Story of the Mighty Wurlitzer
It was the early 1900s, a time when silent movies entertained patrons in film houses across the nation. The "moving pictures" captivated audiences while full orchestras provided the musical accompaniment. It was a grand and elaborate affair.
In 1905, Thomas L. Talley built a new kind of film house, based on a new idea. Instead of an expensive orchestra, he installed a large, church pipe organ as an affordable alternative and charged patrons a modest ten cents admission. The organist played away, musically capturing the action and emotion on the screen. Film patrons loved the organ music, and other theatre operators soon followed suit.
This called for the creation of a special, theatre pipe organ, the first built by Robert Hope-Jones. His patents eventually became the property of the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company. And it was the Wurlitzer Company that built the first organ to imitate all sounds produced by an orchestra. It was called "The Mighty Wurlitzer".
The Mighty Wurlitzer not only featured keys and pedals, but hundreds, even thousands of pipes, some more than 16 feet tall. To provide the many sound effects, the organ was equipped with "musical toy counters" - instruments such as drums, castanets, sleigh bells, cymbals, tom-toms, marimbas, xylophones, chimes, tambourines and trumpets. With the flick of a "stop tablet" at the console, the organist could turn these instruments into the sound of door bells, steamboat whistles, sirens, bird calls and other effects to make the story on screen come alive. It was a spectacular experience.
Of the 12,000 theatre organs made, many of them by The Wurlitzer Company, only a handful remains today for the public's enjoyment. The Music Palace is proud to be home to one of these rare and wonderful Might Wurlitzer organs. Our organ was custom built for the Mastbaum Theatre in Philadelphia and first played on February 28, 1929. Silent movies were at their peak and the roaring twenties were in full swing. But the glory of the grand, theatre pipe organs was short lived. With the advent of talking movies and the depression of the 1930's, they sadly fell into disuse.
After decades of gathering dust in dismantled silence, our organ was re-discovered and rebuilt by craftsmen who enlarged it to 33 ranks (sets of pipes). Audiences of all ages come to hear its 2, 223 pipes and its many musical toy counters, including stately trumpets sounding from the balcony. Its first grand performance at the Springdale Music Palace in Ohio was on November 26, 1982.
Music lovers are enthralled with the "King of Instruments" - The Mighty Wurlitzer. This amazing organ is a piece of history that provides a musical experience like no other.