Laurens Hammond - Saels Family

Go to content

Laurens Hammond

Hammond Organ
When Laurens Hammond invented the Hammond-tonewheel in 1934, this was the beginning of an unmatched culture,history and industry, that was recognised throughout the world. When later in 1986 the Japanese Suzuki-group, manufacturere of quality-musical instruments as well as industrial robots, set its aim at promoting music-making in general and on Hammond in particular, this lead to the foundation of a new dynamic organisation :HAMMOND SUZUKI...
The long Story...

(Following article by John Majeski, Jr. appeared in the may 1960 issue of "Music Trades" magazine and provides a unique insight in the first 25 years of Hammond history...)

Henry Ford's marketing foresight may have been slightly clouded when he uttered some of his opinions, notably, "The public can have any color Model T they want, providing it's black." But twenty five years ago last month when he placed the first order for a Hammond Organ, a week before it was announced to the public, he displayed a prophetic recognition of the organ's future market. "In twenty years, there should be one in every home in America," he declared to Emory Penny. Penny, then sales manager of Hammond Clock Co. and the man who personally took the order after a demonstration in Ford's Dearborn factory, was also told, "you should sell organs at $300 . . . and don't fall into the hands of those Eastern Bankers." That night enroute to the First and only Industrial Arts Exposition which opened at Radio City in New York, Penny wrote Laurens Hammond, "I feel he would lend us half a million dollars."

During the intervening quarter century, Hammond's pioneer organ trail has developed into a superhighway with no speed limits posted. Almost one billion dollars worth of electric (and electronic) organs have been sold since Pietro Yon, famed organist of St. Patrick's Cathedral, demonstrated the Hammond on April 15, 1935 at a press party. Hammond made news on that day.

Fritz Reiner and Deems Tayloralso played the organ as accompaniment for Lily Pons, Rosa Ponselle, Giovanni Martinelli and Colette D'Arville. News reel men and reporters loved it and accorded it an avalanche of publicity.

Unrecognized by most industry seers and merchants, a new era in music retailing had been launched. In a year still blighted by unemployment, the first fifty Hammond dealers sold with ease at $1,250 each the scant 1,400 Model A organs shipped. Last year (1959), over four hundred Hammond dealers sold over sixty million dollars worth of organs at retail out of an estimated total of approximately one hundred and ten million dollars worth of organs sold.

"The smart thing for an inventor to do," once observed Laurens Hammond, "is to put together the old tricks that you have done before." An historian might add, "and also what others have done before." Without detracting from Hammond's achievement of inventing and marketing the first commercially feasible non-pipe organ, what old tricks sired Hammond's magical box ?

Unconsciously, the key elements of the organ were created in 1920 when Hammond patented a "tickless" spring driven clock and also marketed a three dimensional movie viewer powered by a synchronous motor. Neither succeeded cornmercially, but in 1928, they were fused into the original Hammond Clock, "tick-less" and synchronous motor driven.

Clock companies burgeoned and as late as 1931, just before the deluge, Hammond Clock earned $577,348. In 1932, over 150 electric clock makers ceased manufacture or liquidated. For the next four years, Hammond Clock lost over four hundred thousand dollars. The electric clock market had decayed to .89c premiums given away as Wrigley chewing gum premiums. Staff was drastically cut. The force of six office boys was cut to two. One of these was Stanley M. Sorensen, Hammond president since 1955.

In 1934, in Hammond',s annual report which showed a loss of $137,176, the undreamed promise of a golden era was modestly announced: "We have continued our development work on new items and plan the introduction of a new product during the coming year. This item when 'introduced will substantilally augment our sales volume and further improve our operating results."

Unrecorded save in the patent office and on yellowed newspaper clippings, since 1890, there had been a steady stream of inventions and technical papers on pipe-less organs. The achievement of Hammond in synthesing a rotating tone generator, synchronous electric motor, keyboard and amplified speaker is outstanding largely in view of the efforts of scores of contemporaries who were seeking the same end and had common access to the same generic elements. None had succeeded with a serviceable instrument, adaptable to existing organ litterature.

