Air Calliopes

of the Early to Mid Twentieth Century

In Greek mythology, the eldest of the nine muses was Kalliopê (or Calliope), meaning "beautiful voice." She was the muse who presided over eloquence and epic poetry due to the ecstatic harmony of her voice. She is often depicted carrying a lyre.

At First There Was Steam....

It was October 9, 1855 that Joshua C. Stoddard was granted a patent (U.S. Patent #13,668) for the first steam calliope. It was expressly stated in the patent that the newly invented "Musical Instrument" was designed to be "Played by the Agency of Steam or Highly-Compressed Air." It basically consisted of a horizontal pipe into which were screwed a series of steam whistles of various sizes and tones, and that was operated by a set of keys. Whether, or not. Stoddard ever manufactured such a device is unknown. Stepping ahead a little less than two decades, the steam calliope was becoming a fixture of the traveling show by 1872, when the Great Eastern Menagerie, Museum, Aviary, Circus and Balloon Show featured a “steam piano” as part of its promotional campaign. Within the decade that followed the majority of the more successful traveling shows featured some sort of calliope, often situated at the end of a parade. The calliope also became a popular ballyhoo device to attract crowds immediately before circus show time, although the sheer expense, weight, and size of a calliope, with its attached boiler, fuel storage, and hauling requirements limited its use to all but the more financially able upper tier shows.

The steam operated calliopes were often an imposing and majestic looking contraption, and were housed in large, elaborately decorated circus type wagons drawn by horses, or they were a permanently built-in fixture, such as on a steamboat, with steam supplied by the ship's boilers. But on land, where transportability was a requirement, a big, heavy duty wagon was necessary to house and conceal the steam boiler and associated equipment, all of which was quite heavy, especially when the boiler was filled with water. The wagons were configured to also prominently display the polished calliope whistles and the musician who played the calliope. Behind the scenes, the wagon also had to carry enough combustible fuel to keep the boiler fired up and the water at boiling temperature, as well as provide workspace for the Fireman, whose job was "providing the steam." Playing the steam calliope was not for the weak or timid, and apparently required some degree of brute force to push down the key valves constantly being forced into the closed position by steam pressure. Thus, overcoming this opposing steam pressure was necessary when pressing down on a key, thereby opening a valve connected to a whistle. According to one accounting the steam pressure was about 40 lbs/sq. in., which hints at the force necessary to operate the keys. But there were other travails, too, as brought to light in this short article:

An ingenious invention that simplifies the operation of giant calliopes has been perfected by Charles C. Bischoff, Cincinnati musician, who is now playing at Coney Island, New York. Bischoff formerly played the calliope on the steamer Island Queen. To operate these ponderous instruments it is sometimes necessary to wear leather tips on the thumbs, and to open the keys, which are closed by heavy steam pressure, requires considerable strength, causing injury to the thumbs. To overcome this obstacle, caused Bischoff to ponder on an idea, which he has now successfully perfected, and which he claims will outclass everything else in the way of "Steam" music. Bischoff has constructed the calliope with slide whistles and which are operated with the feet similar to a church organ. There are only a few hand keys, but his invention practically eliminates the strenuous work of being compelled to press the keys with the thumbs. Bischoff plays not only ragtime and sentimental airs, but also classic music.

—The Music Trade Review, June 13, 1908

Moreover, there were other issues with steam calliopes, such as hot working conditions, and the constant maintenance and care of the boiler which, if left unattended, could pose safety concerns. And the musical scale of theses ponderous devices was generally quite limited, only 27 musical notes according to one source, which implies that some instruments also suffered from a non-chromatic scale. Consequently, these limitations seriously limited the kinds of music that could be played, due to the paucity of some important but "missing" notes. However, notwithstanding the downside of these great machines, having a calliope was still the desire of most showmen, due to its outstanding capability of delivering the loudest possible notice that their show had arrived and was open for business. But the need to announce a show’s presence was not restricted to just the traveling show or grand circus. Any and all outdoor showmen needed some sort of relatively cheap and essentially guaranteed advertising medium. The first step towards satisfying such needs was taken by George Kratz, a noted steam calliope builder residing in Evansville, Indiana. In 1903 he developed a miniature calliope that was very differently constructed than anything previously built. It utilized a semi-circular manifold and could be operated by steam or compressed air. But perhaps most importantly, the volume of steam or compressed air required to play the miniaturized calliope was a mere fraction of that needed to operate the usual full-sized steam calliope, which made the relatively tiny unit much more economical to build, transport, and operate.

While the old steam calliope may have had great nostalgic appeal it could not compete with the comparatively low cost, adaptability, transportability, and common self-playing qualities inherent in the air calliope. In many regards (excepting perhaps nostalgia) the air calliope won hands-down over the steam calliope. There was no messy boiler to fire up and maintain, no fuel to haul around, and no fireman to feed the boiler. Anyone capable of playing a piano or pipe organ could play one, or because of the self-playing capabilities built into most air calliopes, it could play by itself when a musician was not present. The air calliope was not only labor saving, but it offered a large musical repertoire because of the abundance of easily-changed 65-note "A" rolls. And the compact air calliope could be easily hefted up and set on a wagon or shoved onto the back of a truck for parade use. An air blower for the calliope could be driven by an electric motor or a small gasoline engine. The tuning remained stable, in contrast to a steam calliope where the extreme heat of the steam constantly changed the pitch of the whistles when any but very short notes were played. Although the air calliope wasn’t nearly as loud as a steam calliope, it was loud enough to attract plenty of attention and for the music to cover the blower noise.

Calliopes, either steam or air, were an immense crowd pleaser, drawing people from a great distance to a circus side-show, carnival, or any type of theatrical spectacle. From reading various articles in the trade magazines it seems that most people paid little attention to whether it was a steam or air calliope—it was the bright and unique sound of the musical whistles wafting through the air that caught their attention and brought them closer to whatever attraction was being advertised. Once a crowd came to see what was going on they could then be enticed to buy tickets to a show, or cheap goods of various kinds, or whatever was offered.

The Air Calliope

The origins of the air calliope are traceable to the relatively crude pipe organs of Roman times. However, for practical purposes, the story of the air calliope begins much later, its beginnings associated with calliope inventor Joshua C. Stoddard, who covered its use of compressed air in one of the claims of his 1855 patent. The next step was provided by George Kratz, of Evansville, Indiana, who constructed a miniaturized calliope about 1903, which could be operated with only a fraction of the steam or compressed air that was required to operate a full-sized steam calliope. While the air pressure utilized to operate a Kratz calliope is unknown, it is thought to have been in the ten to fifty pounds per square inch range. Whether Kratz ever used compressed air for one of his calliopes is not known, but steam may have been preferred simply because of the lack of a reasonably sized portable air compressor. It was circa 1905-1906 when Joseph Ori constructed his first air calliope, and circa 1912 when he started the Pneumatic Calliope Company. The Ori Calliope is thought to be the first commercially produced air calliope, followed soon by the Tangley Manufacturing Company and its Calliaphone.

But even with the advent of the more convenient air calliope there were many people who stubbornly held on to the nostalgic allure of the steam calliope, as exemplified in an article titled "All Types of Music Popular at Circus, but Old Time Hits Are Best, Says Bandmaster," which appeared in the August 21, 1926, issue of The Music Trades. The article goes on to emphatically state that everything in the circus revolves about the band—the public demands music—and favors the old-fashioned steam calliope and will not do without it. "The band is the pivot, one might say, upon which the whole spectacle revolves," Merle Evans, bandmaster of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, explained. "A generation ago, when the circus parade was as much of an event in the small town as the Fourth of July, the demonstration was incomplete without the steam piano. Although the calliope is used hardly at all today," Mr. Evans said, "it is necessary to have it in order to satisfy popular demand." He goes on to say: "It has a range of 4-1/2 octaves, is equipped with a motor to operate the blower, and is played by A W. Hughes, who is also an accomplished pipe organist. Mr. Evans cannot explain the basis of the appeal of the calliope, but he says there is no doubt of the certainty of its popularity in all parts of the country. Ironically, implying that the show cannot go on without the steam calliope, what is actually used in place of the old steam piano is a modern air calliope with an electric motor driven blower.

Here are excerpted and condensed portions of another article that provides same flavor regarding the calliope and its use:


How the Itinerant "Artist" Makes His Gargantuan Musical Engine Blare Forth the Appeal That Lures American Youth From School and Home.

.... Has man ever constructed-and will man ever build any other instrument which can send its music from so far, far away, which will permit of its playing, while it moves on, steadily nearer and nearer and yet nearer without the joltings and the jostlings which the rougher roads offer, affecting it the slightest trifle; which can stir the very souls of all classes and kinds of people and awaken the wanderlust in their hearts till they simply must up and go, as this big, brazen calliope of the itinerant hippodrome does? It may be, but we certainly doubt it!

Back in the good old days, when you and I lay awake half the night waiting to catch these first distant strains of the calliope music, we did hope that the day might come when we, too, might be professional calliope players. ....

