Database Project Apollo and Solo Apollo Player Pianos;
Solo-Art Apollo and Art-Apollo Expression Pianos
Melville Clark, circa 1890.
In Greek mythology Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, and he was the god of music, playing a golden lyre.
Melville Clark was born in Oneida County, New York, in 1850. He apparently inherited a love for music and commenced its study at an early age. He was said to be an excellent singer and became prominently identified with musical art in the Eastern U.S. However, the music business was more amenable to his personality than was musical art, and so after serving an apprenticeship as a tuner he migrated to California where, under the firm name of Clark & Company, he made high-grade reed organs. In 1877 he sold the business and moved to Quincy, Illinois, where he manufactured the Clark & Baughman organ, but because the location was not desirable for a rapidly expanding business he moved to Chicago in 1880 and formed the firm of Clark & Rich. In 1883 he bought out his partner and made reed organs under the name of Melville Clark. Then in 1884 he formed a partnership with H. L. and E. H. Story for the manufacture of reed organs and later of pianos.
To expand his horizons and maintain personal control over his myriad inventions, the Melville Clark Piano Company was founded in 1900 for the manufacture of Apollo players, Melville Clark pianos, and the Orpheus self-playing organ, an instrument that before the advent of the Apollo player was in wide vogue throughout the country. The company was also to cut the music rolls used in their players. Their first piano was made in 1899, but was not put on the market until shortly after the incorporation of the new establishment. Thus it was, by the time the new company came into existence Melville had already enjoyed an illustrious career in manufacturing reed organs (under the Clark and Rich name), and both organs and pianos as a co-founder of the Story and Clark Organ Company. Melville Clark was the inventor and developer of the Apollo player piano line, became one of the major pioneers of the player piano industry, and being both an aggressive innovator and competent entrepreneur he became the holder of many important patents relating to player and expression pianos. The new company was first located in Chicago, but then moved its manufacturing operation to a large new factory building in DeKalb, Illinois, sometime about the end of 1904 or early 1905.
In The Presto trade journal of September 1, 1904, is the following statement, which seems to describe the energetic Mr. Clark very well: "Of course, in referring to the Melville Clark Piano Co., it is difficult to regard that progressive concern as other than an industry long established. Mr. Clark has been industriously winning fame for himself in the manufacture of musical instruments for so long, and he had attained so such prominence in the trade and industry before he established his present factory, that his own productive plant seemed but a continuation of his former energies without interruption. His capacity for work, and his genius as an inventor, made it seem a matter of course that whatever he undertook must prosper. And so the result has proved."
From the February 17, 1900, issue of The Music Trade Review is the following excerpt from page 15 regarding the formation of the new Melville Clark Piano Company:
The Music Trade Review
- February 17, 1900, page 15.
Factories Open and Men at Work
Chicago, Ill., February 14, 1900
... One of the most important happenings of the week in this city has been the organization of the Melville Clark Piano Co. and the divorce, after sixteen years of close association, of the interests controlled by Melville Clark and the Storys, The Melville Clark corporation has been organized with a capital stock of $100,000 all paid in, with Melville Clark as president and treasurer. The other officers will be chosen later. The stockholders are all prominent men of this city, and there is ample financial backing. It is the intention of the Melville Clark Piano Co. to make the Clark piano an instrument of high grade, and which by reason of Mr. Clark's scientific ability and prestige, as well as the quality of its manufacture, will command a special position in the trade field. This concern will also make the Orpheus self-playing organ and the new Apollo attachment, to which reference was made last week. Arrangements have already been consummated whereby the rights of manufacture of the Orpheus organ and Apollo attachment for the Dominion of Canada have been disposed of to the Bell Organ Company, of Guelph, who will in future manufacture them, paying Mr. Clark a liberal royalty. I understand that the Mason & Hamlin Company will also handle the Apollo attachment for a certain territory, but of course, will not manufacture it, as it is the intention of the Melville Clark Company to manufacture and control the rights absolutely for the United States. Meanwhile the Mason & Hamlin Company, by special contract with Mr. Clark, will make the Orpheus organ, using their own special designs of cases. The Melville Clark Company have not yet selected their factory site but several places are now under consideration, and probably next week definite particulars will be forthcoming.
* * *
Regarding the Story & Clark Piano Company: The stock held by Melville Clark in that corporation has been purchased by the Story family and the officers of the company as reorganized are as follows: Edward H. Clark, president; Hampton L. Story, vice-president; Frank F. Story, treasurer; and J. O. Tyler, secretary. I learn the Story & Clark Company will relinquish their present piano factory on May 1st next, and concentrate their business in their factory on Canal street. The Story & Clark Company was organized four years ago with a capital of $100,000 paid in. There is some talk of Melville Clark securing the organ factory, which will soon be vacated by the Story & Clark Company, but this may be mere talk. The separation of Melville Clark and the Storys is not due to any friction. They part company with exceeding regret. Mr. Clark for some time has been anxious to develop his many inventions through an organization of which he would have absolute control. As an inventor and Scientist he stands high and in his new field he expects a more liberal return from his expert knowledge and the values which he will embody in his products.
So, with a good send-off the Melville Clark Piano Company was up and running. Between 1900 and 1919, when the piano manufacturing operation was purchased by the Apollo Piano Company, the company manufactured an extensive line of pianos, pushup piano players, Apollo player pianos, Art-Apollo and Solo Art-Apollo expression pianos and variations thereof. The bulleted items below highlight some of the major innovative and commercially successful accomplishments to come out of the Melville Clark Piano Company:
The first Apollo player pianos played 58-note rolls, then 65, 88, and other types. Some Melville Clark pianos could play 5 different kinds of music rolls, and the Solo Apollo had two pneumatic stacks and specially arranged rolls that allowed the human operator to accent any melody notes while leaving all other accompaniment notes subdued. Melville Clark Piano Company expression pianos included the Solo Art Apollo, and later the Art Apollo. The Apollo Recordo expression piano and Apollo Art-Echo full reproducing piano were made under Wurlitzer's direction sometime after 1919 when that company acquired the Melville Clark Piano Company. Various types of Apollo expression pianos were offered in both upright and grand pianos offered by Melville Clark and Wurlitzer. Other variations known to date include spring powered roll motor or vacuum motor; foot pump, electric pump or both; optional self-contained phonograph, and a progression of design improvements for the pneumatic stack including one or two that pushed down on the front of the keys. As an interesting side note, Ernest Clark, Melville’s brother, was an important pioneer designer of roll perforators and other production equipment, and was instrumental in producing rolls for coin-operated pianos through the coin-op era.
