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