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Wurlitzer Organ

Articles published in The Bioscope

Walter Pearce
Walter Pearce


Walter Pearce. European representative of Wurlitzer, has sailed for Calcutta. He is due to arrive about the middle of May and on his arrival will superintend the erection of the first orchestral organ in India. This is to he placed in a theatre in Dharmatala Street, Calcutta, which is the property of Madan Theatres, Ltd. It is probable that Mr. Pearce will return by way of Cape Town where another Wurlitzet is to be installed. On the completion of these installations there will be a chain of Wurlitzer organs round the world
The Bioscope - Thursday 03 May 1928


The first Wurlitzer organ has been installed in India. Walter Pearce has just returned to this country after superintending the erection of a style 90 divided organ in J. J. Madan's theatre, in Dharmatala Street, Calcutta.
The well-known Scottish contractors, Mclntosh and Burn, achieved quite a neat engineering feat when they erected the organ chambers, which are situated at balcony level and are practically suspended.
The organ itself was a great success. Byron Hopper came over specially from the United States to take up the post of organist. He reports that the organ "is behaving wonderfully and considering that the climatic conditions of the country (the temperature ranges from 97 to 120 degrees with 90 per cent. and 80 per cent. of humidity) put a very great strain on the organ", this is high praise indeed. Mr Hopper also affirms that the attendance at the theatre has increased about 75 per cent., and that nearly three dozen people gather every morning to inspect the organ and ask questions concerning it.
Mr. Pearce is full of praise for Mr. Madan, whose enterprise, modern ideas and willingness to receive information that may lead to the improvement of his theatres have left a deep impression on him. We understand that Mr. Madan is delighted with this installation, and that Mr. Pearce is negotiating for further installations in Rangoon, Colombo and Bombay, in addition to a second in Calcutta.

The Bioscope - Wednesday 15 August 1928

Wurlitzer's Berlin "Shop Window"

Starting March 1st, Wurlitzer are to have a "shop window" in Berlin. They have acquired the "Kamera," the famous little repertory theatre, Unter den Linden.
A Wurlitzer has been installed already, and in future the little theatre will be exclusively used for Wurlitzer concerts.

The Bioscope - Wednesday 27 February 1929

Making a Cinema Organ

Methods at the Wurlitzer Factory

Wurlitzer workshop
Wurlitzer workshop
When sound films made their bewildering advent into the film field the future of the cinema organ trade seemed gravely imperiled. Here was an industry which had been created solely for the cinema, and which had in a few years been built up to very large dimensions.
Now talking films suddenly threatened to make an organ in the cinema completely unnecessary. In the first rush orchestras were dismantled, orchestra leaders dismissed, the organ console closed and the organist given his last week's salary. It looked as though organs would be consigned to rust and dust in the picture houses as an outgrown anachronism.
The Value of the Organ
But better counsels prevailed. For one thing, audiences had grown to love the organ solos, and for another thing the sound Film alone was rather too impersonal an entertainment to be entirely pleasing at first. So organists were brought back and quickly demonstrated the usefulness of the move by showing how, even with sound films, the organ could be an immensely valuable adjunct to the entertainment. Not only could it supply those items in the programme which gave a personal and intimate touch to the show, but it could also be valuable as introducing and supplementing the sound films themselves, it can safely be said that the organ has definitely vindicated itself and is no longer in any danger from the new films.
Part of this is undoubtedly due to the amazing variety and freshness which the modern cinema organ can introduce into the musical selection. These modern instruments with their multitudinous effects have proved to be definitely a box-office attraction. There are, in fact, no longer organs in the original meaning of that word, but rather mechanical one-man orchestras developed to a state of amazing perfection.
The name "Wurlitzer" has for many years been outstandingly associated with these modern instruments, and it is interesting to glance at the manufacturing process involved in their production. Few exhibitors have any conception of the colossal amount of work involved in these mighty organs, and certainly the average member of the public has no idea of what is behind the organ grilles in his favourite cinema, either as regards historical developments or mechanical equipment. Behind those decorative grills pipes no thicker than a straw and only an inch or so long range up to others several storeys high and large enough to make a comfortable living room.

