There was once a man who invented an automatic transmission system for cars, a type of 3-D glasses, a synchronous clock motor and infrared devices. But none of those are why he’s crossing our radar. Those of us who love rock, pop and jazz respect him most for the invention that he gave his name to. We’re talking about Laurens Hammond, the creator of the Hammond organ.
This pioneer, born on 11 January 1895 in Evanston, Illinois, already had numerous inventions under his belt by the time he perfected the musical instrument that would go on to adorn so many great records. He had won his degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University during World War I, and worked privately on a number of brilliant technological advances, including a silent clock that encased the spring motor in a soundproof box.
To celebrate Laurens’ vital role in the advancement of popular music, here’s our playlist of some of the great tracks in music history to put his fantastic invention in the spotlight, starring Jimmy Smith, Booker T and the MGs, Procol Harum and many more.
Hammond’s automatic transmission system was turned down by Renault, but he went on to develop the synchronous motor that would be the basis of both his clock and organ discoveries. By his early 30s, he’d formed his own Hammond Clock Company, which later became the Hammond Instrument Company and then, in 1953, the Hammond Organ Company.
Even by the 1930s, Hammond had a fascination for the sounds coming from the phonograph turntables in his laboratory, and started to explore the idea of producing musical tones by electric synthesis. By 1934, with John M. Hanert, he’d come up with the design for what became the Hammond organ, a machine with 91 small tonewheel generators, rotated by that synchronous motor of his.
The harmonic drawbars above the keyboard created the chance to mix millions of different tones. The organ was first manufactured in 1935, and millions of keyboard players — especially of his celebrated B-3 — have been in Mr. Hammond’s debt ever since.