M. Welte & Sons, Freiburg and New York was a manufacturer of orchestrion
An orchestrion is a generic name for a machine that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra or band. Orchestrions may be operated by means of a large pinned cylinder or by a music roll and less commonly book music. The sound is usually produced by pipes, though they will be voiced...

s, organ
Organ (music)
The organ , is a keyboard instrument of one or more divisions, each played with its own keyboard operated either with the hands or with the feet. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument in the Western musical tradition, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria who is credited with...

s and reproducing pianos, established in Vöhrenbach
Vöhrenbach is a town in the district of Schwarzwald-Baar, in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It is situated on the Breg River, 12 km west of Villingen-Schwenningen....

 by Michael Welte (1807-1880) in 1832.


From 1832 until 1932, the firm produced mechanical musical instruments of the highest quality. The firm's founder, Michael Welte (1807-1880), and his company were prominent in the technical development and construction of orchestrion
An orchestrion is a generic name for a machine that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra or band. Orchestrions may be operated by means of a large pinned cylinder or by a music roll and less commonly book music. The sound is usually produced by pipes, though they will be voiced...

s from 1850, until the early 20th century.

In 1872, the firm moved from the remote Black Forest
Black Forest
The Black Forest is a wooded mountain range in Baden-Württemberg, southwestern Germany. It is bordered by the Rhine valley to the west and south. The highest peak is the Feldberg with an elevation of 1,493 metres ....

 town of Vöhrenbach
Vöhrenbach is a town in the district of Schwarzwald-Baar, in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It is situated on the Breg River, 12 km west of Villingen-Schwenningen....

 into a newly developed business complex beneath the main railway station in Freiburg, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

They created an epoch-making development when they substituted the playing gear of their instruments from fragile wood pinned cylinders to perforated paper rolls. In 1883, Emil Welte (1841-1923), the eldest son of Michael, who had emigrated to the United States in 1865, patented the paper roll
Music roll
A music roll is a storage medium used to operate a mechanical musical instrument. They are used for the player piano, mechanical organ, electronic carillon and various types of orchestrion. The vast majority of music rolls are made of paper...

 method , the model of the later piano roll
Piano roll
A piano roll is a music storage medium used to operate a player piano, piano player or reproducing piano. A piano roll is a continuous roll of paper with perforations punched into it. The peforations represent note control data...

. In 1889, the technique was further perfected, and again protected through patents. Later, Welte built only instruments using the new technique, which was also licensed to other companies.
With branches in New York and Moscow, and representatives throughout the world, Welte became very well known.
The firm was already famous for its inventions in the field of the reproduction of music when Welte introduced the Welte-Mignon reproducing piano in 1904. "It automatically replayed the tempo, phrasing, dynamics and pedalling of a particular performance, and not just the notes of the music, as was the case with other player pianos of the time." In September, 1904, the Mignon was demonstrated in the Leipzig Trade Fair
Leipzig Trade Fair
The Leipzig Trade Fair was a major fair for trade across Central Europe for nearly a millennium. After the Second World War, its location happened to lie within the borders of East Germany, whereupon it became one of the most important trade fairs of Comecon and was traditionally a meeting place...

. In March, 1905 it became better known when showcased "at the showroom
The word showroom has two distinct meanings including:-Marketing location:A showroom is a large space used to display products for sale, such as automobiles, furniture, appliances, carpet or apparel. The World's most famous locations for a showroom are the Champs Elysees in Paris or the 5th Avenue...

s of Hugo Popper, a manufacturer of roll-operated orchestrion
An orchestrion is a generic name for a machine that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra or band. Orchestrions may be operated by means of a large pinned cylinder or by a music roll and less commonly book music. The sound is usually produced by pipes, though they will be voiced...

s". By 1906, the Mignon was also exported to the United States, installed to pianos by the firms Feurich
Feurich was founded in 1851 in Leipzig by Julius Gustav Feurich and has been family operated for five generations becoming renowned for the quality of its pianos.-History:Artisanal piano making is a great tradition in Saxony...

 and Steinway & Sons
Steinway & Sons
Steinway & Sons, also known as Steinway , is an American and German manufacturer of handmade pianos, founded 1853 in Manhattan in New York City by German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg...

