History of the Aeolian-Hammond Player Organ
During the 1930s, the Hammond Company entered into a joint venture with Aeolian-Skinner, the well-known manufacturer of pipe organs and player mechanisms. They devised a player Hammond organ in which the top was sufficiently raised to enclose a player-piano-style paper-roll player mechanism. Otherwise, it looked like the standard Hammond Model B case. The joint venture was an attempt to make the new automatic player electric organ a standard in homes, churches, and funeral parlors.
The player mechanism didn’t operate the 61 keys on both manuals and the 25 pedals. It operated only 12 of the pedals and perhaps about 3 and a half octaves of the upper manual and two and a half octaves of the lower manual, a number that would have totaled 80. The keys didn’t go down when the player unit was operating. Instead, underneath every key and gang switch was a little pouch, a pneumatic bellows that pulled down the actuator that closed the nine contacts under each key.
The organs took a special paper roll designated as “organ rolls” by Duo-Art. The person would sit at the console, watch the paper-roll tape go by, and the wiggly line across the paper would indicate how to operate the expression pedal. The paper roll would occasionally tell when to select a different preset key on the upper or lower manual. The result was a musical sound that resembled someone actually sitting there and playing the organ.
They were only manufactured between January and December of 1938. About 180 to 200 Model B-A organs were made. They had an original selling price of $2,000. It is believed that only approximately 50 of these instruments exist today.
The one in the ESTMIM museum was donated by John Ledwon, a theater organist and Hammond collector, who has played for various ESTMIM programs in the Empire Theatre. It was restored in the fall of 2001 and then again in 2016.