The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company was founded in 1856 by German immigrant Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer in Cincinnati. Rudolph’s father, Christian Gottfried Wurlitzer, was a musical instrument craftsman in Schöneck, Saxony, and had a successful retail business there. Rudolph was born on 31 January 1831 and was educated in Schöneck, Plauen, and Leipzig. He also was trained in musical instrument craftsmanship by his father, his relatives, and friends.

Rudolph chose not to remain in his father’s business, and decided to emigrate to the United States. Because he did not favor Rudolph’s plans to emigrate, his father did not provide him with money. So, the 22-year-old Rudolph arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1853, penniless and without much knowledge of the English language. He worked in a grocery store in New Jersey and began to learn English. After passing through Philadelphia, where he could not find work, he went to Cincinnati and sold goods door-to-door. He then found work as a porter in a drygoods establishment at a salary of $4.00 a week. Even with such low wages, Rudolph was able to save a quarter of his salary by sleeping in a packing box on the premises.