Wurlitzer Automatic Harp Rollography

Wurlitzer Style "A" and "B" Automatic Harp Rolls

The Wurlitzer Automatic Harp

Wurlitzer Automatic Harp -- Style A.Wurlitzer advertised the Automatic Harp thusly:

Majestic in appearance and noted for the soft, refined, exquisite character of its music. The picking of the strings by tiny, automatic fingers, almost human in their action, is a marvelous operation. Belt driven mechanism.

Height, 6 ft 6 in. Width, 3 ft. Depth, 2 ft. Shipping weight, 515 lbs.

Price, with Electric Motor and 1 music Roll, 6 selections. . . . $375

Originally the Wurlitzer Automatic Harp bore no model designation, there being only one design available. Then, in 1907, when a new case style resembling a real harp was introduced, the original harp design was designated the Style A Automatic Harp, while the new design was the Style B Automatic Harp.

Rollography Project Goals

The purpose of the Wurlitzer Automatic Harp Rollography Project is simply to present what little music roll information is currently known. The automatic harp, while certainly interesting and a musical novelty for sure, has been somewhat overlooked in terms of technical writing and music roll information. This should not be entirely unexpected, because only about 1,500 harps were originally manufactured, and, consequently, due to a relatively low survival rate, it is now a rarity. Thus, relatively few collections have a Wurlitzer Automatic Harp, and so familiarity with this odd automatic musical instrument remains low. However, this page at least partially corrects any previous technical writing oversight by providing a rollography of all 8 and 6 tune harp rolls known to have been cut according to the original Whitlock music roll ledger.

John William Whitlock, the hero in the automatic harp story, was a self-taught inventor who owned a novelty shop and factory in Rising Sun, Indiana, which is only about 35 miles upstream from Cincinnati. In 1899 J. W. Whitlock patented a self-playing harp. Then, sometime circa 1904-1905, he took six of his self-playing harps to nearby Cincinnati, Ohio, and placed them in commercial locations. In a stroke of good luck, it was in the spring of 1905 when Howard Wurlitzer strolled into a café not far from his office and discovered one of Whitlock's coin-operated self-playing harps. Howard, aggressive and always looking for an opportunity, sought out Whitlock and made arrangements for Wurlitzer to be the exclusive distributor.

Interior of the Wurlitzer Style B Automatic Harp.A contract between Whitlock and Wurlitzer was signed mid 1905, which committed Wurlitzer to buy 1,000 self-playing harps at $200.00 each, delivered f.o.b. the wharf boat at Rising Sun. Wurlitzer was granted two options, each one for 500 additional harps at a price of $125.00 per unit. Each option had to be exercised prior to the expiration of the previous order. All seemed to be going well and J.W. Whitlock and Company flourished and a new factory building was put up to accommodate the building of automatic harps.

Whitlock automatic harp master rolls resting comfortably and safely in a drawer.But the once flourishing romance with the Wurlitzer Automatic Harp was to be short lived, and circa 1910 Wurlitzer abruptly canceled its first contract option with Whitlock for an additional 500 harps. A breach of contract legal battle ensured, with both sides seeking remuneration for damages incurred. While automatic harp production stopped circa 1910, the last music roll cut for the automatic harp was roll #238, which was listed in the October, 1917, Wurlitzer Monthly Roll Bulletin. No more Automatic Harp roll are listed in the Wurlitzer Monthly Roll Bulletins after this point in time. So, then, who was cutting automatic harp rolls during and after the legal tangle between Whitlock and Wurlitzer? Did Wurlitzer at some point begin cutting harp rolls in its massive North Tonawanda facility? The evidence (referring to the Whitlock music roll records) seems to suggest that some arrangement continued to exist with J. W. Whitlock and Company for the cutting of harp rolls, which continued up until the last harp roll was cut, circa 1917, and possibly as late as 1918.

  For a more detailed accounting of J.W. Whitlock, his company, and the Wurlitzer Automatic Harp please visit the Crandall Library web site.

