Electric Motors

used in American-made Coin Pianos and Orchestrions


Very often it is difficult to accurately date an automatic musical instrument due to the lack of availability of any original manufacturer's information, such as factory serial number ledgers or other tangible production records. When this is the case, arriving at an approximate date for an instrument can sometimes be elusive, but sometimes this feat can be achieved by dating ancillary equipment installed in the mechanical music device. One example of this is when the originally installed electric motor is still with the instrument.

Unfortunately, for early coin-pianos and orchestrions made through about 1910, the original electric motor is almost certainly missing, and for good reason, replaced by a later motor possibly of the same make and size, but of a different voltage or current type. The reason for this is that in the early days a confusing welter of AC and DC voltages ranging from 100 to 550 volts were commonly encountered, and for AC motors not only were there varying voltage standards, but different frequency standards that ranged from 25 cycles-per-second all the up to 133 cycles, all of which had to be taken into account depending upon where an instrument was shipped. Thus, as electrical power standards for appliance use gradually stabilized around the 110V-60 cycle motor, all of the old, obsolete, and now oddball motors installed during the earlier years had to be replaced if the coin piano or orchestrion was to enjoy continued commercial use.

Makers of American coin-operated pianos and orchestrions—Marquette, Nelson-Wiggen, Operators, Seeburg, Wurlitzer, and others—commonly used small electric motors, usually rated less than one horsepower, made by Holtzer-Cabot or Emerson Electric Company. Less commonly, motors made by Electric Specialty Co., Robbins & Myers, Inc., Westinghouse, and others were used. These companies also made most of the motors for American reproducing pianos, and somewhat larger motors for band organs.

The nameplates on certain motors include the names of the piano company and the motor manufacturer. On other nameplates, only the name of the motor company is included.

In the early 1980s, the owner of the Electric Motor Co., Inc., in Colorado Springs, Colorado, loaned Art Reblitz the 1977 Technical Manual produced by EASA, the Electrical Apparatus Service Association, Inc. This manual contained lists of then-current contact information for manufacturers of motors. Art’s letter to Emerson Electric Company evoked no response, but he happily received the requested information from Holtzer-Cabot, which we include under that heading below.

Following is a summary of the most common brands of motors found in automatic instruments that were made in the United States. We welcome additional dating or other pertinent information, which can be sent to for timely consideration.

Eck Dynamo and Motor Company

The Eck Dynamo and Motor Company was located in Belleville, New Jersey, and it was founded in 1901 by a Swede, Charles A. Eck. Eck produced high quality dynamos, motors, and electric fans in the 1900-1920 period. The company is said to have produced the first gear driven oscillating fan. Eck fan motors are moderately rare, and this author knows of no extant Eck motors surviving in any coin operated piano today.

About the only reason Eck motors are included here in the registry is because of recent research into the de Kleist Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company's 1903 to 1907 journals, whereupon it was discovered that Eck DC fractional horsepower motors were installed in various de Kleist made instruments, namely the Wurlitzer Pianino, 88 Note Player Piano and the Mandolin Quartette. Exactly when the first Eck motor might have been installed by de Kleist is unknown, but beginning in June, of 1906, motor descriptions for de Kleist instruments often include motor brand names, and sometimes even the motor's serial number. D.C. motors installed during this period of journal activity are oftentimes Eck 1/6 H.P. motors.

Electric Specialty Company

Electric Specialty Company (also known as Esco) was located in Stamford, Connecticut, and made electric motors, generators, and motor-generator combinations. Its small motors are frequently found in early Duo-Art reproducing pianos, particularly in uprights, and in grand pianos with a remote pump mounted in a separate cabinet.

According to David Junchen in his book Encyclopedia of the American Theatre Organ, Vol. II, “Electric Specialty supplied the vast majority of generators used in the golden age of the American theatre organ. Generators were often supplied along with organ blowers. Spencer, the country’s largest blower manufacturer, was located in nearby Hartford, Connecticut, and this proximity may partially explain the ubiquity of Electric Specialty generators.” (These small generators were often connected to the organ blower by a small flat belt, and they supplied low voltage direct current for operating the organ magnets and other electrical components.) Junchen goes on to describe their high quality, and describes how he once connected a coat hanger directly across the terminals of an Electric Specialty Co. generator rated at 15 amps. The output of the generator exceeded 100 amps and the coat hanger glowed red, but the generator never even got warm.

