Robert Hope-Jones articles and photos (Puget Sound Pipeline, 2012-08 and 2012-10)
Hope-Jones, 1859–1914, was a brilliant innovator, whose inspirations in the field of organ design and building contributed to possibly the finest musical product to ever come out of America—the mighty Wurlitzer!
No person in the long history of the organ-building craft can have been the sub- ject of more criticism, or more praise, than Robert Hope-Jones.
Born February 9th, 1859, the third of seven sons and two daughters, he was a highly strung, nervous and sickly boy, often subject to deep fits of depression. Ill health prevented him from attending school until his teen years, thus a tutor was employed to teach him at home and in the South of France, where he was sent on occasion to escape the cold damp conditions of the area. Owing to this disruption to his early years, he spent little time with other chil- dren his age, and found consolation playing and studying music.
At the age of nine he proved to be a capable church organist playing at one church, all three services on a Sunday. At the age of 15, his health having improved tenfold, Robert was enrolled at Birkenhead School where shortly he was appointed or- ganist and choirmaster in the large chapel. Leaving school at 17, he was apprenticed to Lairds of Birkenhead, who were ship- builders and engineers. During his employ- ment with Lairds, he was to spend time in engineering and drafting shops, learning the skills that were to benefit his career in later years.
Although at this time he felt it necessary to relinquish his job playing organ, Rob- ert’s inventive mind had been busy at work devising means to improve existing organ actions of the time. With assistance from his choir members at St. John’s Church, Birkenhead, he spent a great deal of money rebuilding the church pipe organ with these new ideas. Members of his choir who as- sisted him in this task were later to hold po- sitions in the Hope-Jones Organ Company formed later in Britain.
On leaving Lairds, Robert took a posi- tion with the Lancashire and Cheshire Tele- phone company where he rose to become the company’s chief electrician. It was while there that he conceived the ‘diaphone’—a large scaled fog horn for marine use. The diaphone was later redesigned and scaled for use in the pipe organ. By 1899, Robert’s interest in the organ had become so great the he relinquished his job with the telephone company to devote full time to his new vocation. During this time many organs were built for him by other notable English organ-builders on a sub-contract basis for distribution the world over.
Robert’s ideas were too avant-garde
Traditionalists attacked Robert’s ideas on organ design, the likes of which had never before been seen. They resented his ideas of electrifying the internal mechanics of the organ. His first instrument employing elec- tric action was St. John’s Church, Birken- head, done in 1886 when he was only 27 years old. Many Hope-Jones organs were maliciously interfered with in England and later America. Ridiculous rumors of fires caused by his electrifications were spread. Sadly, this gave the invention a bad reputa- tion, and it was blamed for any fault in an organ his critics could come up with. The trifling electric current—derived from dry batteries—could not possibly have caused the fires so much talked about. The voltage was only 10-12 volts DC.
Robert left England for America
Upset with the reception of his ideas in England, Robert departed the coun- try to America, taking up with the Austin brothers, two Englishmen building small church organs. He later spent time with two other American organ builders and in 1904 when with the Skinner Co., produced some remarkable changes in organ build- ing. At Skinner he directed the building of his first organ of magnitude for the Park Church, Elmira, New York. This organ marked the practical beginning of Hope- Jone’s electrical extension and unification system, whereby one rank of pipes is made to play at various different pitches. Also this marked the introduction of the Hope-Jones idea of inclined or slanted keyboards for the convenience of the player. Additionally this was the first organ to be built with the famous ‘horseshoe’ or cinema-type console.
Hope-Jones Organ Co. re-established
His relations with Skinner Co. were not good. Having been able to secure contracts for two organs on the ‘quiet,’ Robert severed connections with that firm and re-established the Hope-Jones Organ Company. A principal sponsor in assisting the beginning of the firm was author Mark Twain. This period marked the culminating point in Hope-Jones’ career in the United Bellingham’s Mt. Baker Theatre Organ Society has disbanded Sadly, MBTOS has decided to disband due to shrinking attendance and support. Their last several concerts were attended by only about 35, according to Bill Charles, long time “spark plug” behind the group. Bill states that the theatre will take over managing the use of the Wurlitzer. With its great publicity network, it reaches a much larger group of people than the club was able to reach. The theatre will continue to use the organ, presenting concerts and silent movies. Bill and other enthusiasts are very hopeful that everything will work for the best for everyone. The organ will be maintained the same as in the past, with many of the theatre organ society mem- bers volunteering to keep it up. Upgrades that have been on the drawing board for several years are moving forward, includ- ing a new relay and other improvements. The Mt. Baker Wurlitzer is one of just four remaining original theatre organ in- stallations in Washington. The others are in Seattle’s Paramount, Tacoma’s Temple Theatre, and Mt. Vernon’s Lincoln The- atre. States. He was now free to do as he pleased with no restrictions and could do more or less what he pleased with the design of his instruments. The company was located in Elmira, New York, and during its existence (1907-1910) many organs were built. It was during 1907, despite the build- ing of many instruments, Robert once again found himself in financial trouble. A notable organ built during this time by the company was a remarkable instrument for the Ocean Grove Auditorium in New Jer- sey. It was entirely different from any organ existing at that time and created a great deal of interest in musical circles. At the invitation of Robert Hope-Jones, officials of the Rudolph Wurlitzer Manu- facturing Company were invited to view the Ocean Grove organ. They were so taken with the instrument that negotia- tions were quickly underway organizing the absorption of the Hope-Jones Co. by the Wurlitzer Co. In May, 1910, Robert and key members of his staff moved to North Tonawanda, New York, to take up resi- dence at the huge Wurlitzer factory...