The Player and the Calliope

What, in short, is the calliope player's job; what is needful to the neophyte who would apply for such a post? We put the question frankly to Frank Mullen of Boston, Mass., but you'll find, him at home there really very, very seldom—the veteran calliope player who has set the heart strings tingling so many years now to announce the coming, the presence, the passing, of one of the world's largest shows.

"The calliope of to-day," he answered, beckoning toward first one, then the other instrument, carried by "his" circus, "are of two sorts—air calliopes and steam calliopes—though to the public at large they still appear to be considered steam calliopes, one and all. The calliope is a big organ, operated by compressed air, a simple gasoline engine producing the actual power. In either case—for their stories are similar in many particulars—the organ is kept tuned to B flat cornet, it is known, so that the 'operator' may play along with the band of the big show. These facts are prime fundamentals; they are the cornerstones of the player's art."

The Town as Your Audience

"You see," he suggested, almost meditatively, as if recalling with infinite sadness some costly error of the youth of his own career, "when once a man does set out to play the calliope in public, he must be able to play exactly, absolutely correctly, for all the world is going to hear! So, if we wished to perfect ourselves for such a position?" he swerved conversation back, anew, to the original query. I would suggest that you apply, through obvious channels, until obtaining the position of what is known as 'helper' to the player of the instrument.

"You would be placed on the payroll at a very fair wage at the start, receive a berth on the circus train, be issued the meal tickets, and, in short, you would know that your living was assured you until the season had come to an end, with every reasonable chance of reemployment next year, unless, luck favoring, you should learn of an opening for a player of the instrument by that time. ....

"While the show is in transit, the calliope is carried on one of the first sections of the circus train or, at least, in the middle section, in order that it may be unloaded among the very first things to be removed at the play site, and take its position in the circus parade."

Some Use Air, Some Use Steam

"Many shows," he suggested—attempting, though we fear vainly—to stifle the pride he felt so keenly as he displayed the instruments grouped together here for the moment, "carry only one calliope. If they are up to the moment, it is an air calliope. If not, it is a steam calliope. We have one of each sort, you'll note. So we ride our air calliope at the middle of the circus parade, to keep the crowds looking for it, and we ride the other instruments at parade end, to pronounce our farewells to all who may have ears to hear.

"The air calliope is, of course, the more interesting instrument. You will notice that it takes a very heavy wagon to carry it, and in the show parades through the cities and out a bit into the adjacent country never less than six animals are employed to draw the instrument.

"The calliope has come to be regarded as the big final magnet to bring folks who hadn't made up their minds to go, to come to the circus. It's the best advertising medium,-the best 'pulling' medium, the press-agents put it-that the circus people have ever devised to their ends.

"Just because it does its work so well, the circus uses it to the limit. If conditions of arrival in town will at all permit it the calliope is started away from the 'lot' on a definite route—From which most folk can hear—at eight in the morning! The calliope starts playing at once then, and at once means at once! There can be no excuse that the gasoline engine isn't working properly; that the air isn't compressing as it should! Those things should have been attended to after the last performance, or at least while the circus was under way.

Arranging the Program

"Invariably a good calliope player starts his program with a march. That sets nearest hearers in appropriate humor for the occasion. From this he varies selections until many men actually play grand opera at certain points in the cities· and then descend, by proper degrees, to 'ragtime,' to catch less aesthetic ears in the crowds. As a result, folk of all sorts of tastes for music have their especial desires gratified forthwith; these folk remember particularly the selection pleasing them most, and these folk, lured to hear more of that music at the show-site, proceed to the circus, as a great many of them would otherwise never have done!"

The modern calliope, it is interesting to remark, consists of only three and a half octaves. It starts upon G and it concludes on D.

It hardly needs to be stated that it is with the popular songs that it makes its greatest "hit" with the crowds. Let the music start away with "The Sheik," let it beg of the crowds that they "Leave Me With a Smile," let it intersperse just such music with the sextet from "Lucia," for variety sake, and then, as if just in jest, let a touch of ragtime be driven in, and lo! the calliope does bring home the crowds!

"As a matter of fact," Mr. Mullen suggested. Demonstrating from this piece, now that—on now this, now that instrument—"playing the calliope is considerably harder than playing the organ. Somehow, when the air works its way through the pipes here, it seems to need an impetus—a force, if you will—behind it, which no organ of any sort that I've ever seen required.

Needs Force Behind the Touch

"Just what is the very hardest part of the day's work of the calliope player?" We put the question, as our friend stopped again in his demonstrations. "Getting up so early in the morning!" he snapped back at us, without a second's pondering. "You are traveling all night; you worked until late the evening before; you do hate to get up."

The subject was evidently displeasing to him, for he changed from it very abruptly. "This steam calliope," he remarked, "does look well, as it rides at the far end of the parade. Of the two sorts of instrument, it is the harder to play, since all playing occurs with practically the thumb and the first finger. Trebles are played with the first and the second finger, owing to the fact that the pressure of the steam is so great. For the bass, one uses just as much of the left hand as possible!"

Firemen for a Calliope

"That's 'Blink' Washburn," our friend advised. ... "He's been doing the firing for the calliopes for twenty years now—'producing the steam' it is called—and while the work is not exactly a sinecure, very much like firing an ordinary boiler—he bears up well under it, and will, no doubt, keep on with it to the end.

"We vary uses of the calliopes somewhat throughout the actual circus day," Mullen advised, apropos of really nothing whatever. "We use the air calliope during the show, afternoon and evening, and for giving the concert which serves as such a splendid advertisement for half an hour in the supper time, to let folk know we're in town. And at other times, as I stated before we use the steam calliope, taking care to keep the two sufficiently far apart to avoid any conflict of sound." ....

The mechanism of the calliope is necessarily very complex, and so it takes at least three months to build. Tubes and other of the small parts take time; and time swells the cost, so that it is seldom, indeed that one may secure the calliope of any real size for much less than $1,500. Construction of the calliopes once so popular on river craft differs very slightly from that of the calliope used by the circus. Aboard ship, however, steam is supplied the calliope by the steamer boilers, whereas with the circus the steam comes from a boiler carried along and then used at a pressure of not less than forty pounds.

Calliope No Fog Horn

Even with the best of calliopes, however, the calliopist must give his instrument attention always. Damp, Weather In particular plays havoc with it. Part upon part will grow sticky, catch, get out of joint; minor repairs of other times become extraordinarily difficult. Worst of all, the damp affects the tune, and it is a feat for even an expert to keep the calliope in tune in a fog. Only, the calliope must be in tune; must play properly always. It doesn't help the folk who hear it only to-day to tell them that yesterday, the day before, for days and week preceding, the calliope played every note just right. They don't know those other audiences; they don't care a whit for them. They want to hear it this day!

So this day, which means every day but Sunday, the calliope sends forth its stirring music. The skilled calliopist plays along with the band. playing "corne parts," and then "faking," as it's called, his own bass. This is mighty hard work for any one not used to playing from a lead-sheet; the more that, again and again, he must "fake"—as he'd put it, too—his own harmony. And he plays, as already stated, all kinds of music but particularly must he be certain to play the latest hit of the hour. He buys this at the nearest music shop—the piano part of any selection can serve him—-he practices when he can, and he plays as soon as he dares! He is playing-with his air-calliope—at a five pound pressure; he is playing a broadcasting advertisement ·for the circus; he IS playing as an aide to its band. On a clear day, and particularly in flat country, one can hear the stronger notes of the steam calliope, which somehow seems to carry farthest, for as much as three miles from its location. The air-calliope can be heard a mile's distance.

They hear the strange, fantastic music, and if they're young and able, they stop all else and hasten away to the circus forthwith. Only, the calliope calls on and on—its siren song. It stirs old memories. It makes the oldest young again. It seems to give "open sesame" to things of vanished childhood—vanished youth. ....

—Excerpts from The Music Trades, December 16, 1922.

Today the once popular craze for the steam calliope has evolved and carried over as a definite nostalgia for air calliopes, for which numerous examples of beautifully restored air calliopes exist in mechanical music collections today, and some are still used in parades and other theatrical endeavors. Moreover, a handful of air calliopes of varying quality are still being manufactured as of this writing, with demand perpetuated due to its alluring and unique tonal qualities. However, regardless of the new wave of various air calliope models, this air calliope page is being arbitrarily limited to classic units that were manufactured during the commercial heyday of mechanical music, which for our purposes here ranges from the early 1900s up through and into the late 1930s.

