Auguste Lassueur, *1865, settled in St. Croix in the 1880s, own company 1890–1938

Die Zeitspanne, in der Auguste Lassueur tätig war, ist der Höhepunkt der Spieldosenära, zu dem Lassueur seine Bahnhofsautomaten beitrug.

First Caretaker, then representative of the firm Mermod Frères, Auguste Lassueur set up his own business in 1890 and built the first coin-operated automata with a a coin-activates stopper mechanism.

“The dancing dolls, the Chinese and other figurines which rotated around their axis were not strictly speaking automata because they only executed one single movement, and moreover it did not correspond to the music player”. (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

Kantonale Ausstellung in Yverdon 1885
For the first time ever a more or less complete collection of musical automata of different sizes. They were a resounding success and the financial return was interesting.

“ ‘xx’”


Exhibition in Chicago 1893
The musical automata were an instant success.

Cantonal Exhibition of 1894 in Yverdon
“A success also at the Cantonal Exhibition of 1894 in Yverdon. They were presented by Mermod Frères and the resulting profits instantly put a smile on the faces of the Sainte-Croix exhibitors. [...] For the first time ever a more or less complete collection of musical automata of different sizes. They were a resounding success and the financial return was interesting.” (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

National Exhibition in Geneva 1896
Auguste Laussueur participated in the National Exhibition in Geneva two years later. In the company of other manufacturers, such as Léon Bornand and Henri Vidoudez, Lassueur presented his first automata, destined for hotels, restaurants and other public places. They worked with a ten-cent coin, the mechanism rejecting all other coins.

Exposition universelle in Brussels 1897
Auguste Lassueur obtained a bronze medal.

Cantonal Exhibition in Vevey in 1901
Auguste Lassueur was awarded a silver medal.

From the end of the nineteenth century, Auguste Lassueur had his workshops in the Rue de la Conversion, at present the Avenue de la Gare 17, where he assembled music boxes based on parts made by Mermod Frères or Paillard: bedplates, cylinders, combs and other local supplies. He imagined and executed the movements of the figurines, whereas his wife, who was also a skillful cylinder-pinner, sewed the silk costumes of the dancing dolls. In his catalog, he was perfectly straight forward, in presenting himself:

“As I was the first in Sainte-Croix to have the idea of adapting music boxes to an automatic stopper mechanism, activated by a coin introduced in the box, thereby transforming the original music boxes, objects of luxury and fancy, into objects of amusement and high revenue, indispensable to public establishments, I have made this article my speciality and my long experience with the musical automaton allows me to claim that nothing better can be found anywhere else.” (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

“Below are all the kinds of musical automata which are manufactured in Sainte-Croix:”

“1. The buffet-style music box with all its attractions: drums, bells, castanets, dancing dolls, Chinese figurines, mechanical scenery and particularly carousels which interest big and small alike, is certainly the automaton which is the mose advantageous in view of its high price and profit.”

“2. The Ideal as well as the Stella are automata which are particularly suitable for individuals, hotel lounges or large city restaurants. Their advantage is that at any time the tune repertoire can be extended economically by adding new cylinders for the Ideal and metallic sheets for the Stella.”

“The music boxes called Soprano, as well as the sublime Harmonie, are more commendable. Their resonant and harmonious musical sound never tires or bores.”

“The Forte-Piccolo is a brilliant and lively piece.”

The catalog presented in great detail Auguste Laussueur´s entire range of products, in particular the musical carousels comprising eighteen horses, three upholstered coaches with costumed dolls inside, all for a price ranging between 180 and 300 francs for the most elaborate model playing six tunes, with a Forte-Piccolo movement. (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

The greedy state
Auguste Lassueur opened up a new market for his automata but soon collided with the interests of the Canton of Vaud which was extremly strict in applying the law on automaton licences, imposing heavy duties on users in public establishments. This did not fail to put a brake on the development of this industry. [...] Unfortunately, the State, represented in Yverdon, became aware of the extraordinary profits and was dazzled. In looking through the law, they discovered that the law on door-to-door sales mentioned automata and imposed a licence fee of 32 francs per trimester. [...] “The village constables were immediately advised and fines and license fees were imposed indiscriminately on these instruments, without informing the people concerned. [...] Complaints were addressed to the department and after a long series of letters, visits to Lausanne, petition and meetings in Sainte-Croix, etc., etc., by letter of 21st march 1895, the department decided that music boxes made in the canton and exploited by people living there, would benefit from a reduced license fee, i.e. a reduction of three francs plus one franc in stamps and one francs for charges, that is to say five francs for the state (plus local charges of three francs twenty, in total 8 francs 20 per annum. [...]” (FAS 8th February 1902) (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

