The Man Who Invented The Hammond

January 11, 2018

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.

Hammond

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.

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14 comments

  1. Mark Thomas
    Reply

    His motivation for the orgen came from the desire to provide an affordable organ for churches that could not afford a pipe organ.
    As far as artists go …. Don’t forget Milt Buckner, Richard Groove Holmes, Rhoda Scott and Joey DeFrancesco, a couple of Jazz greats – not just pop-rocks.

      1. Rick Bilkey
        Reply

        Magic Carpet Ride was on a Hammond organ. Model M-100 to be exact! No one I’m aware of used a Lowry (save) Joey Dee & The Star lighters. When Felix Cavaliere left Joey’s band, he (reportedly) purchased a B3/Leslie & dumped the Lowry in the East River!

        1. Gregory Barrette
          Reply

          Garth Hudson of The Band played Lowry’s exclusively. He is a complete genius, but I’ve never understood is attraction to those organs. Of course, he makes them sound wonderful.

  2. RJ
    Reply

    Picked up an M-2 @ thrift store, replaced power cord, lubed Tonewheel gears/axles. Few days later we were playing classics! Thanks Lauren!

  3. Alex Riddick
    Reply

    That was a great selection of artists on the organ. You really did a great job and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There is some room for Shirley Scott and Rhoda Scott there not sisters but soul sisters. I have through the years loved Fats Waller’s organ work and Don Patterson on Prestige Records and the man who made the record Honk Tonk famous Bill Doggett.who popularized the organ in R&B and Soul Music. Thank you for your choices.

  4. Chris S
    Reply

    Another monster Hammond player is the great jazz/funk/ rock artist Brian Auger, with his band Oblivion Express. Saw him in Leeds UK last year. Still brilliant in his 70s!

  5. Gregory Barrette
    Reply

    Mr. Hammond’s top salesman, Porter Heaps, who also wrote the organ instruction book that I grew up on, was chastised by the man for hooking up a Leslie speaker to it and marketing it as a popular music instrument. He said that Mr Hammond saw it as a substitute for a pipe organ and wanted it devoted exclusively to classical music. Porter Heaps claimed to me that he responded “you want to sell organs, don’t you?” He was in his eighties when he met Leslie, who was Leslie, who was in his nineties. Leslie told him that he made him a millionaire. I met Porter when he played the organ for my church services in the 1980s in Palo Alto.

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