. As a result of this invention by Edwin Welte (1876-1958) and his brother-in-law Karl Bockisch (1874-1952), one could now record and reproduce the music played by a pianist as true to life as was technologically possible at the time.

Welte Philharmonic Organ

From 1911 on, a similar system for organs branded "Welte Philharmonic-Organ" was produced. Thirteen well-known European organist-composers of the era, among them Alfred Hollins
Alfred Hollins
Alfred Hollins was a respected English organist, composer and teacher who was a famous recitalist in Scotland.- Biography :...

, Eugene Gigout
Eugène Gigout
Eugène Gigout was a French organist and a composer of European late-romantic music for organ.-Biography:Gigout was born in Nancy, and died in Paris....

 and Max Reger
Max Reger
Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian Reger was a German composer, conductor, pianist, organist, and academic teacher.-Life:...

 were photographed recording for the organ , distinguished organists like Edwin Lemare
Edwin Lemare
Edwin Henry Lemare was an English organist and composer who lived the latter part of his life in the United States.-Biography:...

, Clarence Eddy
Clarence Eddy
Clarence Eddy was an American organist. He was married to singer Sara Hershey who established the Hershey Music School in Chicago....

 and Joseph Bonnet
Joseph Bonnet
Joseph Bonnet was a French composer and organist.One of the major French pipe organ players, Joseph Bonnet was born in Bordeaux. He first studied with his father, an organist at St. Eulalie. At the age of 14, he became official organist, first at St. Nicholas and almost immediately at St. Michael...

 were recorded too. The largest Philharmonic Organ ever built is in the The Salomons Centre of the Canterbury Christ Church University
Canterbury Christ Church University
Canterbury Christ Church University is a university in Canterbury, Kent, England. Founded as a Church of England college for teaching training it has grown to full university status and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2012. The focus of its work is in the education of people going into...

. This instrument was built in 1914 for Sir David Lionel Salomons
David Lionel Goldsmid-Stern-Salomons
Sir David Lionel Goldsmid-Stern-Salomons, 2nd Baronet was a scientific author and barrister.The son of Philip Salomons of Brighton, and Emma, daughter of Jacob Montefiore of Sydney, he succeeded to the Baronetcy originally granted to his uncle David Salomons in 1873...

 to play not only rolls for the organ but also for his Welte Orchestrion No. 10 from about 1900, which he traded in for the organ. One of these organs can also be seen in the Scotty's Castle
Scotty's Castle
Scotty's Castle is a two-story Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival style villa located in the Grapevine Mountains of northern Death Valley in Death Valley National Park, California, U.S.. It is also known as Death Valley Ranch...

 museum in Death Valley where it is played regularly during museum tours. An organ built for the HMHS Britannic
HMHS Britannic
HMHS Britannic was the third and largest of the White Star Line. She was the sister ship of and , and was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner. She was launched just before the start of the First World War and was laid up at her builders in Belfast for many months before...

 never made its way to Belfast due to the outbreak of the First World War. Today is it playing in the Swiss National Museum in Seewen
Seewen is a municipality in the district of Dorneck in the canton of Solothurn in Switzerland. Baslerweiher is a pond above the village.- Seewen murder case :...


Welte Inc.

In 1912 a new company was founded, the "M. Welte & Sons. Inc." in New York, and a new factory was built in Poughkeepsie
Poughkeepsie (city), New York
Poughkeepsie is a city in the state of New York, United States, which serves as the county seat of Dutchess County. Poughkeepsie is located in the Hudson River Valley midway between New York City and Albany...

, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. Shareholders were predominantly family members in the U.S. and Germany, among them Barney Dreyfuss
Barney Dreyfuss
Bernhard "Barney" Dreyfuss was an executive in Major League Baseball who owned the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise from 1900 to 1932....