On August 24, 1904, the papers were signed for a deal between the Melville Clark Piano Company and the City of DeKalb, Illinois. On September 1, 1904, it was officially announced, with the company expecting to inhabit the new brick and mortar facility no later than January 1, 1905. Thus, the DeKalb era began sometime around January 1, 1905. The following official announcement appeared in The Presto trade journal:
The Presto, Chicago,
Thursday, Sept 1, 1904, Page 21.
MELVILLE CLARK PIANO COMPANY GOES TO DE KALB
Progressive Manufacturers of the Apollo Piano Players and Melville Clark Piano to Have New Enlarged Factory. In last week's PRESTO, on page 23, our DeKalb, Ill., correspondent said: "Only a few more details are to be arranged before our citizens can announce the Melville Clark Piano Company's factory as one of the established industries of the town." In this issue THE PRESTO is authorized to announce the removal of the Melville Clark Piano Company's factory from West Madison street, Chicago, to DeKalb, III., as a definite deal. Mr. Clark had said all along that he would not consider any verbal promises or agreements; he wanted the town that was prepared to deal with him to lay a contract in black and white on his table, then he would talk business.
As we understand it there were several other towns after the Melville Clark factory and a number of localities in Chicago wanted it besides; so that De Kalb may consider itself very lucky in capturing the prize. Details were arranged and the preliminary papers signed August 24, and by the terms of the contract the Melville Clark Piano Co. receives the deed to five acres of land, favorably situated, being less than a mile from the court house, and gets besides a large cash bonus. The negotiations were brought about through the activity of the Commercial Club of DeKalb, which counts among its members some of the wealthiest and most enterprising citizens of the town. Back of this commercial club, the prime movers to get the Melville Clark Piano Company's factory for the town were Isaac Elwood and his son W. L. Elwood. The senior Mr. Elwood is a millionaire several times over who is greatly interested in the prosperity of his home city and also takes a deep interest in the welfare of the Melville Clark Piano Co. This town of DeKalb, by the way, is only 58 miles from Chicago, and is known as one of the hustling manufacturing points in Illinois. Here the Melville Clark Piano Company will have the best railway facilities, for two roads now run through the city and a third is being constructed which will pass directly in the rear of Mr. Clark's new factory. The new road will build a switch for the factory which will be used by all three railroads when pianos are to go out or raw material to come in.
Mr. Clark says he thinks the new building, for which plans are being drawn, will be finished before January 1, 1905, and that the company's force will be in it at work not later than New Year's Day. It will be a $60,000 brick structure, three stories high, the two main elevations to be 300 and 175 feet long respectively, and the power house 40 x 50 feet. Nothing will be too good for the new factory in the way of appliances and completeness of electrical equipment. The capacity of this modern factory is estimated by Mr. Clark at 2,500 pianos and 4,000 piano players per year and he even mentions having space to enlarge this structure to accommodate the demands of his rapidly growing business. This new factory will enable the company to produce their pianos and piano players at a minimum of cost and this will give the trade a new benefit.
Most of the employees have expressed themselves as delighted with the opportunity to go into the country with the establishment, as a large number of homes are to be built for their accommodation by the capitalists of De Kalb. Many of them have been wishing for years to get out of the dust, confusion, and grime of the big city, provided they could continue at their chosen calling, and now they have the opportunity in sight.
From the same The Presto trade journal dated September 1, 1904, comes the following brief notations regarding the Melville Clark Piano Company and its future move from Chicago to DeKalb, Illinois:
The Presto, Chicago, Thursday, Sept 1, 1904, Page 7.
The prospective site of the Melville Clark factory is one of the pretty Illinois towns, located in such proximity and possessing such railroad facilities that it seems almost at the big city's doors. DeKalb will afford many advantages enjoyed by toilers in only the smaller places. It is but little more than fifty miles from Chicago and is a terminal of a branch of one of the great railroads. The Illinois Central runs through the town, and it would be difficult to improve upon the shipping facilities in any direction. DeKalb is not only a pretty place in which to live, but its business activities are considerable and already embrace several factories.
* * *
For some time past it has been evident that the present [Chicago] factory of the Melville Clark Piano Company has been inadequate to the demands of trade and public for the Melville Clark pianos, the Apollo and the other well known products of that industry. We congratulate DeKalb in securing the Melville Clark Piano Company, and we believe that Mr. Clark and his associates are equally to be felicitated, while Chicago must be content with the fact that the offices will remain here, and that the progressive industry will in effect continue to be a Chicago industry.
Melville Clark, circa 1911.
But the wonderfully prosperous years and previously indefatigable innovative genius of Melville Clark were to eventually come to an unanticipated end. In October of 1918 it was reported that Thomas M. Pletcher bought controlling interest in the Melville Clark Piano Company and Q R S Company, and became Vice President and general manager. Not long thereafter, in November of 1918, Melville Clark, founder and president of Melville Clark Piano Company, and one of the most prominent men in the piano and player field, passed away in his Chicago home. In the December 28, 1918, edition of The Music Trade Review the following brief notice appeared under the general heading of The Important Trade Happenings of the Year: "The Grim Reaper has unfortunately taken a rather heavy toll from the ranks of the leaders of the industry. Melville Clark, J. A. LeCato, Ben F. Owen, Robert B. Gregory, and others of almost equal prominence in the trade have passed to the Great Beyond and left gaps in their several spheres in the industry."
Thus, in essence, the Melville Clark Piano Company was no more. Its outstanding legacy continued on for many more years, however, up through the WWII years, when the aging piano factory was converted over to wartime production, and then back to piano manufacturing when peacetime once again ensued.
On August 2, 1919, it was announced in the Music Trade Review that the Apollo Piano Company had purchased the Melville Clark Piano Company, as follows.
The Music Trades -
August 2, 1919. page 17.