Because of its relatively low cost and exceptionally easy deployment and use the portable air calliope overtook and became the de-facto successor to the bulky and cumbersome steam calliope, which required a rugged wagon to transport it and effectively make use of it. Add to that, the water in the boiler had to be kept at its boiling point by means of some sort of constantly hand replenished combustible fuel, and the entire apparatus was subject to constant maintenance, whereas the air calliope was a relatively small, self-contained unit with a keyboard, which was connected to a simple blower. The whole ensemble would comfortably fit on a standard wagon or on the back of an open truck for easy hauling. Moreover, the air calliope was comparatively simple and easy to maintain, and usually enjoyed the added benefit of built-in music roll playing capabilities that enabled it to draw from a huge library of 10-tune type "A" rolls. Another benefit, according to advertisements of the day, is that the air calliopes were chromatic, usually with a keyboard spanning 3-1/2 octaves, whereas the common steam calliope was not chromatic, and so the air calliope excelled in playing a wide range of musical selections without the limitations imposed by a non-chromatic device with a very limited note compass.

Air calliopes are comparatively rare when the whole of the vast array and quantity of mechanical music devices is taken into account. In the early to mid part of the twentieth century there were only a handful of air calliope manufacturers, and in later years, up into the 2000s, the number dwindled to to just a few firms working to emulate and keep alive the air calliope story. This page includes a brief historical synopsis of the primary manufacturers of air calliopes, namely, Joseph Ori, Tangley Manufacturing Company, National Calliope Corporation, Artizan, and, of course, Wurlitzer, who seemed to dabble in just about anything relating to mechanical music.

From a 1930 edition of Presto Times here is what the Clark Orchestra Roll Company had to say about the air calliope:


Circus Time Has Rolled Around Once More and Clark Rolls Are Helping Its Thrilling Music.

Soon the great army of the outdoor show-world will again be on its way. There is a lively hustle and bustle about the winter quarters of the hundreds of circuses and carnivals, all making ready for the 1930 season.

The new "big-top" has arrived; the carpenter crew are busily engaged in the building of new parade wagons, flats, bally-platforms, etc., the decorators are working delightful magic with brilliant colors, for banners on the new, flashy midway. Soon (and this is a sure sign of spring) the bill-posters will be putting up the alluring circus posters.

My! How we all look forward to seeing the circus again! Oh, boy! the big parade! The horses, elephants, lions, tigers, and those funny clowns! (Gosh! We like clowns.)

At the end of the parade always comes the steam calliope, wheezing and puffing out the distorted music and usually played upon by one of the work-crew. Progressive circus and carnival owners have discarded the old-fashioned steam contraption and have adopted the Tangley Calliaphone or some similar type of automatic air-controlled calliope.

Thus they are assured of giving the millions of pleasure-seekers the latest music, played in the best possible manner, never "tired," putting popular "pep" into the parade and giving the circus band some real competition under the big "white-top."

Progressive showmen nowadays are alert to the fact that music is a vital factor in making their amusement enterprises successful and there is a steady trend toward better music in this vast field of entertainment.

The Clark Orchestra Roll Co. of De Kalb, Ill., is busy at this particular time of the year filling orders for the several circuses and carnivals who use their 65-note music-rolls on these newer-types of calliopes.

The slogan of this well-known music roll concern "The Calliope-player of the Outdoor Show-World" rings true, for truly they produce nearly 80 per cent of this type of music roll.

Programs are especially arranged to play on Gordon-Howard Calliopes, National Calliopes, New Tone air Calliopes, Tangley Calliaphones and all standard 65-note instruments. Here is one for The Outdoor Show World: Robinson's Grand Entree March, "Hi Henry's Triumphal," March; The Whirlwind, Galop; Colonel Conway March; Cheer Up, March; Headin' West, March; National Progress, March; Down the Stretch, Galop; The High School Cadets, March; The Spirit of America, March.

—Presto-Times, April 1930

Ori Pneumatic Calliope

Joseph Ori 43-Note Calliope.

According to Fred Dahlinger—a noted historian and prolific author of many articulate articles written for the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA)—Joseph E. Ori constructed his first and successful air calliope in 1905-1906. Joseph Ori was a longtime showman who was at the time serving as a talker, an accordion player, and also as a mechanic for Capt. Louis Sorcho’s Deep Sea Divers show. Sorcho’s business had been sagging and needed a boost and something that would draw in crowds. A steam calliope was considered, but such was far too cumbersome and costly. Ori believed that he could construct an air-powered calliope that would be much more practical and suitable for their use. Exactly what kind of air compressor was used for the first Ori calliope is unknown, but it is possible that the same type of machinery used to feed air to the divers in Sorcho’s glass fronted diving show tank may be what was used. Working on the sidelines, Ori succeeded in creating an air calliope that proved to be an invaluable asset to Sorcho’s show wherever it traveled. With the calliope mounted in the back seat position on an early roadster, Sorcho would drive the vehicle around the towns and cities being visited. He would do this for hours on end, making sure no citizen could escape the fact that his show was in town. Traveling with the diving show for the next four years, Ori had to leave the calliope behind when he left Sorcho’s employ in 1910. He then settled in Bloomfield, New Jersey, with his brother, James, and was determined to earn a living by building air calliopes.

Ori started the Pneumatic Calliope Company in 1912, and on September 6, 1913, he filed a Patent Application, which was granted on September 5, 1916 (Patent No. 1,197,302). He built both 43 and 49 note models, none of which had built in music roll playing mechanisms. The Ori calliopes were a quality built instrument and although popular they are comparatively rare today. Referring to the Patent drawings, there is an unusual variable pitch whistle mounted horizontally just behind the keyboard, and situated so that the musician could vary the pitch at will. The following article about the Ori Calliope appeared in the Music Trade Review in 1916:


Plurality of Single Tone Whistles in Connection With Variable Pitch Provided in Instrument Recently Patented.

WASHINGTON, D.C, September 11.—A pneumatic calliope has been invented by Joseph E. Ori, Bloomfield, N.J., Patent No. 1,197,302, for which was granted him last week.

The principal object of this invention is the provision of a novel instrument comprising a plurality of single tone whistles in combination with a variable pitch whistle. A further object of the invention is to provide a whistle organ having a plurality of single tone whistles in combination with a variable pitch whistle so arranged that the variable pitch whistle may be under the immediate manual control of the operator.

The Music Trade Review, September 16, 1916.

On December 26, 1914, Joseph E. Ori filed another patent request regarding improvements in the construction of whistles for the Ori calliope. A Patent for "Whistles for Calliopes" was granted on January 23, 1917 (Patent No. 1,213,402). From the patent description is the following brief excerpt: "The present invention relates to the improvements in whistles for pneumatic calliopes. One object of the invention is the provision of a whistle which can be quickly applied to or detached from the valve casing by means of which the whistle is controlled. Another object of this invention is the provision of a whistle including a plurality of detachable sections which can be quickly separated from the purpose of repairing, interchanging of whistles, or the like." There are other objects of the invention, and to see these please click on the aforementioned patent link.

While the Joseph Ori Calliopes are not strictly an automatic musical instrument, in as much as they did not incorporate music roll playing capabilities, they are nevertheless the forerunner of the combination manual and and self-playing air calliopes. As such, they are worthy of inclusion here along with their more well-known automatic counterparts. A remarkable feature of the Ori calliopes is their striking overall resemblance to the calliopes made by Tangley, which went into production circa 1914—perhaps a testament to the superb quality and popularity of the Ori calliopes.

Tangley Calliaphone (Pronounced "KA-LI-A-PHONE")

The Tangley Calliaphone Logo.Norman Glenwood Baker (November 27, 1882 - September 8, 1958) was born in Muscatine, Iowa. He was the youngest of ten children, something that may help account for his aggressively competitive nature, he being the last in line in a large family. Baker was to become a flamboyant and exceptionally energetic man who excelled in promoting many different commercially oriented interests, some of them highly respected and admired, but others not so much, and one or two openly reviled. Norman was the consummate promoter, who eventually became known as "the man in purple," almost always wearing a white suit, lavender shirt, and purple tie. Few would argue that his brightest star was the Tangley Calliaphone, for which Baker was the creative force behind it and the driving reason for its phenomenal success.

As a young man Norman Baker traveled from town to town working as a tool and die maker. Then, as the story goes, one night he attended a “mental suggestion” magic show performed by a "Professor Flint.” Captivated by the performance, Baker decided to create a similar show of his own, and, after a few false starts, by 1904 Baker's little troupe was off and running. The star of his show was a mind reader going by the stage name of “Madame Pearl Tangley.” In 1909 the original Madame Tangley quit the troupe, and a college girl named Theresa Pinder replaced her. One year later Norman and Theresa married. The show continued for another four years, until the summer of 1914, when Baker returned to Muscatine for a respite. Norman and Theresa had planned to carry on with the show again in the fall of that year, but an unexpected business opportunity intervened and kept Baker in Muscatine..

Tangley Calliaphone illustration on the cover of a 1929 catalogue.

While tinkering in his brother’s machine shop that summer Baker devised an air operated organ that he called the Air Calliaphone. It used air to produce the whistle tones, instead of steam. This relatively simple method was much more efficient, a lot less trouble to maintain, it was compact and easy to move about, and it was much safer and less expensive to operate. The first Calliaphone sold for $500; two more were made and they sold immediately, and a new business was born. In 1915 Baker quit the theater business, divorced his wife, and devoted himself to his new invention, becoming a full time manufacturer. At its height, The Tangley Manufacturing Company was a prolific producer of air calliopes, much more so than anyone else, with the Calliaphone business reportedly bringing in some $200,000 per annum, making Normal Baker a comparatively wealthy man.


