The ‘Westinghouse Organ’ or ‘Electric Radio Organ’ Richard .C.Hitchock. USA, 1930

Hirchcock and the Westinghouse organ 1931

R.C.Hitchcock and the Westinghouse Organ 1931

The Westinghouse Organ was a semi-polyphonic multi vacuum tubed electronic organ designed by the research engineer Richard. C. Hitchcock for Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA. The organ was played on a three octave manual keyboard using a foot pedal for volume control. Hitchcock’s instrument allowed control of each note’s timbre by employing multiple vacuum tubes for each note to create adjustable natural harmonics of the fundamental note. The organ also had an electrical motor driven tremolo unit to shape the sound:

“…no previously known musical instruments. of the type to which my invention pertains, were provided with adequate means for tone and volume-control and, consequently, they were incapable of reproducing musical compositions with the same tone-color and nuances of expression that could be obtained with pipe-organs and pianos. In addition, the limitations of previously known electrical musical instruments were such as to preclude their proper tuning and they could not be satisfactorily utilized in orchestras wherein the other instruments were tuned to the tempered scale. It is, accordingly, an object of my invention to provide an electrical musical ‘instrument wherein each note of the scale shall be accompanied by the harmonic frequencies necessary to give it the requisite color.”

R.C.Hitchcock Patent Application 1930

The ‘Electric radio Organ’ was built to test the practicality of broadcasting electronic organ music over the radio rather than recording real pipe organs on-location with with the primitive microphones of the day (similar to the ‘Givelet Coupleaux’ Organ in France). The organ’s debut was at Pittsburgh’s KDKA radio station in 1930.

A New Instrument, Called a Radio Organ, is Demonstrated in Concert by Dr. Heinroth. United Press Staff Correspondent. PITTSBURGH, Jan. 23.

The squeals and squawks that are the bane of radio fans have been brought under control and combined in music rivalling that of the pipe organ. The new instrument, in fact, Is called a radio organ, and SO oscillating vacuum tubes replace the pipes. The first concert on the radio organ was played by Dr. Charles Heinroth, noted musician of Carnegie Institute, and though the event was not without a few impromptu notes, the half hour program amply demonstrated that the noise of radio tubes can be made beautiful. The radio organ is the product of the genius of R. C. Hitchcock of the Research Department, Westinghouse  The keyboard is like that of a regular three-octave organ and foot pedals to control the volume are provided.” The touch of a key plays the proper note ‘by causing one of the’ tubes to oscillate. The electric impulses thus set up may then he carried directly to a loud speaker which transforms them into sound. But they need not be transformed into sound at once, and this fact is held to open a vast realm of possibilities for the radio organ.. For instance, the music that is to say, the electrical impulses set up by the oscillating tubes may be broadcast without use of a microphone and not become audible until it is picked tip on the receiving sets. Likewise the possibility of a central organ with the music wired to several churches or theatres may -be easily be envisioned. Another advantage of the radio organ is that all the mechanism of the instrument may be placed in a basement room, with only the keyboard visible.

The News-Herald. Franklin, Pennsylvania January 23, 1930 · Page 5

Dr. Richard Hitchcock of Westinghouse sits on top of "junior" the portable Van de Graaff generator
Dr. Richard Hitchcock of Westinghouse sits on top of “junior” the portable Van de Graaff generator
Dr. Richard Hitchcock of Westinghouse sits on top of "junior" the portable Van de Graaff generator

Dr. Richard Hitchcock of Westinghouse sits on top of “junior” the portable Van de Graaff generator


Sources

The History of the Organ in the United States. Orpha C. Ochse

Radio News 1931, on ‘The Electrical Future Of Music.’

Popular science monthly. May 1930.p35

Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music, and Culture . Thom Holmes

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