APOLLO PLANT AND BUSINESS SOLD TO NEW INTERESTS
BY MELVILLE CLARK COMPANY
CHICAGO, ILL., July 30.--0ne of the most important transactions ever consummated in the history of the piano industry was completed last week when the Melville Clark Piano Company sold its entire Apollo line, its factory at De Kalb, Ill., the factory grounds, machinery, patterns, patents, etc., to a new group of interests recently organized under the name of the Apollo Piano Company and soon to be incorporated with a capital of $1,000,000. The deal was announced by Thomas M. Pletcher, president of the Melville Clark Piano Company and the Q R S Company, and Edwin E. Rauworth, who represents the new interests and who will be manager of the Apollo business hereafter.
Possession of the factory buildings will be taken by the Apollo Piano Company on September 1, 1919, when the Q R S Company will remove its manufacturing operations from De Kalb to its mammoth new plant in Chicago, expected to be finished and ready for occupancy by that time. Mr. Pletcher and his associates will devote their efforts exclusively to the expansion of the business of the Q R S Company from now on.
The Apollo Piano Company will make no changes in the successful policy of the Melville Clark Piano Company, Mr. Rauworth stated, and the high artistic character of the Apollo product in its various forms will be maintained consistently and augmented wherever possible. Still finer Apollo player-piano production is assured by the completion of a new reproducing mechanism which was recently perfected and which will be incorporated in the Apollo line this fall.
"The new owner give assurance to all loyal Apollo dealers that no agency changes whatever are contemplated," Mr. Rauworth said, "and they also state that they are prepared to discuss with Apollo representatives the matter of agreements looking to the continuation of the agencies for a period of years. The acquisition of the Q R S Company's plant will permit of an immediate increase in the production of Apollo player-pianos. The different Apollo models will include two upright foot-treadle players, two upright foot-treadle reproducing pianos, two upright electric reproducing pianos, the Apollophone, the five-foot grand, the five-foot reproducing grand, the six-foot grand and the six-foot reproducing grand."
The Apollo Piano Company Co. assures distributors of its products a pleasant surprise when they receive the Apollo instruments equipped with the recently perfected reproducing mechanism. The company's executive offices will be at De Kalb, Ill., and later there will be announcement of branch display rooms in Chicago.
"We retain absolutely no interest in the Apollo business, or in the manufacture of pianos and player-pianos of any style, make or name," Mr. Pletcher stated in his announcement. "From now on we will be manufacturers of Q R S rolls exclusively. We decided upon this move because we realized the importance of having no affiliations with any player manufacturing business if we are to serve all dealers alike without prejudice or partiality. We will give up possession of our De Kalb, Ill., factory building; land, machinery, etc., on September 1, 1919, at which time we hope to have the entire Q R S plant installed in our new factory in Chicago, where we will be in position to give the dealers service and unqualified support.
"We realized the importance of running our roll business on a basis of no favors for anyone and we felt that we could do this only by disposing of our entire affiliation with the player-piano business.
"We are now prepared to carry on a propaganda in the national magazines for the sale of player-pianos. No Q R S roll ad will appear without a suggestion to the public to buy player-pianos. We will continue to handle the Apollo end until September 1, 1919, when that branch of our company will be turned over to the newly organized Apollo Piano Company"
According to press releases in various trade journals, one would surely think that it was the newly organized Apollo Piano Company, and none other, that purchased The Melville Clark Piano Company, with possession of the factory to begin on September 1, 1919. There is nothing said to suggest who might be behind the Apollo Piano Company, nor exactly when the new company took control. However, the following excerpt from an article in The Presto, Number 1727, Chicago, August 28, 1919, Page 21, and titled Activities of the Apollo Piano Company, provides a hint: "The new concern [Apollo Piano Company] will be in full operation at the big plant on the first of the coming month and already is giving evidences of the increase in production that is to come with the new management." This sentence suggests that the Apollo Piano Company was already in possession of the DeKalb facility before the official take-over date of September 1, 1919, and that it would be fully operational by September 1, 1919.
Apparently the DeKalb townsfolk were quite enamored with and very appreciative and excited to be the home town for the big Melville Clark Piano Company plant. This appreciation was published via The Presto, Number 1728, Chicago, September 4, 1919, on page 21:
The Presto, Chicago,
September 4, 1919, page 21.
LOCAL PRIDE IN APOLLO EXPRESSED
De Kalb, Ill., Paper Shows Appreciation of Citizens for Big Piano Industry and Its Management.
The pride of De Kalb, Ill., in its big piano industry and gratification at the prosperity it means for so many citizens, is well expressed by the De Kalb Chronicle: "Few De Kalb people have a sufficient realization of the importance to this city of the change in management and ownership that has recently taken place at the piano factory," says a recent issue. The city's interest in the company is further expressed:
The purchase of the big-institution by the new concern, to be known as the Apollo Piano Company, means that this already big business is to be enlarged and modernized in such a manner that it will in time become one of the city's biggest institutions. Already the new owners have taken charge and Edwin S. Rauworth, the new general manager, is on the job and directing affairs at the plant. He is going to prove a valuable acquisition to the city's manufacturing interests and the energy and executive ability he manifests will be of great value to the business life of the city in the future.
The plans of the concern are to so enlarge this institution that it will not only be one of the biggest manufacturing institutions in this immediate vicinity but one of the biggest piano concerns in the world.
As a forerunner of what De Kalb can expect in the future it can be said that as a preliminary to the working out of the policy of expansion and efficiency and utilization that is planned. Orders are already placed and being filled for over $100,000 worth of new machinery to be used in the manufacture of the Apollo piano.
The present buildings, at the plant will be fully occupied at the start and it seems inevitable that the normal growth of such a big enterprise will mean more and bigger buildings in a short time.
The entire section of the buildings which was devoted to the manufacture of the Q R S music rolls is to be devoted in the future exclusively to the manufacture of grand pianos.
The new concern announces that all of the policies of the Melville Clark Piano Company, which has given the name of the Apollo its high place in the piano industry will be maintained and every effort made to improve and better the instruments.