, Edwins brother-in-law.
As a result of the Alien Property Custodian
Alien Property Custodian
An Alien Property Custodian was an office within the Government of the United States during World War I and again during World War II, serving as a Custodian of Enemy Property to property that belonged to US enemies.-World War I:...

 enactment, during the First World War, the company lost their American branch and all of their U.S. patents. This caused the company great economic hardship. Later the depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 and the mass production of new technologies like the radio and the electric record player in the 1920s virtually brought about the demise of the firm and its expensive instruments. Other companies with similar products like American Piano Company (Ampico) and Duo-Art
Duo-Art was one of the leading reproducing piano technologies of the early 20th century, the others being American Piano Company , introduced in 1913 too, and Welte-Mignon in 1905. These technologies flourished at that time because of the poor quality of the early Phonograph...

 also began to fade from the scene at this time.
From 1919 on, Welte built also theatre organ
Theatre organ
A theatre organ is a pipe organ originally designed specifically for imitation of an orchestra. New designs have tended to be around some of the sounds and blends unique to the instrument itself....

s. With the introduction of "talkies"
Sound film
A sound film is a motion picture with synchronized sound, or sound technologically coupled to image, as opposed to a silent film. The first known public exhibition of projected sound films took place in Paris in 1900, but decades would pass before sound motion pictures were made commercially...

 around 1927, this need began to also diminish and by 1931 production of these instruments was severely curtailed. The last big theatre organ was a custom built instrument for the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR, North German Broadcasting)
Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk
Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk was the organization responsible for public broadcasting in the German Länder of Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia from 22 September 1945 until 31 December 1955. Until 1954, it was also responsible for broadcasting in West Berlin...

 studio in Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

, still in place and still playing. Some other theatre organs of Welte are today in museums.

In 1932 the firm, now with Karl Bockisch as sole owner, barely escaped bankruptcy, and began to concentrate on the production of church organs and other specialty organs.

The last project of Edwin Welte was an electronic organ equipped with photo-cells, the Lichttonorgel or Phototone-Organ”. This instrument was the first ever which used analog
Analog signal
An analog or analogue signal is any continuous signal for which the time varying feature of the signal is a representation of some other time varying quantity, i.e., analogous to another time varying signal. It differs from a digital signal in terms of small fluctuations in the signal which are...

Sampling (music)
In music, sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a different sound recording of a song or piece. Sampling was originally developed by experimental musicians working with musique concrète and electroacoustic music, who physically...

In 1936, a prototype of this type of organ was demonstrated at a concert in the Berliner Philharmonie
Berliner Philharmonie
The Berliner Philharmonie is a concert hall in Berlin, Germany. Home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the building is acclaimed for both its acoustics and its architecture....

. The production of these organs - in cooperation with the Telefunken
Telefunken is a German radio and television apparatus company, founded in Berlin in 1903, as a joint venture of Siemens & Halske and the Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft...

 Company - was halted by the Nazi-government
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 because the inventor, Edwin Welte, was married to Betty Dreyfuss, who was Jewish.

The business complex in Freiburg was bombed and completely destroyed in November 1944.
This event seemed to obliterate the closely kept secrets of the firm and their recording apparatus and recording process appeared lost forever. But in recent years parts of the recording apparatus for the Welte Philharmonic-Organs and documents were found in the United States. It was then possible to theoretically reconstruct the recording process. The Augustiner Museum
Augustiner Museum
The Augustiner Museum is a museum in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. It is currently undergoing an extensive renovation and expansion, the first phase of which ended in 2010.The museum is located in a former monastery which was rebuilt between 1914 and 1923...

 of Freiburg keeps the legacy of the company - all that survived the Second World War.


  • Ossip Gabrilowitsch
    Ossip Gabrilowitsch
    Ossip Gabrilowitsch was a Russian-born American pianist, conductor and composer.- Biography :...

     plays for Welte-Mignon on July 4, 1905 Johannes Brahms
    Johannes Brahms
    Johannes Brahms was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene...

     Intermezzo in C major, Op. 119, No. 3 }
  • Arthur Nikisch
    Arthur Nikisch
    Arthur Nikisch ; 12 October 185523 January 1922) was a Hungarian conductor who performed internationally, holding posts in Boston, London and - most importantly - Berlin. He was considered an outstanding interpreter of the music of Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Liszt...

    plays for Welte-Mignon on February 9, 1906 Johannes Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 6}

External links


Das Welte-Mignon-Klavier, die Welte-Philharmonie-Orgel und die Anfänge der Reproduktion von Musik by Peter Hagmann (1984)
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