Arturo Velasquez, Industry And Community Leader, Dies At 93

Posted On: 4/20/2009

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Arturo Velasquez, Velasquez Automatic Music Co., Jukebox, Coin-Op, Vending, Vending Machine, Automatic Retailing, Amusements, Pinball, Arcade, Coin Machine, Mexican-American, Immigration History

CHICAGO -- Arturo Velasquez, a coin machine pioneer and community leader, died on April 17 at his home in Palos Hills, a suburb of Chicago. He was 93.

Velasquez came with his family to the United States from Mexico when he was eight, paying 5¢ to cross the border. They settled in Chicago, where he graduated from elementary school and attended Crane Technical High School. He founded the Chicago-based music and games company that still bears his name in 1936. Today, Velasquez Automatic Music Co. is run by two of his children, Edward and Maria.

Velasquez, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, was known for working tirelessly to improve lives in Chicago's Mexican-American community. In 1967, he co-founded and served as charter president of the Azteca Lions Club. He played key roles in creating the Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, the Federation of Mexican-Americans, the Spanish Speaking Study Commission, the Mexican Civic Society and the Mexican-American Democrats of Cook County, among others groups.

Forty years ago, he supported 10 young entrepreneurs, including son Arthur, who went on to start tortilla business Azteca Corn Products Corp. The business evolved into Azteca Foods, which supplies thousands of groceries, restaurants and sports venues with tortillas and related products in the multibillion-dollar ethnic food market.

Arturo Velasquez, pictured in 2000, shows off some jukeboxes he had operated since founding Velasquez Automatic Music Co. in 1936.

Velasquez served as a trustee of the City Colleges of Chicago for a decade, and was honored last year when Richard J. Daley College rededicated and renamed one of its institutes the Arturo Velasquez West Side Technical Institute.

Velasquez got involved in the music and games business selling equipment for Mills Novelty, one of the first jukebox manufacturers. After convincing a location owner to install a Mills jukebox, the young salesman was awarded a territory called Back of the Yards, an industrial and residential neighborhood heavily populated by Mexican-Americans on Chicago's southwest side, so named because it was near the site of the former Union Stock Yards. (Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" profiles early 20th century life in this neighborhood, which was once the center of the American meatpacking industry.)

Beginning with that single location more than 70 years ago, Velasquez steadily built an influential music and games operation through a combination of hard work and business savvy. He often advised other emerging Hispanic businessmen, and Valesquez Automatic Music Co. subsequently grew alongside Chicago's Hispanic community for seven decades.

Velasquez is survived by his wife of 72 years, Shirley; their four children, Arthur Raymond, Carmen, Maria Elena and Edward; 11 grandchildren; 19 great-grandchildren; and siblings Marina, Eliseo, Josefina and Elisia.