Instrument Operated by Air Instead of Steam Is Introduced by Iowa Company

The air calliope is a new production designed for theatrical purposes. Muscatine, la., has a factory for the manufacture of the instrument, which is claimed to be superior in effects to the old-time steam calliope of the circus.

The Tangley Manufacturing Co. is the name of the Muscatine industry already engaged in building the air calliope. It is a modern plant, equipped with the latest type of machinery. The company is producing and marketing air calliopes as rapidly as they can be turned out. The air calliope, the invention of Norman Baker, is an absolutely new musical instrument, the first one of which was manufactured in June. Mr. Baker, the inventor, also has several other special musical instruments in mind which will be manufactured when models are completed and patents secured.

The Tangley calliope has 44 whistles, instead of 27 as the steam machines have, thus affording an opportunity to play classical selections which are impossible on the old style instrument. The smaller instruments now being manufactured range in price from $550 to $700. This concern figures the air calliope can be heard farther, will attract greater interest, and is cheaper than hiring a ten-piece band.

Later a new field is to be opened up by the Tangley people. They believe the air calliope will become a standard musical instrument, which can be sold to private families for home use, as a piano is now used. Anyone who can play a piano can play a Tangley air calliope as the keyboard is in chromatic scale, three and one-half octaves. Another special design is being contemplated for church service. The company believes the instrument can be retailed at such a reasonable figure that it will be more economical and far more satisfactory for smaller churches to purchase a calliope than a piano, where pipe organs are beyond their reach.

The Presto, December 24, 1914

And then almost one year later ...

Articles of incorporation have been filed by the Tangley Manufacturing Co., of Muscatine. Iowa. Capital is $20,000. The company manufactures organophones and calliopes and intends to build a fine factory where, in addition to their present line, will engage in making automatic players for the instruments named.

The Music Trade Review, December 4, 1915.

Front side of a Tangley Model CA-43 Calliaphone.

The Tangley Calliaphone was basically a rather simple device, consisting of a sturdy box with an attached keyboard and a set of brass whistles arranged symmetrically on top of the box—with an air blower attached by a large diameter hose. If the Calliaphone was an automatic model, i.e., it contained a roll frame and pneumatic stack so that the instrument could be played by a music roll, there were two hoses, one for wind-pressure and the other smaller hose for vacuum, all generated by the blower. The blower was normally stationed near the Calliaphone, but could be located at some distance, depending upon the size and length of hose available. And it could be powered by an electric motor, or a small gasoline engine.

The model numbers were simplistic and descriptive. For instance, the Model C-A 43 was for a Calliaphone with a keyboard that could also be automatically played, and that had 43 brass whistles, while the C-H 43 was a hand-played Calliaphone with 43 brass whistles. The ratio of automatic to hand-played models manufactured is unknown, but it is probably the case that the majority of Calliaphones were of the automatic variety, with an enclosed music roll playing system, so that the Calliaphone could be operated without the aid of a keyboard artist if desired. The automatic models made use of the industry wide standard "A" roll, which then afforded the Calliaphone operator a huge repertoire of music. Art Reblitz, who has examined many hundreds of "A" rolls, has seen many Tangley rolls made by Clark Orchestra Roll Company. And to date every example he has observed includes the same piano arrangements as on any other Clark roll. Only the paste-on Tangley label was different. That includes the 6-tune and 10-tune march rolls commonly sold for use on calliopes. And so if Clark or anyone else during the original era ever did make a music roll specifically for a calliope, Mr. Reblitz has yet to see or hear one. Re classifying a music roll for some purpose not originally intended was not out of the ordinary. Wurlitzer, for instance, re-titled its popular 65-note Automatic Player Piano rolls as Caliola rolls.

The Calliaphone was offered in several formats.

Air Calliopes, as compared to most other mechanical music machines, tend to have a high survival rate, because their commercial use and crowd pleasing value never completely ended, with many still in use, drawing attention and gathering crowds just like they did in their heyday. Because the Tangley Calliaphone was mass produced over a long time span (1915 - circa mid to late 1930s) and also aggressively advertised a high number of Calliaphones have survived the ages and continue to delight people to this very day, and remain popular with mechanical music collectors, Shriner’s clubs, and circus fans alike.

Collis Motor/Tangley brass nameplate.

Thanks to Glenn Grabinsky, who has spent many hours researching Tangley, photographs have come to light that show a "Collis Motor" mounted on a cast aluminum base with the Tangley Company name emblazoned in large letters as an integral part of the casting. The little Collis engine is bolted to the base, next to a two-part mounting pedestal that is an integral part of the base casting. Whatever the little engine had connected to it is missing. However, the hole spacing looks like it might accommodate a Roots blower—the type of positive displacement blower commonly used by Tangley. According to Glenn Grabinsky, in 1915 Norman Baker decided to get the Tangley Company involved in building small rural electrical generating plants—probably an outgrowth of building gas engine / Roots blower set-ups for the Calliaphones. Or, he speculates, maybe he planned to offer portable generator sets for the show trade to power Tangley blower units fitted with electric motors. What kind of engine Tangley might have used in any such early direct connected blower systems is currently unknown.

Jumping ahead to 1922, sometime during or after that year, Norman Baker developed a relationship with the Collis Company, manufacturers located in Clinton, Iowa. The Collis Company had taken over ownership of the Piersen Motor, a compact little single cylinder engine, when it bought the assets of the Piersen Manufacturing Company, Topeka, Kansas, at a receiver's bankruptcy sale conducted on May 11, 1922. The Collis Motor was an odd water cooled, single cylinder, gasoline engine, with the cooling radiator situated inside the engine's flywheel. The Tangley Company became a sales agent for the Collis Motor, and direct coupled a 3 H.P. Collis Motor with a positive displacement Roots blower by mounting them together on a sturdy cast aluminum base. This unitized, compact system could then be easily offered as part of a Tangley Calliaphone package, one that was complete and ready to set up and operate. For unitized systems sold by Tangley, the Collis Motor's large brass nameplate was divided into two sections by a horizontal border. The upper section included the Collis Gasoline Engine name, the horsepower rating, model, serial number, speed rating, and patent information; the lower part showing the Tangley Company name, Muscatine, Iowa, and below that, at the very bottom: "Exclusive Selling Agents to the Amusement Field." Above the maker's nameplate was yet another but smaller brass plate: "NOTICE; This instrument is owned by TANGLEY COMPANY; Muscatine, Iowa." The inscriptions on this plate imply that the gasoline engine (and probably the connected blower) might have been leased or rented to an operator, while remaining the property of the Tangley Company. Tangley did offer a "Buy On Our Easy Term Plan... Earn As You Pay," and probably entertained other ways to put the Calliaphone to work earning money. The Collis Motor is known to have been manufactured up through 1924, as attested to by advertisements directed toward the farming community and letters to prospective customers. After 1924 the Collis engine seems to oddly disappear—or at least no evidence has surfaced that would indicate any further activity.

In the circa 1930 Tangley advertising flyer the "direct connected engine blower" pictured does not make use of the Collis Motor, possibly because it was no longer available. The flyer instead illustrates a much larger and probably more durable and serviceable unit, which was skid mounted on a steel framework, with what appears to be a two cylinder engine with a large water cooling radiator supported in a framework bolted to the front edge of the steel skid. A large gasoline tank is mounted on a cast iron framework bolted to the top of the blower. This unitized setup was much larger and less portable when compared to the much smaller and lighter Collis Motor and blower combination. The larger system weighed in at 450 lbs, with a footprint of approximately 18 inches by 40 inches, and it stood about 34 inches high. Although not so easily handled and moved about as its single cylinder predecessor, it was probably a much more robust, durable, safe, and maintenance free option.

Although this air calliope history page is devoted to original instruments made from 1900 through the 1930s, many individuals and small companies have made air calliopes since that time. Most of these are of modern design and are not copies of original instruments, with one exception: the Miner Calliope made by Miner Manufacturing. Designed by the late Dave Miner, it is made to look almost identical to an original Tangley but with mechanisms of modern design inside. Each instrument has a nameplate similar to, but not exactly the same as an original Tangley nameplate, including the serial number, model number, pressure and tuned pressure. Serial numbers start with #101. Miner Manufacturing is currently owned by Dan Dohman of Kirksville, Missouri.

Electrotone Air Calliope

1922 Electrotone Air Calliope advertisement in The Billboard.

In the November 26, 1910 issue of The Music Trade Review (and also similarly in other trade publications) it is announced that the "Electrotone Auto Music Company, New York, New York, have incorporated with capital stock of $25,000, for the purpose of manufacturing pianos and other musical instruments and automatic instruments. Incorporators: A. G. Clark, M. Schoenfeld and G. Rockwell, Jr., all of New York." While the announcement mentions the manufacture of various types of musical instruments, there is no hard evidence currently on hand to suggest that this New York City based company did anything more than act as a sales outlet for various well established manufacturers. The company became actively engaged in business in 1911, probably setting up a showroom and offices, and lining up manufacturers the new company could represent. Beginning in the October 12, 1912, issue of The Music Trade Review, the Electrotone Auto Music Company placed a simple as that ran many times during the remainder of 1912.