The Apollo business has been highly prosperous and the plant has now
on its books orders that will require many months to fill. The Apollo is
handled and featured by such houses as Wiley B. Allen Co., on the coast;
by the Knight-Campbell Music Co., of Denver; by Kieselhorst, of St. Louis;
by the Goggans and Carter in Texas; by Hollenberg, of Little Rock; by Howard,
Farwell & Co., St. Paul and Minneapolis; by the Wurlitzers in Chicago
and Cincinnati; by the May Co., in Cleveland; by the Hudson Co., in Detroit;
by Bradford, in Milwaukee; by Grunewalds in New Orleans; by Pearson of Indianapolis;
Droops in Washington, and numerous other houses of like eminence.
But whatever the trade publication were happily proclaiming, inspection of certain Wurlitzer Company records makes it clear that it was the Wurlitzer Company (jointly with the Amphion Piano Player Company) behind the acquisition of the Melville Clark Piano Company of deKalb, Illinois, but under the Apollo Piano Company name, and it quickly became an important part of Wurlitzer’s business. Wurlitzer pianos commenced being manufactured at the DeKalb facilities, but under a variety of names that included the Apollo Piano Company, the DeKalb Piano Company, and the Wurlitzer Grand Piano Company, with the differing legal entities retailing pianos of a different quality and price range. Wurlitzer's involvement is further confirmed by an article in The Presto of 1919:
The Presto, September
25, 1919, page 10.
APOLLO PIANO COMPANY OFFICERS ELECTED
New Corporation Which Succeeds
the Melville Clark Piano Company,
with Factories at De Kalb, Ill., Locates Chicago Office.
The Apollo Piano Company, the corporation which recently took over the Apollo piano business from the Melville Clark Piano Company, has been organized as an Illinois corporation and has recently elected officers as follows: President, Edwin S. Rauworth; vice-president, E. H. Uhl; secretary, Farny R. Wurlitzer; treasurer and assistant secretary, John Devine. These officers, together with Howard E. Wurlitzer, constitutes the board of directors. Chicago offices, which have been opened in Room 1111, 25 E. Jackson boulevard, will be in charge of Edward E. Blake, formerly advertising manager for the Melville Clark Piano Company.
Two Prominent Members.
Charles E. Howe, for many years traveling salesman for the Melville Clark Piano Company, is to be sales director for the Apollo Piano Company, a fact which the many friends of the Apollo throughout the country will be very glad to know. President Rauworth has won a place well up among the most successful practical men in the industry. He is so perfectly equipped for his new responsibilities that his successful part in the famous Apollo Company progress is fully assured of advance.
An Important Event.
The sale of the entire physical assets of the Melville Clark Piano Company to the Apollo Piano Company was one of the big trade events of the year. The Apollo end of the Melville Clark Piano Co. included the factory building at De Kalb, Ill., land, machinery, patterns, patents and in short everything in De Kalb. The new owners entered into possession on September 1.
At the time of the announcement it was stated that the new company would make no changes in the successful policies of the Melville Clark Piano Co. Not only will the big character of the Apollo be maintained but increased wherever and whenever possible. That consummation is assured by the new reproducing mechanism, which is being incorporated in the Apollo line. The new device marks a distinct step forward in the development of that type of instrument.
The plant of the Apollo Piano Company at De Kalb, Ill., is conceded to
be one of the most perfectly appointed in this country devoted to piano
manufacture. The location is a modern town within a short distance from
Chicago and it has a working organization perfected through many years of
By December of 1919, the Apollo Piano Company was taking steps to close out its Chicago offices and move its operation entirely to DeKalb. The official announcement of this move occurred on December 22, 1919, when the following notice appeared in The Presto:
The Presto, Chicago, December 25, 1919, Page 13.
APOLLO PIANO COMPANY MOVES EXECUTIVE OFFICES
Chicago, Ill., December 22.—The Apollo Piano Company is sending an announcement to all Apollo dealers to the effect that beginning January 1  they will discontinue their Chicago office and conduct all business from their executive offices at DeKalb, Ill. Since the business of the Melville Clark Piano Company was taken over by the Apollo organization in September, a Chicago sales and advertising office has been maintained at Suite 1111, 25 East Jackson boulevard, under the direction of Edw. E. Blake. In making the announcement of the change the company emphasize the fact that they desire every Apollo dealer to visit the factory. They believe it is important to his success as an Apollo dealer that he should do so. The executive office and factory at DeKalb are readily accessible from Chicago and the company's officers feel that it is well worth the dealer's time to see the actual making of Apollo player-pianos at the factory, particularly in view of the many improvements that are being made in the factory under the direction of the new president, E. S. Rauworth.
The Apollo Piano Company
Thus it came to be that the Wurlitzer Company replaced the ever inventive Melville Clark as the dominant piano manufacturing force in DeKalb. Circa 1904 Melville Clark was hailed as being the bright future of DeKalb with his grand plans for a magnificent new factory that was to churn out pianos of the highest quality, but by 1919 Melville was gone, and a new team, Wurlitzer, had taken over the factory and became the future and a prominent source of employment and economic activity in DeKalb. Sadly, Melville Clark and his innovative mechanical mechanisms were soon set aside for simplified and less costly designs and he was gradually forgotten over the years, and eventually no long a topic of conversation.
With the decline of automatic musical instrument sales during the 1920s and early 1930s, coupled with the rising popularity of radio, production of mechanical musical instruments ceased, leaving only regular house pianos as the Wurlitzer company's mainstay product. The first juke box was manufactured in 1934, and for a brief time radios and refrigerators were made by the Wurlitzer controlled All-American Mohawk Corporation. Unfortunately, the manufacture of radios and refrigerators was not a successful venture and this activity ended by the mid 1930s. But the depression years brought about other problems. Apparently many of the old Wurlitzer retail outlets had fallen on hard times. Once prosperous locations were now suffering from demographic changes, whereby once high traffic locations had turned bad and the old showrooms needed significant repairs. Wurlitzer's solution to this confluence of mounting problems was to reorganize the company, which occurred in 1935. Many lagging retail stores were sold, while piano manufacturing was consolidated in DeKalb, and many subsidiaries were dissolved or absorbed into the Wurlitzer Company.
During World War II, Wurlitzer halted production of all musical instruments completely. The company’s defense production efforts were recognized in 1943 and 1944 when its North Tonawanda and DeKalb plants received the Army-Navy “E” Award. In 1946, peacetime piano production resumed and the Wurlitzer Company introduced two new instruments: the electric organ (1947) and the electric piano (1954).
