A Brief Hammond History

Three inventions inspired Laurens Hammond (1895–1973), a manufacturer of electric clocks, to construct and market a compact electromechanical organ with tonewheel sound generation. The Telharmonium by Thaddeus Cahill was the musical inspiration; Henry Ford’s mass production methods and the domestic synchron clock motor were the other factors.

The Telharmonium (built around 1900) was the first musical instrument that made use of electromechanical sound generation techniques. Its immense tonewheel generators filled a two-story building in New York. For a short period around this time, subscribers could order Telharmonium music over the New York telephone network (the streaming audio system of the time). The only amplification tool was the telephone’s mechanical diaphragm, as a proper tube amplifier and acceptable speakers had not yet been invented. The Telharmonium was a commercial flop, but its historical status as the predecessor of modern electronic musical instruments is undeniable. The Telharmonium also introduced the principles of electronic additive synthesis (see Additive Synthesis with Drawbars).

Laurens Hammond began producing organs in 1935 in Chicago, Illinois, making use of the same sound generation method. However, he used much smaller tone generators and fewer registers. The patent for his model A organ dates from 1934.

Hammond also holds the patent for the electromechanical spring reverb, still found in countless guitar amplifiers today.

The Hammond B3 was manufactured between 1955 and 1974. It is the Hammond model preferred by jazz and rock organ players, such as Fats Waller, Wild Bill Davis, Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith, Keith Emerson, Jon Lord, Brian Auger, Steve Winwood, Joey DeFrancesco, and Barbara Dennerlein.

In addition to the B3, there are a number of smaller Hammond instruments, known as the spinet series (M3, M100, L100, T100). Bigger console models, many of which were designed to suit the needs of American churches or theatres (H100, X66, X77, E100, R100, G-100), were also manufactured.

The production of electromechanical organs ceased in 1974. Thereafter, Hammond built fully electronic organs.

The Hammond name lives on in the Hammond-Suzuki range of electronic drawbar organs, starting with the 2002 release of a digital B3 model that mimics the design and functions of the classic B3 (without the weight). This model, as well as newer units, can be partnered with real, mechanical, rotor speaker cabinets, also from the company.