Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion

Original Location: H.C. Frick Residence (Clayton),
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Original Catalogue Specifications:

52 Note Musical Scale -- 294 pipes:


Chronological History:

Circa 1893
Manufactured by M. Welte and Söhne, Freiburg, Germany.

Circa 1893
Henry Clay Frick Residence (Clayton), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The beautiful Frick Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion in Clayton, the Frick Mansion.Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) was a noted American industrialist and philanthropist, who in 1871 organized the H. C. Frick Coke Company, which was to become one of the largest coke-producing firms in the world. With the aid of the great financial panic of 1873, Frick cleverly took control of his competitors and the coal fields of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, greatly expanding his control over mining and coking operations. Then, with the finest metallurgical grade of coke under his firm grip -- a product that he sold to Carnegie Steel -- Frick became a millionaire by the age of 30, as well as being known as the undisputed "King of Coke."

Interior view showing the mechanical mechanisms in the Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion.Clayton, the family home in Pittsburgh, was purchased in early 1883, and was enlarged in 1891 to accommodate the family's growing needs, making the old 11-room house into the spectacular 23-room chateau-style mansion that can be seen today. A couple of years later, in 1993, the Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion was brought into the house and installed in the front parlor. It was originally powered by two clockwork motors powered by large weights hanging on cables on the back of the case. The right-side weight powered the music roll frame and pumped the four wide pressure feeders (bellows) on the right side of the instrument. The left-side weight powered four narrow pressure feeders, which are coincidentally located on the left side of the feeder assembly, and that are also connected to and operate the four narrow vacuum feeders directly under them. Once one of the weights reached the floor it had to be raised again, a task that was accomplished by turning a ratcheted hand-crank arrangement. Having to "wind-up" the orchestrion frequently must have been an inconvenient and unwelcome chore, so much so that in 1904, when electricity was becoming fairly commonplace, Emil Welte was summoned to Clayton in order to convert the large orchestrion to electric operation. The Welte orchestrion may have been moved to the front sun porch at that time.

Frick eventually became a director on the board of many prominent corporations, and in 1901 he took a leading part in the negotiations that resulted in the formation of the United States Steel Corporation. When Frick died in 1919, he left behind a fortune worth 145 million, most of which went to purposes for which the public would benefit. His New York home, which became his principal residence in 1905, was to house the Frick Collection of art (http://www.frick.org). In Pittsburgh his legacy included the 151-acre Frick Park, as well as some of the city’s greatest buildings, which include the William Penn Hotel, the Union Trust building, and the Frick Building. He also gave millions to Harvard, MIT, and the Educational Commission of Pittsburgh, with other generous gifts to hospitals located in coke and steel region towns.

Of four children (two sons and two daughters), the surviving daughter, Helen Clay Frick, who was 31 years old at the time of Frick's death, was bequeathed $6.5 million to be used for charitable and educational purposes. After Helen Frick's death, the family home of Clayton became the Frick Art & Historical Center (http://frickart.org/home/), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Welte orchestrion still resides at Clayton, and is one of only a few orchestrions of any make or type to have remained in their original location. Clayton is open to the public, and the Welte can be heard at the end of each tour.

Circa 1960

The Welte was "Modernized" in the 1960s. This was a fairly common practice before automatic musical machine were generally considered to have much, if any, intrinsic monetary or historical value, and such "improvements" were vastly cheaper and more convenient then actually restoring an instrument to its original state. To accomplish this particular "modernization," vacuum and pressure blowers were added, bypassing the original feeder pumps, and gear motors were added to the music roll frame, taking the place of the original round belt drives and manually operated linkages. While such attempts at "improvement" are now considered to be flagrantly disrespectful, if not outright vandalism, such practices are generally shunned by collectors today. Nonetheless, this early practice did keep many machines operational, even if an unsightly fix, saving many of these mechanical music relics from the dump heap.


The main valve chest, or stack (as seen from the backside), in the Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion.The Welte orchestrion was beautifully and meticulously restored by Durward R. Center in 1991, returning this superb example of an early and large Welte Concert orchestrion to its original splendor. Moreover, the original factory "modernization" by Emil Welte, done in 1904, and which upgraded the Welte so that it could be powered by electricity instead of the original clockwork motors powered by heavy weights on the back of the case, was left intact and restored right along with the rest of the machine.

"Orchestrion Favorites from the Frick" is a professionally mastered CD of the Frick Welte Orchestrion.During the year 2001 the Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, released Orchestrion Favorites from the Frick, a new compact disc album that was professionally mastered and produced, and that captures the very heart and essence of the magnificent Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion at Clayton, the Frick Mansion. This beautifully manufactured compact disc is filled with popular and classical renditions that really demonstrate and show-off the huge instrument. This splendid recording was made by the Frick Art & Historical Center so that the enchanting sound of this classic mechanical musical treasure could be enjoyed by countless music fans everywhere. To obtain a copy of the Frick CD album go to the Audio Recordings page (under Resource Links), where a selection of CDs on various topics are available.


Historic and technical information provided by Durward Center.


Durward Center and William E. Black (CD album).