slot cylinder phonograph business giving way to the more popular 78 rpm flat record jukebox, we might never know.  But by 1910 he had sold his interest in the waning Hexaphone business turning to real estate and the vending machine business for the next ten years.  In 1919 around the time his son Arnold was born, Gus got back into the mechanical coin-op business.

Ben Humphries wrote an article published in Gameroom Magazine that says: “After 10 years away from the coin-op business, he drifted back into slot machines, purchasing equipment from Jennings, Mills, Watling and Pace. 

As the interest in slot machines began to grow, Gustave and his sons then got into that part of the amusement business”.

For the Ristau genealogists, Humphries’ article notes the Ristau sons included Alfred (b. December 26, 1904), Harold (b. September 6 or possibly 8 from SSDI records, 1907), Arnold (b. May 24, or possibly 23 from SSDI records 1919) and daughter Mildred (who I believe was b. September 7, 1914).

In 1928 as the economy weakened, they bought out the inventory of Deca Disc Company.   These acoustic Deca players would play five records a side and would restack them for continuous play.  Alfred, the eldest son converted and electrified each of these players to include an early tube amplifier.  By this time, Victor Talking Machines and other phonograph manufacturers were selling amplified phonographs. Billboard magazine had advertisements for this modified Deca machine manufactured by the Ristau brothers’ Atlas Sales Company.   Later Rock-Ola purchased what was left of the Deca Disc Company with the hope of introducing the Deca Disc record changer/stacker mechanism with its popular Rock-Ola line.

Meanwhile, Paul H. Smyth, Jr. was developing a new generation coin-op phonograph mechanism.  Our search of patents included the 1928 1,832,797, Automatic Phonograph Apparatus (patent 2,004,016 filed 10/08/31) licensed to Rock-Ola which were subsequently licensed this apparatus to several jukebox manufacturers including the Ristaus who incorporated Smyth’s record changer in their 1931 Table Model and Console Model A.

Over the next several years the brothers continued to develop their coin-op business which was then subject to “suffer a significant loss every year due to the slugs of unscrupulous persons”.   So by the end of 1935, lead by the engineering skills of eldest brother Alfred G., they developed and patented (2,096,560) a magnetic slug rejector that would retain the last four deposited coins would remain in view intercepting a slug.  Unfortunately, the Ristaus didn’t effectively market this invention which was ultimately superseded by Rock-ola’s revolutionary slug rejector introduced in 1937.  Interesting that what Alfred had learned about slug rejectors was incorporated into the Ristaucrat 45 table top juke boxes introduced in 1950. It’s a simple design and mechanism that intercepts a slug or incorrect coin such as a penny or dime rather than the correct nickel and rejects it out the left side of the juke box.

The Packard automobile belonged to Homer Capehart.

After selling their patented selector mechanism to Wurlitzer Music Company and launching a reseller business installing Wurlitzer and other music machines, Gus, his three sons Alfred, Harold, Arnold and son-in-law Frank Meyer continued selling and installing vending machines and kept a real estate business until after World War II.
In August 1946, Arnold and Alfred Ristau assignors to Ristaucrat filed patent 2,546,136 for a 78 rpm record changing phonograph.

A year later, August 27, 1949 Alfred Ristau filed patent 2,685,477 a highly reliable 45 rpm continuous play stack resetting mechanism which worked flawlessly with RCA’s recently introduced (fall of 1948) seven inch vinylite records for use with its J2 45 rpm players.  It’s interesting that this Ristaucrat player borrowed some technology from RCA’s RP-168 record changer.  But I believe Ristaucrat’s much more complex design is much more reliable than RCA’s later more popular RP-190 changer.  RCA introduced the first production run of 45 rpm players for RCA dealers and distributors on January 10, 1949 at the RCA Exhibition Hall in Manhattan NY.   

So RCA and the Ristau brothers must have had some unique close relationship that would allow Ristaucrat access to the very secret Madam X (code name for the 45 rpm) Project which would compete with Columbia’s recently introduced 33.3 LP.

It’s surprising that Ristaucrat was able to file this patent in August of 1949.
I have modified this and all Ristaucrat players so they can play stereo and EP records. I use a spring or counter weight so that the tone arm weight is no greater than 4 grams which ‘kiss’ the scratch-free records that now requires an even more sensitive trip that the original design.  Like the RP-168 which pulls like a truck but unlike the RP-168 which is subject to jamming when thin/thick records are stacked, my modified Ristaucrats accept a wide variety of 45 vinylite records and repeatedly play without fail.

This is the last production run machine produced by Ristaucrat- Melodie Vendor Corp. record Dispenser. 

On February 17, 1966 Alfred and Arnold Ristau filed patent 3,369,086 for a record selector mechanism that is used to “control the actuation of the coin and dispersing (sic) mechanism used in a dispensing machine. 

