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EARLIEST COMPUTING ORGAN?


MusingMuso
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I came across something very unexpected, while trawling through the archives of the "Pipedreams" programme from Minnesota Public Radio. I was looking for recordings of the magnificent Skinner organ in the Woolsey Hall, at Yale University, and stumbled across a fascinating programme about Skinner organs, and recordings made of them.

 

Featured in this programme was a player-organ in a private residence known as Elm Court, on the edge of western Pennsylvania, which operates by means of a paper roll mechanism; no surprises there, you may think. However, on digging further, I discovered something utterly remarkable for the date when the organ was built, in 1929.

 

Apparently, the perforations act pneumatically, as might be expected, but then they are converted into electrical impulses, and transmitted to what is described as "an electro-pneumatic computer" in the relay room. Not only that, the electrical impulses are apparently multiplexed to save paper roll-width.

 

The "electro pneumatic computer" (whatever that is), apparently works away like a mad thing, converting the signals into normal, switched electro-pneumatic currents, which obviously fire up the pneumatics of unit chests; presumably of the Roosevelt type (?)

 

Obviously, the "computer" must be some sort of electro/mechanical logic device, and without further details, I cannot comment further.

 

Has anyone heard of this, or have any idea where the idea came from? Would it have anything in common with the Welte player-system I wonder? Was it something developed from the relatively new system of multiplexing developed by Western Union?

 

It all sounds fairly ingenious to me, (considering the date), but then, I am a simple soul.

 

MM

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Guest Geoff McMahon

I believe I am right in saying that the Welte system also employs a form of multiplexing where some of the holes have different purposes when used in conjunction with other holes, thereby reducing the total number of holes needed. It is very clever to be sure. It's not actually "computing" but it is an early employment of "logic". The Welte system does this purely pneumatically of course.

 

John

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The residence organs built by Wurlitzer in the early part of the 20th Century also included some multiplexing to save holes on the paper roll. I believe the shared holes were principally to do with the operation of the swell shutters.

 

An 'electro-pneumatic computer' sounds very much like a standard coupling/extension relay to me. They are, after all, in effect a huge collection of 'and' logic gates (ie. When stop X is operated AND note Y is pressed, then pipe Z speaks.) The Welte would probably use something like this, as indeed do the Aeolian player organs.

 

S

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The residence organs built by Wurlitzer in the early part of the 20th Century also included some multiplexing to save holes on the paper roll. I believe the shared holes were principally to do with the operation of the swell shutters.

 

An 'electro-pneumatic computer' sounds very much like a standard coupling/extension relay to me. They are, after all, in effect a huge collection of 'and' logic gates (ie. When stop X is operated AND note Y is pressed, then pipe Z speaks.) The Welte would probably use something like this, as indeed do the Aeolian player organs.

 

S

 

========================

 

Thank you to John and Stephen for their replies. I had absolutely no idea that organ-builders at that time were so on top of the technology game.

 

I expect that I'll learn next, that the computer chip was first used commercially in an organ. :)

 

Quite fascinating.

 

MM

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