32' Diaphone

Where the Work Begins
Nowadays the making of an organ for a cinema begins in the architects office. The modern architect no longer leaves a couple of rooms somewhere around the stage for organ chambers. He has discovered from painful experience that in this way serious acoustical defects may result. There may be complete inaudibility in certain sections of the house, such as the back seats under the balcony, or alternativily, those in the front part of the house may be deafened by a blurred unmusical blare of sound. So right at the start the modem architect gets in touch with the organ builder. In this connection Wurlitzer's maintain a large engineering and drafting department with a staff of 20 engineering experts. Here the mechanical disposition of every organ installation is worked out in the minutest detail, the nature and position of the chambers can be studied and, if necessary, corrected, and, above all, adequate space can be provided for the enormous amount of mechanism which must be installed before the first sound can be heard.
There are two principal ways of installing the organ chambers, and the choice of these depends naturally on the type and size of the theatre and architectural peculiarities round the proscenium. One way is to install the instrument in the centre and above the proscenium arch, The other way is to divide the organ into two separate chambers on each side of the arch at varying heights above the stage level 10 to 15 ft. being the usual pitch the exact position, size and wall surfacing of these chambers having been decided on, plans are prepared so that the complete instrument can be shipped from the factory in such a state of perfection that it will fit perfectly into the chambers and all the connections to the console will be exactly correct as regards length. in fact before the instrument leaves the factory it is completely erected on a similar floor space so that all that is necessary is correct installation on its final site.
Cables and Connections
Wurlitzer wiring
Making the wiring looms

One of the most impressive places in the works is the Cable Department, where the cables are wound together, tested and marked before going into the various wiring departments, where they are fixed on the actions. These cables naturally vary in length, according to the peculiarities of the cinema. They may be anything from 100 to 200 or 300 feet long. One of the beauties of the modem organ is that the console can, if necessary be at a great distance from the organ itself without in any way reducing the promptness of speaking necessary for modern accompaniment. In the old type of organs there was often an appreciable time lag between the pressure on the keyboard and the speaking of the pipes. On such an instrument the organist had constantly to play in advance of his choir or congregation. With an electrical instrument the speech is as prompt and sharp as the tap of a drum. These instruments now permit the playing of the most rapid and snappy music with even greater precision and crispness than is possible on an average piano.
All these connections involve the use of a tremendous length of wire. The amount of wire used for an instrument like that installed at the Empire may run to about 100 miles, with 30,000 to 40,000 individual connections, all of which, by the way, are carefully soldered to prevent loose and imperfect contacts. The arrangement of these wires, which are all bundled up into cables containing different numbers of wires of varying lengths, is done automatically on former tables. The wires are pressed down into individual slots, cut and snapped together, and although the work proceeds with amazing speed, the cables, when carried to their final positions, lit every stud and screw with absolute precision.
The actions are worked by pneumatic motors which range in size from 1 in. square to 8 or 9 in. long. These operate contacts which are all made of sterling silver, this. material being the only one suitable for contact blocks and switches, as it is not appreciably affected by wear, atmosphere or minute sparking.

Part of the magnet wiring room

Every pipe in a Wurlitzer organ has its own separate magnet, which means that each organ must be provided with thousands of tiny magnets and armatures capable of working year in and year out with unerring precision and accuracy. Moreover, these magnets must all be identical as regards resistance and size, for there is no space to spare for" sports." All this winding is done by automatic machinery of a highly complicated type. The magnets come from these wonderful machines as similar as pins on a pin-paper, and are mounted on poles, coated with insulating varnish, and baked in high-temperature electric ovens.
Making wooden pipes
Making the wooden pipes

Voicing the Pipes
Another important department in the factory is the one devoted to voicing. In this section there are over 20 separate sound-proof rooms, in charge of master voicers, a great many of whom have devoted a lifetime to this highly specialised work. Every pipe, whether made of wood or metal, has to be individually voiced, according to the specification of the stop which is to control it. This is perhaps the most important work in the whole factory, so far as the ultimate colour variety of the instrument is concerned, and Wurlitzer's claim special knowledge and special secrets in this connection, which enables them to provide tonal range of variety, quite peculiar to the Wurlitzer organ. Once these pipes are voiced, the utmost care has to be taken in handling them, as the slightest rough usage would utterly destroy the delicacy of tonal effects aimed at.
Vox Humana stops
Voicing the Vox Humana stops