EXPERIENCED repair man wanted on coin-operated electric pianos; steady position. Apply to Electrotone Auto Music Co., 127 West 65th St., New York City.

So by October of 1912 the Electrotone Auto Music Company had obviously been busy selling some kind of coin operated pianos, and needed to establish a repair facility to service the company's customer base. Then in the January 3, 1914, issue of The Music Trade Review it become clear that the company has been selling Seeburg coin pianos in an article titled: "MUSIC HELPS CHOPSUEY TO DIGEST; Style " F " Seeburg Piano, with Violin and Mandolin Attachment, Proves Strong Attraction in Chinese Restaurant in New York. ... sold by the Electrotone Co., one of the big dealers of New York City." But by March of the same year the company was also selling the new Beman "Symphonie" orchestral organ, manufactured by the Beman Symphony Organ Co., Binghamton, N. Y., having installed one "in the leading theater in Dover, N. J., and another in Fox's Washington Theater, 149th street and Amsterdam avenue, New York, with several other prospects in line." Also in March there was a nice article in The Music Trade Review about "Seeburg Orchestras in New York." The Electrotone Auto Music Company is given credit for numerous Seeburg motion picture orchestras in New York and vicinity. So the company was busy selling Seeburg coin pianos and photoplayers, and in one article the Electrotone Auto Music Company was referred to as Seeburg's eastern area representative.


Interesting Chat with Samuel Kramer, Head of the Electrotone Auto Music Co., New York, Who Devotes His Entire Efforts to the Development of the Automatic Musical Instrument Trade in New York.

“Music is the life of the times,” says Samuel Kramer, of the Electrotone Auto Music Co., 127 West Sixty-fifth street, New York, which handles the Seeburg line and others. Mr. Kramer helps to keep the "times" supplied with the best brand of automatic or pay-as-you-listen quality. What he doesn't know about the coin-operated or automatic musical instrument trade could be rammed through the eye of a No. 10 needle. He knows it from the obsolete “Tonophone” to the complex and costly orchestrion which combines a whole brass band in a single instrument and is operated by a never-tiring electric motor. Mr. Kramer has studied this; it is both his hobby and his business. His mind works overtime on It, and if you're interested he'll talk to you until—well, until his available "nickels" have been exhausted via the coin slots of the various players and orchestrions in his stock.

“There are always increasing markets for the coin-operated musical instruments,” said Mr. Kramer. “The steamboat lines, including even some of the trans-Atlantic vessels; the dance halls, made more numerous by the recent popularity of the dance; cafes, ice cream parlors, moving picture houses, etc.” There are probably others, but Mr. Kramer refrained from talking about those just at present. His firm handles the Seeburg line and others. It has been in business for three years.

The Music Trade Review, May 9, 1914

Glenn Grabinsky, a technician of all things mechanical and a mechanical music enthusiast (and who is the source of the Electrotone material that inspired the creation of this section), has observed that on occasion it is possible to find newspaper advertisements from the teens listing used Electrotone coin slot pianos for sale. These ads have shown up in newspapers from New York and Chicago, so it appears that the Auto Music Company had a decent sales base. Over the years Mr. Grabinsky reports that he has seen a few early coin operated pianos with the Electrotone stencil on them, and all were North Tonawanda Musical Instruments Works products, thereby demonstrating that there was a commercial relationship between the Electrotone Auto Music Company and the North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works from early on, perhaps as early as 1911, when the company first become an active sales agent and dealer in automatic musical instruments.

The first mention of an Electrotone Air Calliope discovered to date is a December 16, 1922 advertisement in The Billboard. The ad states that it is automatic and hand played, price $450.00 and up. The unit pictured is in a wooden case with an window opening at the top with a rank of some type of pipes arranged in descending order by length. The lower case access doors are closed, leaving no clue as to where and how a manual keyboard might be placed. This so-called air calliope does not look anything like the usual air calliope. It appears to be an early 44-note Pianolin (made by the North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works) that has been somehow transmogrified into something else. The Pianolin was manufactured as a 44-note cabinet piano, playing an endless music roll, and with a 44-note rank of pipes, consisting of 13 stopped flute pipes and 31 violin pipes for the upper notes. The pipe chest was mounted on the case floor and stuffed behind the music roll bin and vacuum and pressure pumps. And so in the conversion to an air calliope what happened to the piano, original pipework, and other Pianolin components? Exactly what kind of pipes were installed behind the upper front window (the glass pane appears to have been removed) is unknown. These and other questions cannot be discerned from the small and poor quality image accompanying the Billboard advertisement.

The only other advertisement found for an Electrotone Air Calliope is from the June 21, 1924, issue of the New York Clipper (also known as The Clipper—a weekly entertainment newspaper published in New York City from 1853 up through 1924). In this particular ad the instrument pictured actually looks like it was originally meant to be an air Calliope, rather than a conversion, and it appears to be an early version of the "platform" style Air-Calio made by Artizan Factories, Inc. And so Electrotone Auto Music Company was selling Artizan Air-Calios, possibly re-branded using the Electrotone name. This 1924 advertisement also gives useful insight into the evolution of the Air-Calio, first built with wooden pipes and than later on with brass pipes, and the timing hints that Artizan probably began planning and then building air calliopes soon after incorporation in 1922. No surviving air calliopes bearing the Electrotone name are known today.

In reviewing the two above mentioned advertisements (1922 and 1924) it may well be that the only true Electrotone Air Calliope was the Pianolin conversion, which could probably have been easily "manufactured" in the company/s own repair shop. As such, by also applying an Electrotone stencil it could be construed as having been made (from old parts and maybe a few new components) by Electrotone. By 1922 early 44-note pianos, like the Pianolin, were probably considered obsolete, and probably well worn and tired due to many years of commercial use. Turning them into an "air calliope" was probably thought to be a good way to get rid of them. Salvaging the case and a few parts would have made good sense, and the basis of a cheaply made air calliope, even if it did not look like an air calliope, nor have the gleaming visual qualities needed for ballyhoo presentations. How many Pianolin to Air Calliope reconstructions took place is anybody's guess. There are no known surviving specimens to examine.

Harrington/National New-Tone Air Calliope

Ernest A. Harrington.

Ernest A. Harrington is thought to have begun building air calliopes circa 1923. According to Fred Dahlinger, he was first and foremost a traveling tent showman with a career spanning from the late 19th century up into the 1930s. Harrington’s “original and only" New Tone Air Calliope” was available in two models, the Model A with 43 brass whistles, and the larger Model B with 53 brass whistles. They were attractive looking instruments, with bright red cases and gleaming brass whistles symmetrically arranged in a pleasing way on stepped tiers. The location of Harrington’s original factory and showroom is unknown, but in The Billboard of November 19, 1949, under the heading "Flashbacks — 25 Years Ago" [which translates to 1924] is this terse snippet: "E. A. Harrington moved his calliope factory to Kansas City, Missouri." Probably soon thereafter Harrington produced an undated advertising flyer that gives his address as 706 Wyandotte Street, Kansas City, Missouri. In as much as Harrington reportedly moved to Kansas City in 1924, and the advertising flyer shows a Kansas City address, it seems reasonable to conclude that the promotional flyer might have been printed and circulated to promote his calliope business in that same year.

It is unknown whether Harrington offered the option for an automatic player system right from the get-go, or not. However, what is known for certain is that Harrington produced a simple folded advertising flyer (circa 1924, or later) that illustrated a Model B New Tone Air Calliope that featured an automatic music roll operated player system. Interestingly, the roll frame depicted in the flyer was made by Seeburg and it was a variation that was introduced circa 1923—the same year that Harrington supposedly began building calliopes. That particular roll frame design, with cast iron sides, is quite easily identified by the two metal rods, one above and one below, the tracker bar, which served to keep the paper snugly against the tracker bar. This type of roll frame was used in Seeburg coin pianos from 1923 onward whenever the roll frame was hung from an overhead shelf. To the left of the roll frame a Seeburg wind-motor is visible and whose purpose was to drive the roll frame. This same wind-motor design was used in Seeburg instruments, such as the Mortuary Organ, that did not have the usual mechanically driven pump and integrated friction drive used for roll frames common in Seeburg coin pianos. In as much as the roll frame specifically shown in Harrington advertisements was introduced in 1923 it seems reasonable to presume that by the time he set up operations in Kansas City (in 1924) the automatic player system had been perfected and made a featured option.

