Monday, March 9, 2015

German Pump Organs: Their History and What We Have

German Pump Organ... What Is It And How Does It Work?

The pump organ is a type of harmonium. This is a reed organ, which is, according to Encyclopædia Britannica, "any keyboard instrument sounded by the vibration of metal reeds under wind pressure." The reeds vibrate within a slot with close tolerance and no pipes. The pump organ is a version of this that is used by pumping air into the instrument with your feet on pedals while you play the keys.

The pieces of a reed organ are the reeds, bellows, keys, and stops.

The reeds sound when air is blown across them, forming a vacuum effect. The bellows are operated by a hand lever or two foot pedals. They are the source of the vacuum effect over the reeds. They expand to fill with air, and then collapse to push air out. The keys are the end of the lever system and are manipulated by both the fingers and the vacuum effect to create sound. There are two guide pins keeping each key in place; one allows the keys to move up and down, while the other prevents them from slipping side to side. Last there are the stops. These allow air to flow out of the organ from the reeds. Pump organs have two types of stops; speaking and mechanical. Speaking stops control the amount of air reaching the reeds, while mechanical stops act as secondary stops and control everything else.

Pump organs' volume ranges were restricted since they weren't as big of organs as, say, pipe organs. As a result, they were most often found in smaller churches and private residences.

The History Behind It

The earliest surviving record of the organ, according to Encyclopædia Britannica, " of the Greek engineer Ctesibius, who lived in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC. He is credited with the invention of an organ... called a hydraulus... A clay model of a hydraulus was discovered in 1885 in the ruins of Carthage."

A hydraulus organ is also known as a water organ. It is a type of pipe organ that converts moving water into an energy source to drive the air pressure through the pipes of the instrument, fueling the organ.

Organs in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were in many Christian churches. Descriptions of organs at that time claimed that the instruments were loud, difficult to operate, and weren't used for anything more than simple songs. There were three types of organ used during this time; the positive, the portative, and the regal.

The positive organ was a one-person manual organ that was relatively mobile. This included chamber organs, box organs, and chests.

The portative organ is smaller than the positive organ, and has less ranks of pipes and a smaller keyboard. It has one rank of flue pipes, which will be in either one or two rows. It would be strapped to a performer at a right angle while they work the bellows with one hand and the keys with the other.

The regal organ was small and portable, and had beating reeds and two bellows. The sound was made with brass reeds held in resonators. It needed two people to play it (one for the keys, one to pump the bellows, and was mostly played on a table or flat surface of some sort. Few of these survived from the past due to wars and tumultuous life events.

Harmoniums were very popular because many times regular pipe organs were too large and/or too expensive for small churches and private homes. They also weighed less and were more durable than regular pianos and pipe organs.

A pipe organ from Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church in Michigan, USA. (Photo courtesy of

Most of harmoniums' popularity in Europe stemmed from this because the organs were able to stand the trip over not-so-stable walkways, like cobblestone, which made them easier to ship. Tropical regions loved these too because, unlike pianos, harmoniums were able to stay in tune and in shape regardless of humidity and heat. They hit their peak of popularity in the early 1900s, and that was when all sorts and styles of the instrument were being made. Each origin of the harmonium varied slightly, but overall the organs were very well-loved and well-used.

When the 1930s rolled around though, harmoniums started to go out of style. A new organ was in town and it was powered by electricity. There was no more high-maintanence, no more pumping the bellows, and no more big, clumsy machines. Now the organ has caught up with the times and is using electricity as power to full rooms with its music.

Pump Organs In Pop Culture
Steven Tyler's pump organ was featured on the show, Pawn Stars. Check out the clip below to hear the story behind it and the worth as well.

What Do We Have?
We have a German Pump Organ for sale. It was made by the company, Hillstrom Organ Co. and, strangely enough, it wasn't based in Germany, but in Chesterton, Indiana right here in the United States.

An old Hillstrom Organs ad. (Photo courtesy of

The organ was created in the early 20th century because right after the owner, C.O. Hillstrom, died, the factory soon ceased its operations. We have one for sale now for $299.99 in our antique and used warehouse.

So call us or stop by between 9am and 6pm to check out this gorgeous artifact of times past! We'd love to see you!

Have a great day!


1 comment:

  1. piano sound, and pedaling experience, along with digital interactive features that makes playing piano a lot of fun no matter what age you are...and that's the way it should be as far as I am concerned.:) Organ Store