Unfortunately, some of the piano motors made by this firm don’t seem to measure up to the same high standard, as more examples seen by the author and his friends have needed rewinding than similar motors of other brands.

Emerson Electric Company

Emerson Electric “pancake” motor installed in a 1920s Nelson-Wiggen Style 8.The Emerson Electric Company was founded in 1890 by Alexander and Charles Meston in St. Louis, Missouri, to manufacture electric fans. By the 1920s it had became a prolific manufacturer of fractional horsepower electric motors, and today it is the largest maker of these motors in the world. Emerson Electric motors are one of the most commonly found brands in coin pianos, orchestrions, and reproducing pianos. Their nameplates often include a serial number, model, or style number, and electrical information for voltage, horsepower, AC or DC, amperage, etc. Many Emerson motors made during the coin piano era also have a very small two-letter date code embossed near the raised border, sometimes along one side of the nameplate. To date, we haven’t deciphered the code, but we continue to collect information in hopes of either figuring it out or receiving factory documentation in the future.

Examples of various Emerson Electric motor nameplates are included in the 1977 EASA manual, but none look like those commonly found on piano motors, and the date codes in that manual begin after the heyday of the electric piano.

The Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company

hcWhat was to become the Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company was founded in 1875 by the German immigrant Charles W. Holtzer. First known as the Holtzer Company, located in Brookline, Massachusetts, it initially specialized in simple electrical contrivances like doorbells, burglar alarms, electrical lighters for illuminating gas, and gas engine igniters. In 1880, Seth W. Fuller partnered with Holtzer, and the company then became known as Seth W. Fuller & Holtzer, and later as Fuller, Holtzer & Company. In 1889, Mr. Fuller left the company and George E. Cabot joined it, whereupon the company changed its name to Holtzer & Cabot, and was formally incorporated as Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company.

Between 1890 and 1915 the Company vigorously engaged its interest in telephone systems, achieving success with the invention of “noiseless generators” for central telephone exchanges, as well as coming up with other notable innovations. In 1915 the Holtzer-Cabot factory moved from Brookline to Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts.

The Signal Department made communication apparatus such as fire alarm systems, watchman clocks, and telephones. The Motor Department produced speed reducers and small motors, generally of a size less than one horsepower. The company became well-known and respected for its expertise in small motors, transformers, and communication equipment. However, in 1972, after ninety-seven years of operation, the company closed its doors. Its trademarks and remaining assets were sold to Eastern Air Products, located in Dover, New Hampshire.

On July 21, 1983, in response to an inquiry by Art Reblitz, he received a letter from the sales coordinator of Eastern Air Devices, stating in part “Holtzer-Cabot is alive and well in Dover, New Hampshire. We have looked through some of the old records we inherited when we purchased the product line for manufacture. Unfortunately, the only information we could come up with that might be of interest to you is a dated list of serial numbers. We have no other records indicating what units were sold for the piano industry.”

Included with the letter was a serial number list dated October 19, 1963, which includes typed numbers from 1900 through 1963, and handwritten numbers through 1972. We include here the numbers from 1900 through 1940, well beyond the end of the coin piano era.

Dating Holtzer-Cabot Motors

The Holtzer-Cabot information presented in the table below is herewith made available to assist enthusiasts, collectors, historians, and others in the dating of music machines (and perhaps other vintage equipment, too). But a caveat: We do not know if each serial number in the table below represents the first or last number for the year designated. However, in most piano listings that include Holtzer-Cabot motor numbers in the Seeburg and other databases in this web site, the piano serial number and motor serial number do fall date-wise within approximately the same year.

Holtzer-Cabot Letterhead Logo.
Holtzer Cabot Serial Numbers
Year S/N
1900 5,667D
1901 10,253D
1902 14,667D
1903 17,691D
1904 19,401D
1905 20,702D
1906 22,440D & 23,000
1907 30,582
1908 43,098
1909 51,804
1910 69,386
1911 92,728
1912 114,171 & 134,624
1913 No listing.
1914 158,531
1915 175,813
1916 188,513
1917 208,161
1918 239,638
1919 264,105
1920 302,106
1921 367,735
1922 396,404
1923 422,358
1924 468,809
1925 518,221
1926 561,509
1927 620,817
1928 658,228
1929 698,424
1930 751,285
1931 792,273
1932 814,722
1933 823,583
1934 832,309
1935 844,736
1936 868,278
1937 903,653
1938 956,827
1939 976,711
1940 1,004,721

Robbins & Myers, Inc.

