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Tuesday, 22 November 2016



The earliest organ, the hydraulis, was developed by the Greek engineer Ctesibius, who lived in the 3rd century BC in Alexandria.

The small organ worked by means of a chamber partly filled with water. The wide mouth of a funnel-like extension from the wind chest was set in the top of the water; as air pressure in the wind chest fell, water rose in the funnel and compressed the air, thus keeping the air pressure constant.

The water organ (or hydraulis). CC BY-SA 2.0 Wikipedia Commons

The Romans used the water organ for such public entertainments as circuses and gladiator combats because they were loud.

During the Renaissance many Italian gardens had water organs. The most famous water organ of the 16th century was at the Villa d'Este in Tivoli. It was about six metres high and was powered by a beautiful waterfall.


The Spaniards first introduced the use of the organ in churches in the fifth century. The more wide spread use of church organ music is traditionally believed to date from the time of Vitalian's papacy between July 30, 657 and January 27, 672.

Aldhelm built the first pipe organ in England around 700. It was described as a "mighty instrument with innumerable tones, blown with bellows, and enclosed in a gilded case."

A pipe organ with "great leaden pipes" was sent from Constantinople to the West by the Byzantine emperor Constantine V as a gift to Pepin the Short King of the Franks in 757.

Pepin's son Charlemagne requested a similar organ for his chapel in Aachen in 812, which sealed its establishment in Western church music.

The pipe organ in Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, Paris

The pipe organ that Bishop Aelfeg installed at Winchester Cathedral around 950 AD was possibly the most elaborate machine in the world at the time. It had 400 pipes and 26 bellows operated by 70 men.

Instruments such as the large 10th-century organ at Winchester appear to have produced a general roar, with all the pipes for any one key sounding all the time.


The reed organ was developed in Germany in about 1810. The reed organ is more properly called a harmonium, and its American counterpart a melodeon.

The harmonium's reeds consist of metal tongues screwed over slots in metal frames. They are sounded by an inward air current produced by exhaust bellows.

A harmonium. Operation of the two large pedals at the bottom of the case supplies wind to the reeds.

Harmoniums reached the height of their popularity in the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were especially popular in small churches and chapels where a pipe organ would be too large or too expensive until the electronic organ started to replace it after the 1930s.


The calliope is a steam organ patented by J C Stoddard of Worcester, Massachusetts, on October 9, 1855.

Most calliopes had about 15-30 whistles, operated by a keyboard, but some had many more.

The noisy musical instrument was quickly added to the circus world. At the end of a circus procession marching down the main street would be a screaming steam calliope, telling everyone the circus had come to town.

"Calliope, the wonderful operonicon or steam car of the muses" – advertising poster, 1874

Callopes were fitted to the top decks of river showboats, and could be heard for miles around playing popular tunes. They were also heard as part of some merry-go-rounds in amusement parks.


The Hammond organ was invented in 1934 by American inventor and entrepreneur Laurens Hammond. He utilized electrical circuits and amplifiers to produce and enlarge the organ's sound.

Laurens Hammond also came up with an early incarnation of 3D films using glasses, through a system he called Teleview.

The Hammond organ's mournful sound made it the instrument of choice for military chapels, but then in the 1960s the rockers got wind of it and the device became a standard keyboard instrument for jazz, blues, rock and gospel music.

Jazzman Jimmy Smith playing the Hammond organ in the 1950s. By Hammondite - Wikipedia


An organ was played at a baseball stadium for the first time in Chicago in 1941.

The phrase "Pull out all the stops" refers to using all the pipes of a pipe organ by pulling all the knobs (stops) that control which pipes are used.

The world’s largest organ is in the auditorium of the Atlantic City Convention Hall. It has seven keyboards and over 33,000 pipes.

The largest church organ is at First Congregational Church, Los Angeles.

The world's oldest organ is generally agreed to be the one built at Sion, Switzerland in the late 14th century.

The Grand Organ of Sydney Opera House has 10,154 pipes. It took one year longer to build than the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

There is a 230 foot long sea organ on the coast of Croatia. The organ, designed by architect Nikola Basic has 35 tubes that make music whenever the waves crash into them.

Here is a list of popular songs with an organ.

Sources Comptons Encyclopedia, Europress Encyclopedia

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