Challenger '47 - 6 Months from Introduction to the End

March to August 1946

In Frank Adam's book of "Obscure, Mysterious and Innovative American Jukeboxes" the chronology of the Challenger '47's, short, 6 month life is documented. In the Frank Adams books and all ads available to the author, (6 different) the actual jukebox is never shown. The question arises of what did this jukebox look like? How many were made? The second ad below shows a close-up of the Challenger's selection buttons but that is it.

This time period, post World War II, was a boom time for entrepreneur trying to capitalize on America's

March 2, 1946: Challenge Industries announced that a premier showing of the Challenger '47 jukebox would be held March 15th at the Field Building in Chicago

Ad of March 16, 1946 showing the Challenger (Filben) mechanism.

Press Release of March 23, 1946 (shown in purple)

Challenge Puts Phonograph on Display at Chicago

CHICAGO, March 16.-Challenge Industries put its Challenger '47 phonograph on display at its offices in the Field Building to a crowd of operators and distributors from all over the nation.
On hand to show the machine was a staff of executives which included Dr. Henry M. Garsson, president of U. S. Challenge Company, parent firm, and Sam Kresberg, Albert Cole, Murry W. Garsson, Jack Sheffield and Bert Davidson. Coinmen were shown the phonograph in groups, Dan Subarsky, sales department technical adviser, and Glenn Spathe, factory representative, doing most of the demonstrating.
Showing was expected to continue thru Tuesday (19), officials said.

Principal features of the phonograph are its Filben mechanism and a removable speaker which may be placed on top of the box or used as a wall speaker, Kresberg explained. Speaker is of the sealed-cell type, which makes it in practice a separate component, he said.

Other Features

Other features outlined by Kresberg included:
Undistorted output of amplifier 25 watts, and output transformer tapped to match five auxiliary speakers.
All wiring from selector mechanism within two cables.
Junction box connection for 30 wallboxes, and entrance to the mechanism by a swinging front door the width of the cabinet.
Cabinet is metal and illuminated by fluorescent lighting. It is arranged so that the mechanism may be slid out on a channel after release of four winged nuts, he declared. Two cams make up the driving mechanism, and Kresberg claimed that the machine has 60 per cent fewer mechanical parts than the average.

Two Motors

Device has two motors- Change motor operates at 1,725 r.p.m. Turntable motor is held by a governor to 78 r.p.m., and officials claimed that it can be maintained at that speed without adjustment in any climatic condition. Tone arm has pressure of only 1% ounces on the record, it was said.

At the same time, the company was scheduled to show its soft drink vender.

Filben Mechanism

Phonograph employs the basic principles of the mechanism invented by the late William M. Filben, of Minneapolis, it was announced. The Filben machine attracted considerable attention for its departure from conventional designs when it was displayed at the 1938 coin machine show.
Challenge Industries obtained the rights to use of the patents on the mechanism through the Filben Manufacturing Company, formed last October by the inventor'.., widow, Mrs.
Bernice Filben, Cole said. Leonard Baskfield is president of the firm, Mrs. Filben, treasurer, and her three daughters, Patricia, Rosemary and Dolora, are listed as majority stockholders. The Filbens still reside at Minneapolis.

Baskfield entered into a contract with the Batavia Metal Products Company, Batavia, IlL, an affiliate of U. S. Challenge Company, to produce the phonograph for Filben Manufacturing, Cole said. Sales will be handled by Challenge Industries, and the phonograph will be known to the trade as the Challenger.

The above press release and two ads are typical of the advertisements and reporting of the period. They focused on the Filben mechanism and were really light on showing what the jukebox would look like.

The Saga Continues (July 27, 1946)

On July 27, 1946, the Challenger '47 jukebox was demonstrated at the Park Central Hotel in New York City. Three 30-record jukeboxes were used at the showing. One was completely location-finished, and the other two were used to demonstrate construction and operation of the mechanism. At this point, we know at least one Challenger jukebox was completed.

The Death Knell begins for the Challenger (August 10, 1946 - October 11, 1946)

On August 10, 1946, the president of Batavia Metal Products Company announced that he had sold all interests in the Batavia Company and its subsidiary, U.S. Challenge Company, to a group of New York financiers. At the same time, the two companies were fighting an attempt by the Federal Government and a group of creditors trying to force the firms into bankruptcy. From there on, speculation was on and off that production of the Challenger jukebox would or would not resume. The new owners pumped $100,000 into the companies and temporarily stalled proceedings in bankruptcy. Other complications arose. The Batavia Metal Products Company, parent company of Challenge, had entered into a contract with the Filben Manufacturing Company in 1945. The arrangement called for the Batavia firm to produce 5,000 jukeboxes by November 1st of 1946 and 10,000 machines by January 1st of 1947 (the Filben mechanism was to be used). Challenge was unable to fulfill the terms and the contract was dissolved by court order on October 11, 1946. The Filben mechanism license held by Batavia came to an end, and that ended the Challenge '47 jukebox project.

The "Coup de Grace" (April 26, 1947)

Rock-ala, which had instituted a suit against Batavia and the U. S. Challenge Company (sales agent for Batavia) for infringing on automatic phonograph patents owned by the Rock-ala Manufacturing Company got a favorable court ruling. The Federal Court ruled on April 26, 1947, in favor of Rock-ala but for all practical purposes, the Challenger was "dead" in August of 1946.

From the Grave

Like many jukebox collector's I owned Frank Adam's Book on "Obscure, Mysterious and Innovative American Jukeboxes" (1900-1990). Like his other books, I have used this as my first reference, in spite of the fact I own thousands of brochures and other jukebox related material. For this reason, a few years ago when I was "surfing" Ebay and saw that a Jukebox "negative" was available, I was especially thrilled to be able to bid on an ordinal item.

From the ad, I could see that the actual item was a 4"x5" transparency (Kodachrome) and the envelope indicated that it was taken by a photographer in Batavia, Illinois. This tickled my memory and I looked at the Frank Adam's Book ... and saw that the 1947 Challenger was supposedly built in Batavia, Illinois.

For this reason I bid and won the auction ... talking about bidding blind. The picture at the left indicates on the envelope that the item was in, a "Kodachrome - BMP Juke Box" (BMP being Batavia Metal Products) plus a scan of the 4"x5" Kodachrome Transparency.

After receiving the transparency there was no question that this appeared to be an image of the missing '47 Challenger. The 4"x5" format was prevalent in the 1930's-1950's especially for press photographers that used the famous "Speed Graphic" camera. The problem is that today this format is quite rare. The first thing I did after receiving the transparency was to find an outfit that would convert it to a digital format. It was somewhat difficult to find somebody that could support converting a 4"x5" transparency, but I managed. After getting the digital image I spent almost 3 straight days cleaning up the image of spots, dust, scratches. It took that long since effectively the resolution of the image was 4800 dpi so I was working at an extremely high resolution. I also cleaned up the image's background, converting it to "plaster" and took out extraneous items on the floor. The next result is shown below:

Introducing the "first look" at the 1947 Challenger

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