In 1956, the Wurlitzer Company celebrated its centennial. That same year a new plant at Corinth, Mississippi, was completed. Later, plants were opened in Holly Springs, Mississippi (1961), Logan, Utah (1970) and Hullhorst, West Germany (1960). The new facilities replaced those at North Tonawanda and DeKalb. The North Tonawanda plant ceased production of juke boxes in 1974, becoming the company’s engineering and research center. In 1973, the DeKalb plant ended production of pianos, thereafter maintaining only marketing and administrative offices. In 1977, the Wurlitzer Company’s corporate headquarters moved to DeKalb, including the engineering and research center from North Tonawanda. Today it is all gone.
Now the once grand DeKalb manufacturing facility is nearly derelict, and some of the old buildings are literally falling apart, while some of the better condition buildings have been divided up into potential rental spaces. The old factory looks sad, forlorned, and nearly forgotten, as the photographs accessible by clicking on the thumbnail image at right clearly show.
The following milestones were noted in advertisements and articles found in the Music Trade Review. The dates shown could easily precede that actual introduction of a particular model, or perhaps in many cases follow it. Consequently dates shown should be thought of as approximate.
Looking through Melville Clark Piano Company’s Apollo catalogues and advertising ephemera it is quickly evident that there were many furniture styles offered during the lifetime of the company, some cases used for several different player configurations. For instance, a particular case style could be a fitted out as a standard Apollo player piano, or as a Solo Apollo, or as an Apollophone, or as an Artapollo expression piano. As such, an instrument with a Style K case, for instance, is of little utility when it comes to describing or understanding the internal player mechanism. Styles that have been noted in various Melville Clark literature includes the following:
It is very likely that the style letters “A,” "B," and "E" were also used during the company’s earlier years, but what design these letters represented is currently in question. And then what about the missing letters “I” and “J,” as well as “P” and other yet unaccounted for letters of the alphabet? No documentation to date sheds light on these perhaps unused letters of the alphabet.
What follows are excerpts (the second of which has been condensed) from articles appearing in the Music Trade Review in 1908 (Louis XIV Apollo Player Piano) or The Music Trades magazine during the year 1921. Due to the 1921 date the wood finish comments for all but the first item may only apply to pianos manufactured by the Apollo Piano Company, who took over the Melville Clark Piano Company on September 1, 1919.
For the most part the older styles currently in production when the Apollo Piano Company took over the operation of the DeKalb factory continued to be manufactured for some unknown amount of time, and they probably retained the same general appearance of their counterparts from earlier Melville Clark years. But soon new non-player styles and simpler yet more sophisticated player models began making their appearance, quickly displacing the older Melville Clark innovations. Moreover, the Apollo Piano Company was to offer a variety of special and sometimes elegant case styles for their pianos, and, in particular, some of the company’s Wurlitzer-Apollo Grand Pianos enjoyed beautifully period cases that were available in Louis XV, Louis XVI, Jacobean, and Queen Anne models, and probably others, too. These exquisite art case pianos were quite literally works of art.
In the probably very incomplete list that follows only the Apollo Piano Company and Wurlitzer-Apollo inspired player styles that have been observed in advertising, catalogues, and the Wurlitzer Disposition of Instruments Manufactured ledgers are mentioned. All of these styles were made at one time or another at the famous DeKalb factory:
The Wurlitzer-Apollo Reproducing Pianos were fitted with what was basically a re-branded Artecho Reproducing Piano System that was manufactured by the Amphion Piano Player Company, of Syracuse, New York. Of the three main reproducing systems offered it can sometimes be confusing to a novice as to which system a piano uses. Fortunately, it is easy to identify the three principal systems used merely by examining and/or counting the holes in the tracker bar: Art Apollo has 96 tracker bar holes, Recordo has 98, and Artecho has 100 holes.
In the listing below are the piano brands and/or types (with prices) that Wurlitzer was boldly advertising as of March, 1925. There was no mention of the Apollo Piano Company in the ad; only the Wurlitzer name was prominently displayed. The Studio piano was the cheapest, or lowest price point piano, followed by the more expensive Strad, then the Farny, and finally the Kingston piano, which was at the top of the upright piano lineup. The usual sized grand pianos were even more expensive, as well as bulky and much less easy to handle.
The ad goes on to say: "A Child can Play Perfectly on the Wurlitzer Strad Player-Piano. This beautiful Wurlitzer-built instrument has every up-to-date improved device for the artistic music roll playing. So simple are the control features and so easy to operate, a little child can quickly learn to play perfectly.
Choice of wood finishes is offered and a liberal allowance will be made for your present piano in part payment."
Sometime during 1927 the Wurlitzer Grand Piano Company - DeKalb Illinois, introduced the "Treasure Chest" Piano, which was originally a low price point grand player piano for only $995. It was was fitted with a Recordo player action and was advertised as the "Wurlitzer Treasure Chest of Music; The Piano That Plays for You," and it used either Treasure Chest music rolls or Q. R. S. Recordo rolls. Not long after its introduction the Treasure Chest branding idea proved itself popular enough that a year later, in 1928, an upright model was added. The Treasure Chest upright pianos equipped with the Recordo action appear in the database reports for the 105,000 series ledger pages, while Treasure Chest grand pianos do not. Why is this? Curiously, the Apollo Piano Company (basically Wurlitzer in disguise) output shows up in the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company's Disposition of Instruments Manufactured ledger pages, and in seamlessly coordinated serial number sequence with instruments manufactured in Wurlitzer's North Tonawanda factory. However, the Wurlitzer grand pianos were advertised as a product of the Wurlitzer Grand Piano Company, which may have kept separate production records, in as much as they are not part of the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company disposition ledgers.
This powerful spring used in the self-acting metronome motor was wound up by means of linkages interconnected with the piano's pumping pedals, so that as the piano operator pedaled away the spring-motor was kept properly wound. This enabled it to fully rewind the music roll with potential energy still in reserve. Advertisements claimed that "the metronome motor prevented the jerky and inartistic effects caused by unconscious hard pedaling. The force is stored in this self-acting motor and is distributed so evenly that it effectually prevents any sudden changes in the tempo. This enables the operator to give his entire attention to the matter of expression."