Robbins and Myers electric motor installed in a Link Style R keyboard type coin piano.Motors manufactured by Robbins & Myers, Inc., are not commonly found in pianos made by major manufacturers like Wurlitzer, Seeburg, Operators, or Marquette, but they have been seen in certain Link pianos and may have been used in pianos made by smaller coin piano manufacturers.

Robbins and Myers was originally established in 1878 by Chandler Robbins and James Myers in Springfield, Ohio, near Dayton. Robbins had worked as an astronomer and surveyor, while Myers had been a teacher and grocer. Robbins had invested $500 in a gray-iron foundry in 1876, and was joined two years later by Myers. The new owners changed the company name from Lever Wringer Company to The Robbins & Myers Company, and initially manufactured castings for agricultural tools and machines, then broadened into bicycle parts when that industry boomed at the turn of the century.

The late nineteenth century development of direct current generators freed electric motors from the big, heavy batteries to which they had been bound and opened up a new universe of electric appliances. Robbins & Myers entered this burgeoning new market in 1897, when the company began manufacturing electric desk, ceiling, oscillating, and ventilating fans. Over the course of its history, Robbins & Myers developed into a full-line producer of electric fans, and later acquired the well-known Hunter brand of overhead fans. The company concurrently developed and began production of a series of small (under 15 horsepower) motors known in the industry as fractional motors. These motors were widely applied in household appliances like sewing machines, vacuums, washing machines, and refrigerators in the early twentieth century.

Robbins and Myers was also very active in other fields of endeavor. The company had manufactured rotary and force pumps as well as air compressors since the 1910s, but this business segment reached a critical turning point in the 1930s, when a new concept in pumping technology called the "progressing cavity pump" became available, which revolutionized the pump industry wherever thick, viscous, abrasive, and corrosive substances needed to be handled. Throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s the company was involved in building motors for the Norden bombsight. At war's end the company resumed its traditionally diverse product line. Robbins and Myers divested its electric motor operations in 1991.

Robbins and Myers Date Codes

During the coin piano era, date codes for this brand had two letters, the first indicating the year and the second for the month. The letter "I" was never used. Year codes begin with "A" in 1926, run through "H" in 1933, omit "I," resume with "J" in 1934 and continue through "Q" in 1940. The twelve months of the year began with "A" for January, through "M" for December, again omitting "I." Thus, the code "AA" represents 1926 January, and "QM" represents 1940 December.

Westinghouse Electric Corporation

cataRelatively few Westinghouse motors were used in automatic pianos, but some examples have been found in early Link pianos and in some Wurlitzer instruments. Two-letter date codes are known for motors made after 1930, but codes used during the busiest years of the coin piano era are unknown. Further information is welcome.

The Westinghouse companies and their myriad products cut a wide swath across the pages of U.S. history. Their founder and energizing force, George Westinghouse, was born in Central Bridge, New York, on October 6, 1846. He was the eighth of ten children, and when he was but ten years of age his family moved to Schenectady, New York, where he learned to work with machinery in his father's shop. It was in 1886 that he founded the Westinghouse Electric Company, which he soon renamed the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company in 1889. Westinghouse became famous for pioneering long-distance power transmission and high-voltage transmission using alternating current, receiving the rights for the first patent for alternating current transmission from Nikola Tesla.

George Westinghouse died in 1914, but he had spawned a series of some sixty highly successful companies over his lifetime. One of the more notable early firms was the Westinghouse AirBrake Company founded in 1869. The idea for the AirBrake came to him when he noticed the problems that manually operated brakes posed when attempting to stop trains. The company purchased CBS in 1995 and in 1997 sold off most non-broadcast operations and renamed itself CBS Corporation.


Eck Dynamo and Motor Company information courtesy of Durward Center.

Electric Specialty Company information courtesy of Dick Kroeckel and David Junchen.

Robbins & Myers, Inc. information courtesy of Dana Johnson and Rusty King

Holtzer-Cabot serial number and date information courtesy of Eastern Air Device via Art Reblitz

Westinghouse Small Motors Catalogue information courtesy of Dana Johnson

All other historical information compiled from various public domain sources.


Terry Hathaway