If one was asked to state the outstanding feature of the Wurlitzer instrument one would unhesitatingly refer to the meticulous care for detail, to the precision and perfection of every minute part in the mechanism, both as regardsmaterial and workmanship. The Wurlitzer people claim that their organ is the Rolls-Royce of the organ world and they spare no expense in securing that every detail shall be as perfect as human skill and ingenuity can make it.
The finish of the instrument is not confined to the console, though that is a beautiful piece of work. Those parts which are never likely to be seen, save by the tuner or an occasional visiting enthusiast, are finished with an equal degree of thoroughness. If you were to Step inside the organ chamber of a Wurlitzer, you would be surprised to see handsome brass polished trumpets, similar to those used as window displays in the instruments stores, made of the best material and just as carefully finished as though they were to be paraded at the head of a military Column, Yet these trumpets and pipes will never be visible.
Making Metal Pipes
In the pipe department of the factory you can, at any time, see hundreds of pipes of every conceivable size and shape being painstakingly cut and fashioned by hand labour. All the metal used in the making of these pipes is cast and wrought in the factory itself. There is pure tin from our own English mines in Cornwall, spotted organ-pipe metal and plain metal and zinc and brass in a variety of mixtures and finishes. Some pipes not more than a span long have four and sometimes five different kinds of metal incorporated just to give the particular kind of tonal colour required.
The variety of effects available by the modern pipe worker now would he unbelievable to the older type of organ manufacturer. The basic organ quality remains in the larger wood and open pipes, but in addition to these pure tones a bewildering variety of ingenious stops have been patiently developed, so as to place full orchestral variety at the player's disposal.
Wurlitzer Woodwork
In the case of the wooden pipes the very finest quality of Californian sugar pine is used. All the timber is carefully seasoned for two years before it is worked, and this seasoning takes place in special sheds having a capacity of about two million feet. Later on it is treated in steam-heated dry kilns to take out every vestige of moisture. Finally, every individual inch of wood is examined to see that it is perfect, without knot or blemish. You can examine a Wurlitzer organ from one end to the other and you will not find the slightest flaw of any kind in the woodwork. All wood pipes are treated with two coats of pure orange shellac, and generally every care is taken to see that an organ pipe once installed will withstand, without the slightest deterioration, any reasonable changes of atmosphere in any part of the world.
One of the spectacular parts of the factory is that section in which the elaborate consoles are assembled and mounted. There is a terrific amount of work in these consoles each of which has several hundreds of keys and stop-tabs with innumerable electrical, mechanical, and pneumatic cross connections.
A finished Wurlitzer console looks a beautiful and fairly simple thing, but lift either of the cheeks and incidentally these consoles are hinged in sections like so many crocodile jaws, and you will find inside an amazing collection of wires and tubes distributing electric currents and air to the remotest parts of the chamber. Some consoles take as long as six weeks to assemble under the constant labour of four or five men. The actions and chests are miracles of ingenuity, and an observer watches fascinated at the thousands of silent, prompt servants obeying the commands of the operator at the far-away console.
The Expression Shutters
One of the important features in the Wurlitzer instrument is its line command of tone, shading, and expression, and it quality in this direction is due to the Wurlitzer expression shutters. These shutters are operated on ball bearings both at top and bottom, and there is an exclusive feature in the form of sound trap joints which prevent the escape of any sound and ensure the greatest possible variation in expression.
Naturally, in a factory such as this, there is a huge machine shop where automatic screw machines, lathes and similar engineering equipment turn out the innumerable metallic parts which are incorporated in the finished instrument. Other interesting departments are the tool rooms and the enormous wood-working mill.
Finally, in spite of the utmost care which is taken in every stage of manufacture to ensure perfection, every part is ultimately submitted to a rigid examination and test before being passed for final assembly. This assembly takes place in the erecting shops. Every organ that is ordered is laid out and erected on a floor space exactly similar in size and shape to that which it will ultimately occupy in the theatre.
The Wurlitzer erecting shops are probably the largest and most completely equipped in the world, and 15 organs can be in process of erection at the same time. One shudders to think of 15 mammoth Wurlitzers being tested simultaneously, but sooner or later each of these instruments has a thorough playing test and every stop is carefully studied until every note in the instrument is perfect.
In addition to all the recognised organ tones, every Wurlitzer has a more or less comprehensive collection of "effects," all operated from the keyboard and each an ingenious mechanical contrivance. To mention a few of these, there is a complete piano, harps. marimbas, glockenspiel, orchestral bells, xylophones, cathedral chimes, sleigh bells, complete set tympani drums, bass drums, snare drums, cymbals, triangles, tambourines, castanets, Chinese blocks, tom-toms, birds, fire-gongs, auto horns, steam-boat whistles and locomotive whistles.
It is very interesting to watch the various bells in operation. They are mounted on little squares of leather in groups from three to eight bells at one time, and the whole leather patch is vibrated rhythmically and so carefully that the sound stops the instant the operator's finger leaves the key.
It is unfortunately impossible to show an illustration of the Wurlitzer factory at North Tonawanda N.Y., but the factory is not merely a magnificent manufacturing plant, but is a place of outstanding architectural and landscape beauty. It covers nearly 450,000 square feet of floor space.

Wurlitzer advertisement c.1926
Advertisement c. 1926

Wurlitzer advertisement c.1927
Advertisement c. 1927

Wurlitzer advertisement c.1927
Advertisement c. 1927

Advertisement Dec. 1928

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