It was further stated that the Metronome Motor of the Apollo was about ten times as fine as the spring motor in a talking machine and made on exactly the same principle as a good timepiece, only with fewer parts. Moreover, wet weather--dry weather--hot weather or cold--the Metronome Motor was said to have performed its functions steadily and without varying one iota from its functions. To emphasize this resistance to weather conditions an advertising gimmick showed the Metronome Motor in a large glass jar and fully submerged in water, but, no doubt, still running along perfectly (see picture inset at left).
After examining any surviving metronome motor it is easy to conclude that it was an exceeding well thought out and designed mechanism, and equally well crafted, as well as durable with only minor care and lubrication. Nevertheless, the metronome spring-motor finally gave way to the cheaper air-motor (commonly wind-motor) drive, when Melville Clark finally embraced it in 1917 with the new Airapollo. Now a customer could choose between a metronome motor or an air-motor driven spool-box, but how a customer might truly evaluate which option was better is unknown. The advantage of the air-motor over the metronome spring-motor could be argued, and probably were loudly debated at the time. The wind-motor was probably much less expensive to manufacture and it definitely enjoyed quick and steady tempo control capabilities, and it had long been a ubiquitous and highly successful solution to powering player and reproducing piano spool boxes.
The solo melody chest (introduced in 1909) came about to solve the player piano problem of all notes having to play at the same intensity. Yes, it was possible to impart a degree of overall expression to the music, but, nevertheless, whether louder or softer, all notes played with identical loudness. In their simplest form, piano arrangements can be said to have two major components, accompaniment and melody, with the accompaniment generally being subdued in nature, so as to complement and enrich the melody without competing with or overriding it. The solo melody chest was an attempt to solve this problem in a heroic fashion, by adding a second and independent melody valve chest to the piano. Consequently the Solo Apollo player piano contained both a principal 88-note accompaniment valve chest and a solo 55 note melody valve chest (52 notes in the Solo Artapollo pianos, which sacrificed a few playing solo notes for expression controls). The disadvantage of the solo chest arrangement was the obvious complexity and vacuum overhead of adding a second chest, and the need for special 134 duct tracker bar and proprietary music rolls 15-1/4" wide, with 9 to the inch spacing, that could accommodate the two independent but related note playing systems. However, the advertised advantage was this: “The accenting device of our Solo-Apollo makes it easy for a novice to bring out the melody in strong relief just as the world's great players do.”
From the June 3, 1911, Music Trade Review: “This Solo-Apollo has the full range of 88 notes and the accenting device that brings out the melody clearly and symmetrically. It does not bring out the melody by simply subduing the accompaniment, but it leaves the accompaniment with its full force and beauty, at the same time giving accent to the melody. Both are in perfect proportion and in accordance with the intent of the composer.”
The challenge of building the Solo Apollo Player Piano with two separate but mechanically interconnected chests was a noteworthy manufacturing achievement, and it received many accolades in its day. Nevertheless, the complex two chest solution was to be short lived and quickly rendered commercially obsolete. Years earlier in 1904 the German firm of Welte had introduced the Welte Mignon, a full reproducing piano system that used a single but divided stack for separate bass and treble loudness control. The instrument featured music rolls hand-played by famous pianists and was a huge commercial success. In the U.S. full reproducing piano systems were introduced in 1913 by both Ampico and Duo Art, which employed newly devised and very sophisticated, nimble, and exceedingly quick acting expression regulators. About 1914 the Welte Licensee piano was introduced in the U.S. when imports from Germany were suspended due to WWI.
The “big three” reproducing piano brands (Ampico, Duo-Art, and Welte) were marketed in a much higher price range than was the ordinary player piano, and all three avoided the two chest system by taking a single chest and dividing it into bass and treble sections, each controlled by its own set of independent vacuum regulating controls. Then by simply having the melody notes lead the accompaniment notes by a tiny but essentially unnoticeable amount the melody could be made to stand out as might be desired. Such innovative and highly accurate reproducing pianos became a huge commercial success. At the same time the market for expression pianos continued in parallel with the more expensive reproducing piano (with the Recordo possibly being the most widely sold in its many brands and variations), but priced lower than the reproducing piano for a different market.
To the initiate not familiar with Apollo player pianos the number of tracker bar configurations used can be not only confusing but a little overwhelming at first glance. Some of the Apollo pianos were advertised as playing five different types of music rolls, which included early 58, 65 and 88 note rolls cut at 6 holes per inch, and standardized 11-1/4 inch wide piano rolls cut at 9 holes per inch, all industry standards at one time or another. The list that follows describes the tracker bar configurations observed by various restoration experts, but it almost goes without saying that there is a chance that other tracker bar types might someday come to light. Here are the seven commonly observed tracker bar configurations:
It is unknown exactly when the Dynaline device was first introduced to the Apollo player piano line, and it is probable that not all Apollo pianos were fitted with the device after its introduction. Moreover, even for those Apollo pianos fitted with the device only a relative few also had the Dynaline decal on the bottom shelf of the spool-box, and those observed with the decal were in the 15,000 serial number range. As such, pianos with an applied Dynaline decal had the device installed, but the absence of a Dynaline decal does nothing to indicate whether a piano had a Dynaline device or not. If no Dynaline device is evident the only way to know for certain if one had originally been installed is to look for the spool-box Dynaline on/off switch and/or the device’s mounting screw holes in the spool-box shelf to the left of the spool-box. It is fairly common to find an Apollo piano whereupon the Dynaline device has been long removed and/or lost. The device is of exceptionally simple construction and of little or no maintenance consequence, and so why it would be removed and thrown away remains puzzling.
The catalogue illustration at left depicts the Dynaline device in operation. This simple device consists of an upward looking pointer that is affixed at the right-hand end of a slim metal rod that slides back and forth slightly above the music roll. This rod is attached to a long vertical lever operated by a medium sized motor pneumatic mounted on the spool-box shelf near the left side of the spool-box assembly. This pneumatic is connected by rubber tubing to an adjustable choke and then in turn to the piano’s vacuum supply. The purpose of the choke is to meter the flow of air in and out of the device’s pneumatic, so that quick and/or jerky changes in the piano’s vacuum level are smoothed out. This ensures that the Dynaline pointer moves smoothly across the music roll. The motor pneumatic is also fitted with a coil spring that is arranged to keep the pneumatic fully open, while any applied vacuum tends to collapse or close the pneumatic proportionally to the piano’s averaged vacuum level. By varying the rate at which the piano pedals are pumped the Dynaline pointer can be made to more or less follow the blue Dynaline printed on the music roll, thus imparting a degree of volumetric expression to the music.