The evidence suggests that Harrington bought all of the automatic player components from Seeburg, using more or less standard off the shelf items, and then adapted them to fit into and onto the New Tone Air Calliope case design, which apparently could be had with or without an automatic player mechanism. The most glaring hint that the player mechanism might have not have been an originally unanticipated option is the way the player stack is mounted—over the back end of the keyboard and inside a long, cramped rectangular box that appears to be a clumsy extension to the original case design. The stack was a Seeburg 2-tier design introduced circa 1922, with relatively narrow pneumatics, and whose stickers pushed down on the keys close behind the ivory and black sharp coverings, a location that provided little mechanical advantage when pushing down against the valves in the pressure wind-chest situated directly underneath the keyboard. By dating some of the Seeburg components it seem reasonable to suggest that the automatic player option was introduced circa late 1923 or 1924, long before Harrington contemplated selling his interest in the calliope business.

In 1927 Harrington sold his interest in the air calliope business to H. R. Brandt, a businessman who supplied traveling show enterprises with product. Brandt moved all of the former Harrington assets to a new locations at 816 Bank Street, Kansas City, Missouri. The new business was organized as the National Calliope Corporation, and opened for business the following year. According to H. R. Brandt’s son, who was interviewed by Fred Dahlinger, after purchasing Harrington's assets "they pretty much re-engineered the calliope," but exactly what might have been changed from the original Harrington design is unknown. In any case, Harrington was no longer involved, and a few years later he opened his own traveling circus, Harrington's Nickle Plate Show, a depression era circus lasting three seasons and running between 1932 through 1934.

National New-Tone Calliope Logo.


It is with a great deal or pride that we call your attention to our improved NEW TONE calliope, which is positively the most perfect and finest constructed automatic or hand played air calliope ever placed on the market. It is built for great durability and its pleasing tone is unsurpassed.

The NEW TONE calliope is the result of many years of experimental work, and has proven to be the most effective advertising medium ever conceived. This popular instrument is being used by hundreds of representative showmen in every section of the United States, as well as numerous National advertisers. Prominent bands, skating rinks, amusement rides, excursion boats, etc.

The NEW TON£ calliope ls built in two sizes; the 43 whistle and the 53 whistle instruments. We can furnish both of these models in either automatic or hand played instruments, and the automatic instruments can also be hand played. The automatic instruments use ten tune music rolls, and we can give you a wide range to select from each month, consisting of a splendid selection of music to fit your individual requirements.

Our cabinets are constructed or high grade furniture steel, trimmed in brass. The whistles are constructed out of a special seamless brass tubing, manufactured according to our specifications. The valves are made out of a special alloy to prevent rusting and corrosion. The keyboard is standard and has a touch like a piano and can be played by any piano player. All parts of the NEW TONE calliope are made by skilled mechanics who are thoroughly schooled in calliope construction, and every operation is under the careful personal supervision of our Chief Engineer. The NEW TONE calliope is the last word in air calliopes. and is built to stand every test and to give our customers the maximum service and satisfaction.

The following pages Illustrate several complete outfits now being used by a few of our many satisfied customers. I trust we will sell you a NEW TONE calliope, which I know will positively please you and will rapidly pay for itself in the resulting increased volume of business.

Trusting: we will have the pleasure of serving you, we are,

Yours truly,


Advertising illustraion of a National Model B New Tone Calliope.

The National Calliope Corporation continued on making calliopes that were similar or nearly identical in appearance to those made by Harrington, including the use of the Seeburg automatic player system. In several National Calliopes examined precisely the same Seeburg roll frame (introduced in 1923) and wind-motor that had previously been pictured in the Harrington advertisements were observed. The 53-note Model B seems to have been the better seller, with some estimated 90% or more of the Harrington and National instruments being of this specification. This is possibly due to stiff competition by the Tangley Manufacturing Company (located in Muscatine, Iowa) and its aggressively marketed and popular 43-note Calliaphone, making the main advantage of the National Calliope a larger and more complete musical compass.

National noted that its instruments had the best tone, the loudest volume, and the best construction. Of the rolls it was said that “a splendid range of ten tune rolls is always available. The National Calliope automatically rewinds itself at the end of the roll and starts all over again. Music rolls are rapidly and easily changed. Machine can be played by hand when desired by simply shutting off a lever on the front of the cabinet. A new music roll catalogue is published monthly and contains new and popular selections. Music rolls are decidedly low in price—and are $3.50 for a single 10-tune roll or just $3.00 each in quantities of twelve rolls or more.

As a sidebar, some unknown number of National Calliopes were sold under the “Han-Dee” name. In 1926 the Haney-Deem Manufacturing Company, located at 431 West 5th Street, Kansas City, Missouri, advertised a calliope as follows: Announcing the Han-Dee True Tone Calliope for rides, rinks, shows, fairs, boats, bands, and outside advertising.


National Calliope Firm Sold to Dallas Builder

Kansas City, April 30.—Assets, patents and trade name of the National Calliope Co., which had been inactive for several years, have been sold by H.R. Brandt, founder of the firm, to Roy C. Lee Company of Dallas, Texas.

Lee, owner of the Company, which deals in theatrical lighting equipment, is a music machine collector who owns nine air calliopes in addition to the National purchase. He said he now plans to extend his calliope hobby into a business and will establish a small factory to build up to six National air calliopes yearly. They will be built from existing parts. New parts cannot be made, he said, because of the high cost of the necessary skilled labor.

Lee said Brandt had done show business a good turn by offering the equipment for sale rather than junking it for high scrap prices.

Brandt said here that in selling to Lee he believed he was accomplishing his aim of getting the equipment into the hands of someone interested in preserving calliopes and calliope equipment. Two trucks were used to haul the equipment from Kansas City to Dallas.

Brandt, who is active in other businesses, brought the Harrington Calliope Company in 1924 [Ed. Note: The National Calliope Co. was formed in 1927 and there was a report of the sale in that year.] and reopened it as the National Calliope Corporation the following year. The corporation was dissolved in 1935. Thereafter he operated as the National Calliope Company, but was limited largely to repair work. Skilled workers were lost during the war years, but later some returned on a part-time basis and they built a number of new machines. The last new National was sold to the Hadacol show about five years ago.

The Billboard, May 7, 1955

There is at least one glaring inaccuracy in the above Billboard article, in that Brandt bought the Harrington business in 1927, and not in 1924. That there are a few errors is perhaps excusable in as much as this article was written some three decades after the fact. Fred Dahlinger also questions the 1935 liquidation date, because the National Calliope Company offered a calliope for sale in 1936. He points out, however, that the business may have effectively and legally closed down in 1935, with residual sales only thereafter.


There is continuous interest among showman and public in calliopes, and these music machines are still being produced.

Calliopes traditionally were powered by steam, and now almost all of the are operated by compressed air. They are generally used around circuses and parades, while the dissimilar band organs are usually found at Merry-Go-Rounds, parks or carnivals.

Roy C. Lee [born in 1890] of Dallas, bought out the old National Calliope Corporation and both builds and reconditions calliopes more or less as a hobby. He is in the theatrical lighting business also.

He reports the calliope field is quite active with most buyers being collectors or Shriners. He delivered a 43-whistle calliope to the Winona, Minn. Historical Museum recently. Lee also built a 53-whistle National for a Lawrence Welk performance in Dallas. Parts for only five more 53-whistle jobs remain. After that, Lee reports, it will not be ecumenical to make more. Forty-three whistle models are being reconditioned, and some parts replaced with new ones. He has sold about 18 calliopes in seven years, limited largely by the amount of time he can devote to it. …

Repairs and tuning of calliopes are part of Lee’s activities, but he rarely deals in used equipment since used machines generally require complete overhauling.

The Billboard, April 7, 1958

From the above article it is probably reasonable to presume that the last so-called "National Calliope" was assembled by Roy C. Lee, using some mix of left over parts, probably within a year or two of 1958. So how does someone accurately discern the difference between a Harrington, National calliope or some kind of aberrated half-breed calliope? Fred Dahlinger, who has done extensive research into all things circus and band organ related, puts it perfectly: "Things get pretty murky when looking at various surviving instruments. There are all sorts of aberrations and oddities owing to: after-market practices; making do with what was available; replicas; and amateur efforts. Some Harringtons ended up with National nameplates. Brandt assembled a few National calliopes very late, which appear to differ from his earlier assemblies. Then Roy C. Lee did his thing with the parts residue in the 1950s and after. Some Tangleys ended up with Harrington or National whistles, and vice-versa. Jack Schott made replicas of Nationals, using the four whistle levels, but with Tangley style whistles, as did the late Dave Miner and perhaps Mike Hanchett, and perhaps others."

Artizan Air-Calio

The story of the Artizan Factories, Inc., rightly begins with a bit of history about The North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works, incorporated in December of 1906. The company's first contact with the Rand Corporation was for the printing of labels for its boxes of perforated music rolls. Over time the company began making wood and metal parts for the Rand Corporation's index card and record devices used in offices. During the later years of World War I, sales of band organs lagged, while at the same time the Rand Corporation eyed the North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works as a source of additional space already staffed with capable employees, as well as vacant property on which to further expand. These converging factors culminated in the sale of the North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works to the Rand Corporation.