On December 1, 1966 Arnold and Alfred Ristau filed their last patent, 3,374,925 for an Automatic Record Dispenser to be marketed by Melodie Vendor Corporation, essentially a vending machine that would play 45 rpm records and automatically dispense the record to a buyer in an unsupervised situation. 

The concept was Try before you Buy, where a customer could make one or more selections, earn credit each time he tried a selection by inserting a coin and then apply the try-credits to the suggested $1.00 buy-price of the 45 rpm record. For more info about this and other Ristaucrat machines please click here.



Here's a photo of Al Ristau in 1979 standing next to a prototype that looks like it uses the same Ferris wheel configuration of the Model 200M Dance Studio Ristaucrat described on previous page.

Special thanks to jukebox researcher and author Franks Adams Ph.D who has produced several great books including the Obsure, Mysterious and Innovative American Jukeboxes from where this photo was scanned.    


Good friend Gert J. Almind is the Editor and webmaster of the Danish Jukebox Archives located at http://juke-box.dk/. Gert is one of the most knowledgeable people concerning American and European juke boxes.  For more information about the demise of the Melodie Vendor Corporation, be sure to check out Gert’s site.
Also, be sure to see Tom DeCillis’ TomsZone, “THE Home for Finding Jukebox Info” for good info posted under Teeny Weeny Jukes located at: http://tomszone.com/toyjukes.html.

From History of Outagamie County, Wisconsin by Thomas Henry Ryan, 1911

GUS W. RISTAU, a progressive and enterprising business man of Kaukauna, Wisconsin, who is dealing in real estate and automatic pianos, is a native of the state of New York, birth occurring February 12, 1872, and a son of Gottleib and Minnie (Zimmerman) Ristau, both of whom were natives of Germany. Gottlieb Ristau was married (first) to Amelia Korth, who died in Germany in 1867, and he then took for a wife Minnie Zinmmerman.

They came to the United States in 1871, locating in New York, and later went to Minnesota, where Mr. Ristau settled on a homestead. In 1874 the family came to Wisconsin, and here Mr. Ristau secured employment on the government dam in the Fox River at this point, and during that year he died. His widow subsequently married William Falkenberg and removed to Iowa, and there the early education of Gus W. Ristau was received.

He came to Kaukauna in 1890 and for several years worked in the paper mills, later engaging for five years in the brewing business. He then opened and operated the Hotel Ristau with his brother, but sold out to the latter in 1905. Since that time he has been engaged in the real estate business, also handling automatic pianos, covering territory from Fond du Lac to northern Wisconsin and Michigan under the firm name of G. W. Ristau Land Company, and employing a number of salesmen. The company owns a great deal of desirable farming land in the vicinity of Riblake, Taylor county, and also does a large business in other sections. In 1901 Mr. Ristau was united in marriage with Miss Millie Zittlow of Wrightstown, Wisconsin, and they have had four children: Mildred, Alfred, Harold and Arnold. The family is connected with the Lutheran Church, and in politics Mr. Ristau is of Republican views. He is one of Outagamie county's successful, self-made men, and enjoys the confidence and esteem of his fellow citizens.

From History of Outagamie County, Wisconsin by Thomas Henry Ryan, 1911

CHARLES RISTAU, a prominent contractor of Kaukauna, who has been connected with various business enterprises in this city for a long period, was born in West Prussia, Germany, October 3, 1866, and is a son of Gottlieb and Amelia (Karth) Ristau. Mr. Ristau's parents came to the United States in 1871, locating at Utica, New York, and later moving to Minnesota, where Mr. Ristau took up a homestead.

In 1874 he came to Kaukauna and was employed on the government dam, but died during the same year. His first wife died in 1867, and in 1869 he was married (second) to Minnie Zimmerman, who was married again after his death. Charles Ristau received a public school education at Kaukauna, and after completing his studies he took up papermaking, becoming boss in the paper mills. Later he entered the retail liquor business, in which he continued for a few years, and in 1893, with Peter J. Helf, he organized the City Brewery at Kaukauna, being one of the proprietors thereof for five years.

His next business venture was conducting a hotel with his brother, whom he later bought out, and he continued to conduct this hostelry until July, 1909, when he sold out and engaged in contracting, which has been his occupation to the present time. On August 14, 1888, Mr. Ristau was married to Miss Annie Adrians, daughter of Nicholas Adrians, of Appleton, and they had a family of eight children. Mrs. Ristau died in 1904, and he was married (second) to Minnie Adrians, his first wife's sister. Mr. Ristau is a member of the Elks, the Eagles and the Kaukauna Advancement Club. He has been alderman of the First Ward, and is the owner of Columbia Park, which is now being used by the city. Successful as a businessman and public spirited as a citizen, Mr. Ristau is held in high esteem by his fellow townsmen, and he has an ever-widening circle of warm personal friends.


Boston, MA  USA