In 1916 the Melville Clark Piano Company decided to make available the Long Distance Control to its electrically operated pianos. From the Music Trade Review of March 11, 1916, is this interesting article.
CHICAGO, Ill., March 7.—Nearly two years ago a dealer visiting at the executive offices of the Melville, Clark Piano Company, this city, said, while listening to one of its Artapollos: "How interesting it would be if it were possible for a person to sit away from the instrument and still have perfect control of the expression." Of course, ever since the first Artapollo was built, in addition to the completely automatic operation, provision had been made for the person sitting at the instrument to put his or her own interpretation in compositions. But the dealer's chance remark opened up a new line of thought, as everybody in the trade has always realized that a piano sounds better to a person seated several feet away than to the one right at the keyboard. So the obvious thing was done. A simple extension of the keyboard controls was immediately made and found practical.
At that particular time, however, so many new and startling improvements in the Artapollo were being offered that the Long Distance Control was reserved for a more opportune time. To-day the Long Distance Control may be had on any of the Melville Clark Artapollos, making it possible for the operator to perfectly control expression several feet away from the instrument itself, in fact, if desired, from another room. Many interesting possibilities are opened up through this control. For example, a vocalist, instead of being forced to sing directly into the piano, can stand away as if he had an accompanist, facing the audience, yet with perfect control of the instrument in the palm of one hand.
Melville Clark has long denigrated the air motor in favor of the precision crafted all metal Metronome Spring Motor, denouncing the air motor as a "jerky" and unreliable contraption made of wood, rubber cloth and glue. Then in 1917, from the June 23, 1917 issue of Music Trade Review, came the following startling about face announcement, but for an air motor that was not just a regular air motor, but one that was supposedly outstandingly superior:
MELVILLE CLARK PIANO COMPANY BRINGS OUT THE AIRAP0LLO --
CHICAGO, Ill., June 19.—The new Melville Clark "Airapollo" player-piano has just been announced to the trade by the Melville Clark Piano Company.
This newest feature of the famous line represents the effort of the company to meet the demand of a number of Melville Clark dealers who wanted an Apollo equipped with air motors as well as with spring motors, the better to balance the line.
Mr. Clark hesitated for a long time before responding to this call, due principally to the fact that he could not find an air motor that satisfied him, but in the new Airapollo there is a motor that for steadiness and accurate running is said to be absolutely reliable. It is said to differ very widely from the type of air motors now in use in most players, and whether pianissimo or extreme double forte is demanded it provides an instantaneous and complete response.
From the formal announcement of the motor we take the following extracts that deal with the various principles of its mechanism: "The motor is constructed with adjustable Pitman lever operated plunger, double seated spiral spring actuated, self-acting valves, which only move three-sixteenths of an inch when in operation and cannot be affected by dust, dirt, or climatic changes.
"A five-inch fly wheel has been attached to the crank shaft, which steadies the motor under all conditions and prevents hitching of the music sheet as it travels over the tracker range, and causes it to run smoothly and evenly. The fly wheel is the latest innovation in the construction of an air motor for controlling the travel of music sheets, of player-pianos and like instruments. The balance wheel is especially adapted for hand-played rolls, as the tempo is set at an even speed. It can be used with equal effect with a variable tempo for foot pedal playing. It starts and stops quickly, and the power of the motor pneumatics is more than ample to take care of the extra weight of the balance wheel.
"A screw operated adjusting valve is used to control the air passage from the motor to the governor and reservoir. This is indispensable on account of rubber tube air conductors being of different sizes, caused by faulty manufacture or unavoidable defects.
"The governor controlling the air from the air motor and channel tubes is actuated by an automatic regulating device which gives a constant and steady pressure at all stages of the governor bellows action whether partially or wholly opened or closed. The bellows cannot be operated with a variable spring successfully, which is evident and has been proven by long experience in spring pressure operated air motor governors. The air-motor reservoir is also controlled and operated by an increased pressure automatic regulating pressure device, which, as in the case of the governor bellows, gives steady pressure at all positions of the reservoir action. In this new bellows the tempo and expression are separated. The reservoir operating the player action has no connection with the bellows operating the air motor. They are as separate as two individual instruments, only that one set of pumpers draws the air from both reservoirs at the same time.
"The Pitman plunger lever operated valves used in the construction of the motor are so perfectly seated that not the least particle of air escapes in their operation. They improve with use instead of deteriorating."
It is unknown exactly when Apollo pianos began to be equipped with the standardized Amphion action, but it seems that the transition occurred within a year or so of the Apollo Piano Company (i.e., Wurlitzer, along with the join owner Amphion) officially taking over the operation of the Melville Clark Piano Company on September 1, 1919. Making the switch to a new, comparatively simple, and unitized chest probably made very good business sense. Instead of devoting a major part of the DeKalb factory to the designing and making of a relatively complicated Melville Clark chest design, why not simply free up that part of the factory by buying a standardized chest of about half the current cost, and that was compact, and exceptionally easy to install and service? Possibly Amphion was included as a joint owner specifically because the intent was to have them supply all of the player mechanisms for pianos built at the DeKalb facility. This would allow the company to effectively enlarge the factory for piano making, while getting rid of the headache of manufacturing the pneumatic player piano actions. Moreover, with the old style chest if a single valve behaved badly the entire cumbersome chest assembly had to be carefully removed and disassembled so as to get to and repair any offending components. In contrast, with the Amphion action all that was needed to remove a faulty valve was to undo a single hex nut that held a metal retaining clip in place and the valve unit could be instantly replaced—without having to remove or otherwise juggle the stack. But whatever the actual motivation to change, the Apollo database lists several instruments in the April 1921 to March 1925 range that were originally fitted with the Amphion action. Thus we can be certain that Amphion actions were installed throughout most of 1921 and thereafter.