Largest Portion of Musical Instrument Works to Be Used for the Making of Government Supplies.

The North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works, North Tonawanda, N. Y., has been purchased by James H. Rand of that city. The company of which Mr. Rand took charge last week is capitalized at $162,000. The company manufactures automatic playerpianos and other musical instruments, which will be continued, but the largest portion of the production of the plant will in future be bank supplies and fixtures in which the new owner has hitherto been interested. The expert employ of the musical instrument company will be retained under the new management.

The necessity for additional floor space by the Rand Company, of which Mr. Rand is head, led to the purchase of the North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works. The first named company is making supplies for the Government and will be considerably aided in the matter of space by purchase.

The Presto, July 4, 1918

After the Rand interests acquired control no more military band organs were manufactured, although older organs continued to be repaired and new music rolls were produced. Soon thereafter certain disgruntled early founders of the company left, and in 1922 formed the Artizan Factories, Inc., also to be located in North Tonawanda. The new company excelled at making high quality band organs and a few air calliopes, but never became a significant market force. Consequently, Artizan instruments are relatively rare today, and many of those that that do survive were converted by Wurlitzer to play Wurlitzer band organ rolls.

The Artizan Factories, Inc., broke ground on May 1 for the new building at the junction of Erie avenue and Division street, North Tonawanda. This firm, recently incorporated, plans to construct woodwork, including cabinets, for various musical instruments.

Newspaper Notice (date unknown)

The capital stock of the new Artizan enterprise was $100,000.00, and the officers were S. C. Woodruff, President; C. Maerten, Treasurer; F. Morganti, Vice President; and W. F. Schultz, Secretary. The new factory was a 4-story brick building, 40 x 130 feet, and it was heated by steam and operated by electricity. The company began manufacturing high quality band organs, which were available with either a standard rewind type roll setup, or alternately, an endless roll system. Artizan also undertook the repair of organs made by others, often converting cylinder organs, cardboard book organs, and paper roll played organs by other manufacturers to use Artizan music rolls.

Early Artizan Air-Calio in a band organ format. In 1927 and 1928 Artizan patented the Air-Calio, a calliope of sorts, but exactly what year the Air-Calio was introduced is still a mystery. One thing known for certain is that it was produced in limited quantities, resulting in perhaps only a half-dozen or so surviving specimens safely in the hands of collectors today. The Air-Calio appears to have started out looking more like a traditional band organ than a calliope, something on the order of a combination calliope and band organ (with an ornate band organ type facade in the same vein as a Wurlitzer Caliola). The poster that seems to introduce this "latest, most perfect and durable instrument of its kind," states that it was furnished with or without keyboard, and it played "65-note standard music rolls."

The instrumentation of this introductory Air-Calio is uncertain. Air-Calio #588, built in a band organ format but with a much later appearing facade and organ design, has instrumentation consisting of capped brass whistles plus loudly-voiced wooden flute pipes, which could be played by rewind type music rolls or from a keyboard located at the back of the instrument.

Confusing the issue, in the June 21, 1924, issue of New York Clipper (also known as The Clipper—a weekly entertainment newspaper published in New York City from 1853 up through 1924) was an advertisement for the Electrotone Air Calliope. The ad was placed by the Auto Music Company of New York City, who was at one time or another a sales agent for Seeburg, North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works, Artizan, and others. What is intriguing about the ad is the air calliope pictured looks like an early "platform" version of the Air-Calio, where three ranks of wooden pipes are arranged in ascending order by height on a flat platform that is partially enclosed on the top and sides, but fully open on the front. From the poor quality picture it cannot be determined if the instrument had a keyboard, or not. It was advertised as "Self Plays Five-Tune Endless Rolls." From the apparent depth of the case it seems that there is enough room for an endless roll mechanism and other components behind and below the pipework. Whether this instrument employed pressure bellows or an external blower arrangement cannot be determined.

The ad goes on: "Built simple and rugged. Demonstrations given agents for Artizan Band Organs. Best, Simplest, cheapest." And so from the wording of the advertisement it is probably safe to say that the Electrotone Air Calliope pictured was built by Artizan. Thus the Air-Calio, or what was to become one version of Artizan's Air-Calio, was being sold by mid-1924, and probably a bit earlier. As such, is looks as though this early "platform" design evolved into what was a more or less a traditional looking air calliope with brass whistles arranged symmetrically on a single unenclosed flat platform located at the front of the instrument, and with a keyboard and rewind roll mechanism housed in the raised case extension that also formed a backdrop for the pipework.

Puzzling togeather all of the diverse bits and pieces of evidence discovered to date, it appears that Artizan had at least two distinct Air-Calio designs, both of which significantly evolved in both appearance and mechanical design over the following years. The band organ format Air-Calio was housed in a more or less traditional looking band organ case, complete with an ornately painted facade, and that could be had with bass and snare drums. The other style, in sharp contrast, was offered in a what might be termed a "platform" format, which looked more like a normal air calliope as was built by Tangley and National. Both of the two observed Air-Calio styles employed the standard Artizan compressed air system. Whether or not both styles were produced up through the end of production, circa 1930, is unknown at this time. Moreover, there is no evidence to date suggesting that Wurlitzer carried on the manufacture of either Air-Calio styles after purchasing the Artizan assets at a bankruptcy auction in June of 1930.

Probably the most unique feature of all true Artizan built instruments is their all wind-pressure system, described thusly in the company's advertising: "Our Organs are the only instruments in this class of organs in which the Compressed Air system is used and are played by spooled music rolls. This system is a great improvement over the combined air and suction system used in other make of organs. It eliminates the suction system which creates over 75 per cent of organ troubles, saves labor and time, no tracker bar to clean, no screen to give trouble, no tracker joint to keep tight and simplifies the working parts over 50 per cent. Our system blows dust and dirt out of organ; other system sucks it in. This system is Patented, rights are to be carefully guarded."

Artizan used a unit valve system, so that each individual valve could be easily removed and repaired or replaced by a new unit. They are of a distinctly unique appearance, making them easily identified from the unit valves of any other manufacturer. The roll frame, available in either simplex or duplex format, was similar in appearance to roll mechanisms of other makers, except for one striking difference. Being that the pneumatic system was operated by air pressure, rather than by a partial vacuum, the paper had to be forcibly held against the tracker bar, a feat that was accomplished by using a slotted roller over the tracker bar. On each end of the slotted roller was a bearing that was spring loaded to keep the roller gently against the tracker bar, thereby ensuring proper tracking of the music roll.

Although the quality of the Artizan instruments was superb, sales had always lagged behind expectations. Artizan had never been able to effectively compete against such giants in the industry such as Wurlitzer. Then adding to the company's woes, by 1930 sales of automatic musical instruments had dropped off sharply, bring about the demise of the Artizan Factories.


A petition to bankruptcy was brought against the Kelsey Hard wood Lumber company of North Tonawanda, by S. E. Slaymaker and company of New York. The New York firm alleges a claim against the North Tonawanda firm for $1,048.21.

A petition in bankruptcy has been entered by the Artizan Factories, Inc., of North Tonawanda. The liabilities are shown as $74,627.38, the assets as $57,325.74 and the secured claims as #32,615.97.

Newspaper Notice, March, 31, 1930

Then in June of 1930 all of Artizan's assets and accounts receivable were sold to Wurlitzer at auction for a measly $4,000.


First meetings in two new cases from North Tonawanda were held by Referee Judson in bankruptcy court at Lockport last week.

Final adjournment was taken at the initial meeting in the case of David Greenwald, paper cutter. His liabilities were given as $787.13 with no assets.

At a continued first meeting in the case of the Artizan Factories, Inc., all assets and accounts receivable were sold to the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of this city at public auction for $4,000. Adjournment was taken until June 19.

Newspaper Notice, June 2, 1030

Thus it was to be that the grand dreams, aspirations, and effort that went into the North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works, and then the Artizan Factories, ended up in the hands of the Rudolf Wurlitzer Company. This part of the mechanical music story was done; an era had ended forever.

Gordon-Howard Calliope

Nothing much is known about the Gordon-Howard Calliope, other than it presumably had a keyboard, as well as some sort of pneumatic stack and music roll playing mechanism. In fact, the only reason it is mentioned here is that during the mid 1920s into the early 1930s the Clark Orchestra Roll Company repeatedly advertised that programs were especially arranged to play on Gordon-Howard Calliopes, National Calliopes, New Tone air Calliopes, Tangley Calliaphones, and all standard 65-note instruments. So if anyone "out there" knows anything about Gordon-Howard calliopes please contact the Mechanical Music Press at

Wurlitzer Caliola

Rear view showing closed view of Caliola.