At the turn of the century, Thaddeus Cahill had filed five voluminous patents comprising 322 pages for his Telharmonium. Cahill's Telharmonium employed rotating magnetoelectric tone generators, each one man sized.

In 1908, he demonstrated his unit, the size of a small powerhouse (see pictures) in New York City and elicited the praise and support of Mark Twain. For a time, his organ music was piped over telephone lines to subscribers like Muzak. Unfortunately, his only source of amplification was the telephone mechanical diaphragm, a poor source of transmission. When his Telharmonium interfered with telephone communications, Bell Telephone discontinued the service. J. P. Morgan reputedly was the source of complaint when during an important financial transaction on the telephone, the conversation was drowned out by a flood of organ music.

Photoelectric tone production had been explored with prototypes dating back to 1916 by a number of inventors including van der Bili, Hugonoit, Potter, Toulon, Spielmann, Goldthwaite, Hardy, Lesti, and Eremeeff. Pure electronic musical tone generation began with Duddell in 1899 and included Miller, Bethenod, DeForest, Mager, Coupleaux and Givelet, Vierling and Kock, Langer, Helberger and Lertes, and Theremin, whose instrument enjoys a tenuous survival.

Telefunken in Germany, marketed the Trautonium. As early as 1931, Richard H.Ranger's pipeless organ was heard in broadcasts over Radio Station WOR, Newark, N.J. Hoschke had already developed the windblown harmonium reed electronic organ, marketed as the orgatron.

George of Thomas Organ

In Cincinnati, O., Thomas George a young telephone engineer who liked to play the organ, started building one in 1932 as a hobby. In 1934, he filed some patents which came to the attention of Hammond, then mid-way between patents and prototype. John Hanert, Hammond's chief engineer, visited him in Cincinnati and persuaded him to join his firm. George remained with Hammond until 1941. In 1955 after unsuccessful attempts with scores of electronic companies, several of which are now (in 1960) again contemplating organ manufacture, he succeeded in having Pacific-Mercury use his patents. His organ is now marketed under his surname as the Thomas Organ.

The principal element in the electric clock manufactured by Hammond Clock Co. was the small, rugged, synchronous electric motor. Hammond had first used the motor in his Teleview, a three-dimension motion picture which closed one month after opening to critical acclaim at the Selwyn Theatre in New York City on Dec. 27, 1922. The motor powered a special viewfinder in which a revolving shutter enabled the spectator to view in three-dimensional form, the screen upon which two projectors simultaneously cast an image. At that point the only relation of music to the synchronous motor lay in the orchestral accompaniment composed and conducted by Paul Tietjens, noted American composer and one time brother-in-law of Hammond. John Borden, Chicago mining heir, whose daughter later married Adlai Stevenson, cheerfully lost $120,000 in the venture. Hammond acquired a permanent interest in the synchronous motor.

A $350 weekly royalty from Ziegfeld for a simplified version of the viewer used for trick effects in the 1925 Ziegfeld Follies, encouraged Hammond to work as an independent inventor instead of joining Western Electric at $64 per week.

The following year he joined E. F. Andrews, as a partner in the Andrews-Hammond Laboratories. Andrews, a former radio manufacturer, and Hammond invented the A-Box, a temperamental mechanism with a penchant for exploding that in quiet, moments enabled a wet cell radio to be played by being plugged directly into an outlet. Within less than a year, radios without batteries were on the market and the A-box part boon, part menace was dead.

From his partnership with Andrews who for many year served as a director of the Hammond Co. and is one of the principal original stockholders, the tiny companv had the rudiments of an engineering research staff. During its brief A-Box period, it also acquired a sales staff : F. H. Redmond, vice-president and general manager until his death in 1953; and Emorv Penny, sales manager until he resigned in 1944 to head Penny-Owsley Music Co. in Los Angeles.

... to be continued...
Website created by Manu Saels
Back to content