Wurlitzer Automatic Harp Tracker Scale
1. Not used.
2. Rewind
3 to 62. Playing harp notes F-E
63. Shutoff
64. Nickel drop.
Box label for harp music roll #104.
When a nickel is dropped into the coin slot it bridges two contact points and starts the motor. When a tune ends, tracker hole 64 simultaneously causes the nickel to drop and closes a switch to keep the motor running. Then hole 63, which follows closely behind hole 64, opens the switch and shuts off the motor. This somewhat complicated arrangement was probably used to prevent the nickel from being "welded" to the contact points due to inductive arching (or kickback) when the motor is shut off and its magnetic field suddenly collapses.

The Wurlitzer Automatic Harp Rollography Database

Page #1 from the J. W. Whitlock and Company's "Music Rolls Record" ledger.Data for the Wurlitzer Automatic Harp Rollography comes from two sources, the Whitlock "Music Rolls Record" ledger, with a rubber stamped date on the ledger cover of August 11, 1905 (ledger copy courtesy of Bob Gilson), and from numerous Wurlitzer Monthly Roll Bulletins from between 1913 and 1917. The Whitlock ledger is handwritten up through roll #92, and thereafter, beginning with roll #93, a Wurlitzer harp roll label was pasted into the ledger to enumerate the music selections for each roll. However, one Wurlitzer label was missing and it looks as though that particular label was never pasted into the ledger space set aside for roll #122. Thus, the titles for this one roll remain a mystery.

There were numerous challenges in deciphering the somewhat ornate handwriting, sometimes because of sloppy handwriting or overwritten characters, titles, and/or composer names, other times because of poorly copied handwriting due to light and/or faded script. In all cases, however, where interpretation was questionable, ample time was spent researching the title and/or composer(s) via the Internet to correct any errors and/or deficiencies. In some instances, where research was involved, abbreviated composer names were "expanded" to show the full name. In contrast, all text that was easily and/or perfectly readable (and when no research was necessary) was entered into the database verbatim, which means that any original Whitlock ledger errors may have been accurately carried through into the database.

 The J.W. Whitlock "Music Rolls Record" ledger is unique in that it details all of the Wurlitzer Automatic Harp music rolls cut, except for one roll. The ledger entry for roll #122 is empty, although the master roll #122 does exist, and so roll #122 was almost certain cut and distributed. It is unknown why this one Wurlitzer label is missing. Nonetheless, this rollography fortuitously contains what may be next to ALL of the harp roll titles known to have been arranged and cut by Whitlock for Wurlitzer. Even with any inherent errors, the rollography represents a valuable compendium of early Wurlitzer titles for the music historian and collector alike.

Submitting New Music Roll Information

Image of the music roll box label for Wurlitzer Harp music roll #146.Please note that partial information from damaged roll labels can be very useful, and can often be used to match up and complete otherwise incomplete tune title and/or composer information. For examples and suggestions on how to submit images click here or on the thunmnail image at right.

If Sending a Hand-Typed List

If Sending Photographs of Roll Labels

Thank you for any assistance you may provide. Information submitted will be added to the music roll database and/or will be very helpful in confirming that data already collected is correct. Some of the catalogued data has come from old typed lists or nearly illegible box labels, for which no known original roll exists, and so every bit of new data can be very useful in compiling a more complete and accurate database of rolls.

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Distribution of Database Information
Last Updated October 31, 2011

Download the current database report as a PDF
by clicking on the top button, or report more
music rolls by clicking on the bottom button.
Download the Wurlitzer Automatic Harp Rollography Report.
40 pages.
Version of Oct. 31, 2011
Download the All Catalogued Wurlitzer Tunes Report.
129 pages.
Version of Oct. 31, 2011
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All database report information is offered "as is," without any guarantee or warranty whatsoever of any kind, neither stated, implied, nor inferred, as to the accuracy, correctness, exactness, suitability, or usefulness of any content.


Bob Gilson, Art Reblitz, Q. David Bowers; and Dick Hack. Rollography compiled by Terry Hathaway

Photographs / Graphics:

Bob Gilson, Dick Hack, and Terry Hathaway