The sprawling Wurlitzer Company was one of the most prolific manufactures and distributors of automatic musical instruments in the U.S., a purveyor of "all things musical." And yet, the Wurlitzer Caliola was a late starter in the calliope business, the Caliola being introduced in 1928. The Caliola is self-contained, with a standard set of vacuum and pressure bellows like most any contemporary Wurlitzer band organ, and was usually fitted with ordinary wooden flute pipes, but could be had with brass pipes in at least two configurations. It also came with or without drums (usually without)—and with the side mounted drum shelves attached the Caliola was similar in appearance to a small Wurlitzer Band Organ. In fact, Wurlitzer referred to the Caliola as an organ, not as an air calliope, and they were given the standard 4-digit serial numbers that were part of the regular number sequence shown in the Wurlitzer band organ ledgers. However, a keyboard for manual playing was an option for the Caliola, something not advertised as an option for Wurlitzer band organs. So, you might wonder, is the Caliola a type of band organ or is it a calliope? It could probably be argued both ways as to what it was, but, nevertheless, it was Wurlitzer's answer to the calliope market. Unfortunately for the Caliola it was introduced in 1928, at a point in history when the demand for all types of mechanical music machines was beginning to wane, as mechanical music was more and more being replaced by radio and the electric phonograph. But probably the final blow to any hope of robust sales was the October, 1929, stock market crash, which more or less ended the mechanical music business for many companies. Consequently, the Wurlitzer Caliola is somewhat rare; only 62 Caliolas were built from 1928 up through the early 1930s. Fortunately, a number of fine specimens survived the lean years and are now in the hands of appreciative collectors.

For Amusement Parks, Carouselles, Circus Riding Devices
and Outdoor Advertising

Just the instrument enterprising amusement interests have been looking forward to for years—something to attract the crowds—an entirely new musical instrument with a beautiful tone and remarkable volume. It plays from rolls or may be played by hand, creating beautiful musical effects. No class of amusement can afford to overlook this opportunity, as it is ideal for Circuses, Parks, Rinks, Riding Devices—in fact very amusement. As an outdoor advertising feature for Truck, Show Wagon or Ballyhoo Platform, there is no other instrument comparable to this New Wurlitzer Caliola.


44-note Flute Pipes, either Wood or Brass. Equipped with or without Keyboard. Plays ten-tune 65-note, Automatic Player Piano Roll. Operated by 1/4 H. P. Electric motor or 1-1/2 H. P. Gas Engine. Worm Drive Countershaft attached to case. Equipped with loud or soft volume control. Instrument can be furnished with Bass and Snare Drums at an additional charge.


Height to Top of Scroll, 5 feet, 4 inches. Height without Scroll, 4 feet, 8 inches. Width, 3 feet, 7-1/2 inches. Depth, 2 feet, 10 inches. Weight, 435 lbs., with countershaft and drive wheel.

(Wurlitzer Caliola Catalogue page courtesy of Q. David Bowers.)

Wurlitzer Caliola with wooden flute pipes.

According to the above catalogue page, the Caliola officially played a Wurlitzer ten-tune 65-note Automatic Player Piano Roll. But Wurlitzer at some point in time also began cutting Caliola rolls, which were identical in scale and tracker bar layout to the aforementioned 65-note Automatic Player Piano (APP) roll. In fact, the only easily discernible difference between the two types of roll was the roll label itself—one bore the title "Wurlitzer Automatic Player Piano, while the other displayed the title "Caliola." It is curious that the above catalogue statement did not mention the Caliola roll, an omission that suggests that maybe the actual cutting and availability of Caliola rolls were significantly delayed beyond the Caliola's introduction. But this is not the only mystery surrounding Caliola rolls. Some people who have examined both Caliola and 65-note APP rolls have opined that there was no difference in the musical arrangements, while others have asserted that some Caliola rolls seem to have arrangements more suitable for a pipe only instrument. Setting this argument aside for the moment, the 65-note Automatic Player Piano roll was intended to be played on coin pianos that also contained one or more ranks of pipes, in addition to drums, and so it could be reasoned that the APP roll was already at least marginally suited for the Caliola, an instrument containing only pipework, albeit with a musical scale only forty-four notes. Moreover, Wurlitzer roll masters have been observed that are marked for both APP and Caliola, which means that the same master was used to cut a Wurlitzer APP roll or a Caliola roll. This suggests that there was no difference whatsoever between APP and Caliola rolls. But not all APP/Caliola masters survive, and so it cannot be ruled out that a possibility exists that a few rolls might have been specially arranged for the Caliola. Whatever the possibilities, in the past when derelict Caliola's were discovered along with them was usually a nice library of both Wurlitzer Caliola and Wurlitzer 65-note APP rolls, and so it is obvious that both types of rolls were used interchangeably by operators—whether the rolls were designed to be co-mingled, or not.

Wurlitzer Brass pipe Caliola.

Anyone examining a Caliola, apart from the pipework, will notice the similarities to Wurlitzer band organs of the same mechanical era. The pressure bellows and integral reservoir were located at the bottom of the case; the vacuum bellows were screwed to the underside of the case top, with the separate vacuum reservoir mounted adjacent to the top of the case, but on the left hand side wall (when viewed from the rear). The crankshaft and interconnecting pump sticks were located on the right inside of the case (when viewed from the rear), with the crankshaft roughly centered between the top and bottom of the case. The roll mechanism was a standard Wurlitzer 10-tune roll frame, with a typical rewind trip and tempo control common in contemporary band organs. Underneath the roll frame shelf is a unit valve chest, either the Jameson chest with wooden unit valves in the earliest examples, or later, the four-in-one chest with die-cast valve bodies. (Although the Caliola was introduced at about the same time as the die-cast four-in-one valve, it is unknown if the earliest Caliolas originally had Jameson chests, or if all Caliolas originally had four-in-one valve chests and then a few were converted back to Jameson chests at a later time because the four-in-one die castings might have warped.) The valves provide vacuum to operate pneumatics that open the pallet valves in the pipe chest, blowing air into the pipes as called for by the music roll or keyboard.

Pipework in the brass pipe Caliope.

Where the Caliola differs remarkably from a common Wurlitzer built band organ is the way the drive train between the electric motor (on top of the case) and crankshaft was designed. Most Wurlitzer band organs had a large diameter flat belt pulley on the crankshaft, with a separate platform mounted motor and counter-shaft arrangement sitting on top of the case. The counter-shaft arrangement was necessary for speed reduction, so that the crankshaft normally rotated in the range of 70 to 75 RPM. Because of the close proximity of the manual keyboard to the crankshaft the traditional large pulley and counter-shaft setup was inappropriate for the Caliola. To resolve the problem Wurlitzer made use of an enclosed worm gear within a rugged cast iron enclosure that attached to the crankshaft and the back of the case. The powered worm gear shaft was at a right angle to the crankshaft, and protruded from the right hand side of the gear enclosure, whereupon a small pulley was attached to it that was, in turn, belted to an electric motor fastened to the top of the Caliola's case. This arrangement kept the pulleys and belting on the side of the case and safely away from the keyboard.

With Caliola's that had the keyboard option the keyboard was mounted on the bottom side of the roll frame shelf. The keyboard was fixed and could not be slid inward and out of the way. To protect the keyboard when the instrument was not in use, Wurlitzer used an ingenious upper back panel design. On traditional Wurlitzer band organs the roll mechanism was easily accessed by a pair of wooden doors that opened or folded outward and out of the way. But for the Caliola, there was a simple back panel that could be slid upward, raised and guided by a track on either side of the case. The keyboard cover and music rack was built into the raisable back panel, so that when it was lifted up both the keyboard and the roll mechanism were revealed.

Upside down Wurlitzer brass pipe Caliola.

Unlike all other manufacturers of air calliope type instruments, Wurlitzer did not refer to the brass pipes in the Caliola as whistles, but instead simply termed them brass pipes. The ratio of original wooden flute pipe models versus brass pipe Caliola's is unknown. The flute pipe instruments have the 44-wooden pipes arranged symmetrically behind the opening in the ornate front facade. But the capped brass pipe version, of which there are two distinct variations, tend to be spectacular in appearance. The most common style has the capped brass pipes standing upright on a chest and arranged symmetrically, while the other known variation has the capped brass pipes hanging upside down and with an internally housed Roots blower instead of the usual Wurlitzer vacuum and pressure bellows. It is speculated that the upside down Caliola, with the internal blower arrangement, was the latest Caliola design that Wurlitzer offered. Sadly, many new and marvelous innovations in mechanical music arrived on the scene too late, just as the market for automatic musical instruments was declining and about to forever go away.

Updating the Database and Reporting Errors

We cordially invite and solicit additional information for the database regarding Air Calliopes that are not in this list, and additional details for calliopes that are already listed but that have little available information.

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Last Updated on July 14, 2017

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Research by Fred Dahlinger, Glenn Grabinsky, Art Reblitz, Dana Johnson, Terry Smythe, Tim Westman, Dan Dohman, and Terry Hathaway. Text composition by Terry Hathaway.


Art Reblitz, Dana Johnson, Q. David Bowers, Tim Westman, Paul Manganaro, Joe Hilferty, and Terry Hathaway.