Because of the change of ownership in 1919 for the Melville Clark Piano Company it is easily possible for an Apollo Player Piano to be fitted with a stack made by one of three different manufacturers. For an Apollo piano made between 1899 (but not distributed until 1900) and August 31, 1919 the stack would have been manufactured by the Melville Clark Piano Company. Apollo pianos made September 1, 1919, although there is evidence to suggest that the Apollo Piano Company (Wurlitzer in disguise) had working possession of the premises prior to September, the official takeover date marks the point at which Apollo pianos would contain chests identical or similar to the Melville Clark chests, but made by the Apollo Piano Company. Then sometime later (prior to April of 1921) the Amphion action replaced the Melville Clark design completely, but the exact date the changeover occurred remains a mystery.
The primary information that has gone into building up the Apollo Piano database has been meticulously gathered over a period of years by Jere DeBacker, a longtime player piano enthusiast and expert in the restoration, history, and music of player and expression pianos. Whenever he has had access to an Apollo expression piano he has carefully recorded mechanical and historical details of interest. The result of his thoughtful analysis is presented in an orderly, easy to read format in the report offered below.
By default, current ownership information is not displayed in database reports, but a provision exists whereby the current owner's name can be accommodated and then shown in database reports when specifically authorized. Doing this requires that specific written permission is granted to the Mechanical Music Press specifically authorizing us to show and/or distribute individual ownership information. Moreover, if and when such authorization is granted the Mechanical Music Press and/or its authors shall assume no liability or responsibility of any kind, nor to any extent, regarding any inferred, purported, or actual privacy intrusions, incidents, or claims resulting from the dissemination of any ownership information.
As the Apollo Database project matured, it became evident that there was definite merit to going back into the Wurlitzer 80,000 and 105,000 series ledgers and pay more attention to the listed DeKalb made pianos. Earlier perusals were undertaken, but interest at that time was limited to coin operated pianos, organettes, and mortuary organs manufactured by Wurlitzer in its large North Tonawanda factory. These instruments are currently listed in the Wurlitzer Disposition of Instruments Manufactured database project located elsewhere in this Mechanical Music Registry.
Most of the entries in the 80,000 to 82,474 ledger pages (which equate to approximately the latter half of 1925) and the 105,000 to 107,599 ledger pages (latter part of 1927 to the latter part of 1928) are mostly relegated to somewhat mundane items (from a mechanical music collector's viewpoint), such as upright studio pianos or standard 88-note player pianos. There are many, many pages of them, but for the early part of the 1920s interspersed within the sea of standard pianos can be some kind of upright reproducing piano, or the occasional coin operated piano. Moreover, in the 1925 ledger (80,000 series) and the 1927/1928 (early part of the 105,000 series) ledger pages there are many piano brand names assigned to various pianos that are not usually associated with the Wurlitzer name or its (Apollo) DeKalb factory, such brand names as:
Many of the style descriptions are consistent, if not highly descriptive, but some often seem inconsistent. A style number, for instance, if and when given, sometimes applies to more than one brand of piano, such as a Strad, a Farny, or a Kingston piano, but that probably all shared the same furniture case style. As more entries are input into the database it appears more and more certain that the style number represents a specific case style, quite independent of the brand name applied or whether, or not, a player mechanism was installed. In the absence of more detailed information it was quickly recognized that to make irrefutable sense of the sometimes confusing nomenclature it was probably best to just record all of the 80,000 and a good portion of the 105,000 series ledger pages by putting them into a single unified database, where individual items could then be easily sorted and compared side-by-side in various ways, so as to perhaps better understand and more accurately interpret what often seemed like irregularities. But is it worth the effort? Whatever advantage there may be in converting the two sets of ledger pages into a single combined database one benefit that comes to mind is that, if nothing else, this effort will provide a better overview of what came out of Wurlitzer's large DeKalb, Illinois, piano factory.
One thing is abundantly clear, by mid 1925, for which Disposition of Instruments Manufactured information is readily available, the production at the DeKalb factory no longer resembled that of the old Melville Clark years. The emphasis was on piano sales, not on technical excellence or mechanical innovation. The complicated but expertly crafted creations of the Melville Clark era were gone, and a mix of standardized upright non-player studio pianos and 88-note players were churned out in large numbers, with only a very infrequent upright reproducing piano fitted out with an Art Echo (Amphion) or Recordo system showing up on the books. In addition to the company's own price point brands, it appears that Wurlitzer also supplied both players and non-players for subsidiary companies like Lyric or Milner, as well as for many other independent companies and/or marketing outlets, such as Robert L. Loud Music Company, of Buffalo, New York, or Mayer Bros. & Branley, Inc., of New York City.
A few items in the Apollo Piano Project database report are technically a little out of the ordinary. Consequently, the necessarily terse headings and/or line descriptions intended to keep the report clean, simple, and easy to read can sometimes unintentionally be the cause of some confusion. The report header itself contains a couple of style notes to clarify the most easily confused items, i.e., "Case Height" vs. "Overall Height" and "Scale." But there are other items that might be confusing to the uninitiated, too, and so to forestall any awkward bewilderment, as well as not clutter up the report with endless style notes, the following explanations are offered in alphabetical order, which may help the reader to more fully understand and/or relate the database information to their own Apollo piano. The list that follows does not include every item in the database report, but anything not covered here ought to be self-evident:
To ADD ANOTHER ITEM TO THE DATABASE or to facilitate the reporting of errors regarding the Apollo-Wurlitzer database, please click on the Survey Reporting Form button in the options panel below. Any survey information is welcomed, whether it be all of the requested information, or not. We realize that it can be difficult (even for an experienced restorer) to ascertain certain information without partially disassembling an instrument. Nonetheless, please submit a survey information regardless of how many spaces you can currently fill in.
All database report information is offered "as is," without any guarantee or warranty whatsoever of any kind, neither stated, implied, nor inferred, as to the accuracy, correctness, exactness, suitability, or usefulness of any content.
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Melville Clark Piano Company database reports for Apollo Pianos.
Download the current Apollo database report as
a PDF file
Wurlitzer "Apollo-Era" Disposition of Instruments Manufactured Reports
These database reports show certain manufacturing output for the
Database information compiled by Jere DeBacker, and transferred into database format by Terry Hathaway.
Text by Art Reblitz and Terry Hathaway.
Terry Hathaway. Apollo catalogue and other related music trade information courtesy of Terry Smythe.