At the end of the century [...] Lassueur proposed the famous Panorama musical auto-stereoscopes, with a dozen postcards arranged in a special stand, activated by music. These instruments played two tunes and distributed five cards for ten cents, postcards of various types. Some of them were naughty, which aroused the curisosity of the cantonal agents, and this gave rise to further difficulties. (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

“In 1900 a novelty appeared on the local scene: a musical panorama-automaton with photographic postcards showing war scenes, races, landscapes, religious and worldly subjects, etc.” [...]

The station boxes
Lassueur managed to sell musical automata to cafés, hotels, etc., but his best operation, the one for which he is best known, was the contract signed with the Railway Company of the Jura-Simplon, which agreed to place thirty-six large automata in the main stations between Geneva and Brigue, and between Lausanne and Neuchȃtel; and to share the revenue with the manufacturer. (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

Lassueur spent most of his time travelling from one station to another, in second class, free of charge, to examine the monthly yield, pocket his money and repair what had to be repaired. [...] ‘I´m going to milk the goats!’ he murmured.” (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

“Showing an object containing money in a public place naturally inflamed the imagination of a few thieves and lo and behold! They wasted no time in attacking the automata, smashing them, when they offered resistance. A quick answer was called for. Lassueur imagined putting a pistol in the cash drawer loaded with a bullet from which the projectile had been removed but which contained powder, some paper and soot. So, when the drawer was forced open, the pistol let off the discharge, sending the thief – blackened and burnt – flying, at the same time warning the neighbours! Auguste Baud tested the system unintentionally when carrying out some repairs, an event he was not likely to forget in a hurry!” (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

Auguste Laussueur continued manufacturing automata up to 1920 and adapted his business to the talking machines much in fashion, distributing his Idéale model. Gradually the demand fell off in cafés, restaurants and hotels, where mechanical pianos had already replaced cartels. For him that left only the railroad stations. (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

Second Lausanne Fair 1917
Auguste presented his product range at the Second Lausanne Fair in 1917, where his son Edouard would suceed him for dozens of years, for he was responsible for installing sound systems in exhibition halls. Edouard set up a company called Chantecklair SA which distributed talking machines; and then Gramotechnique SA, a company producing and selling gramophones and radios. (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

In 1903, the station boxes installed on the Jura-Simplon network were bought by the National Railway Company, who took over responsibility not only for the boxes installed but also for those placed in the stations run by private railway companies. (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

The final years of Auguste Lassueur´s career were essentially devoted to the maintenance of station boxes, which earned him a steady income, in addition to the yield of his apicultural activities which he practiced with passion. He retired in 1938, leaving approximately thirty-six musical automata, the revenue of which reverted entirely to the railway stations. (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

In spring of 1996, the Swiss Railway were determined to keep the station boxes, considered part of the national heritage, in spite of the insistent interest of the collectors. The Railway administration withdrew the boxes which were installed in stations no longer frequently served, but kept up maintenance and repairs – entrusted to the workshop of Michel Bourgoz in L´Auberson – thus ensuring access to the general public. In 1983, twenty-three station boxes were still to be found in the stations of French Switzerland and about fifteen in 1996.

In 1988, as a final tribute to Auguste Lassueur, Reuge made a limited series of station boxes, presented as jukeboxes of olden times! (Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

“The new automaton, enhanced by a superb clock and a singing bird, switches on automatically every hour: a carillon, a nightingale´s song and a little waltz … all you need to while away the time more pleasantly! And in between, why not put a coin in the slot to set the mechanism in motion, so … on with the show!”

(Piguet 2004, p. 248-252)

TMB 18, 5, 1998, p. 136, Nr. 30; Bellamy, Music Makers of Switzerland, (2015), p. 6

Bahnhofautomat (Weiss-Stauffacher)