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An Organ A Day

The Enterprising Spirit of M.P. Moller

Bynum Petty
January 6, 2014

230 pp.

75 illustrations

ISBN: 978-1576472439

Paperback 7X10 With CD $54.00


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Mathias Peter Möller was a small man—only 5'-8" in height, but he was a giant among his peers. To achieve the title "Dean of American Organbuilding," he had extraordinary intuition and acted on it with epic ambition and energy. Not only was he the founder of the world's largest organ company, producing an organ a day, but he also owned automobile companies, hotels, banks, railroads and power companies. He was proud of his Danish heritage and equally proud of his contributions to the business-, cultural- and religious-life of Hagerstown, Maryland. An Organ a Day: The Enterprising Spirit of Mathias Peter Möller tells the story of his life and work. The book is neither a biography of Möller nor is it an exhaustive history of the largest organbuilding company in the world, the scope of this endeavor being intentionally limited to the lifetime of the company’s founder. Rather, it is a collection of related essays focusing on significant events in the life of M.P. Möller and his enterprises. Rich with previously undiscovered source material found in the Library and Archives of the Organ Historical Society, the book's 22 appendices contain the first-ever published complete Möller opus list—arranged both chronologically and by region. There are also copies of Möller, Whitelegg, Felgemaker and Roosevelt organ patents; copies of tonal director Richard Whitelegg's pipe scales; stop-lists of famous organs; dozens of factory and family photos and the astonishing diary written by Möller during his European tour of 1921. Over a period of nine years Bynum Petty, Archivist of the Organ Historical Society, has woven together the story of this remarkable man and his wondrous enterprises. Petty's monograph promises to be a classic in the history of American organbuilding.
March 1, 2014

April 11, 1872, an 18-year-old Danish immigrant named Mathias Peter M0ller stepped off the SS Silesia onto American soil at the Castle Garden Immigration Facility in lower Manhattan. With what amounted to eleven U.S. dollars in his pocket, one wonders if he had any inkling that he was the stuff of the American dream, and that he would become the founder of the world's largest organ company and be deemed "the dean of American organ builders." Having trained as a woodworker in his native Denmark and apprenticed for two years with organ builders Derrick & Felgemaker in Erie, Pa., he wrote, "I was not a musician - I was just a woodworker. It seemed to me the finest thing in the world that could be done with wood was to make it into an organ."

In An Organ a Day: The Enterprising Spirit of M .P. Moller, author Bynum Petty (archivist of the Organ Historical Society and himself an organ builder) explores the significant events in the life of M.P. Möller and his enterprises in a series of eight essays. Petty acknowledges it is neither a biography of Möller nor an exhaustive history of the M.P. Möller Organ Company. Rather, with its consideration confined to Möller's lifetime (September 29, 1854-April 13, 1937). An Organ a Day is the remarkable story of an epic entrepreneurial spirit.

Born Mathias Peter M0ller, he eventually became M.P. Miller in America and finally M.P. Möller when he settled in the German community of Hagerstown, Md., at the age of 27. There, his energy, ambition , and savvy would build two factories (the first lost to fire) and create an extraordinary enterprise that, at its heady peak, produced an astounding one organ per day. From 1885 until Möller closed its doors for the last time in 1992, the company produced, by one count, a staggering 11,830 pipe organs.

Although little is known about Möller's formal education (he began an apprenticeship in carriage making at the age of 15). His intelligence and exuberant business acumen would see him succeed in a variety of endeavors. He eventually owned the M.P. Möller Motor Car Company, whose luxury model was named the Dagmar (after his daughter, herself named after a Danish princess). He built and owned the Dagmar Hotel in downtown Hagerstown, and sat on the boards of a variety of organizations. From his own bank, he loaned money so clients could purchase pipe organs!

An Organ a Day is also an intriguing study in the evolution of the American pipe organ. Petty's essays explore the progression from Möller’s late 19th-century, classically inspired tracker organs through the unit organs and exclusive use of electro-pneumatic actions of the 1920s, and into the beginning of tonal reform in the early '30s. One essay is devoted to the legacy of Richard Whitelegg, the English voicer, who, by 1931, was already encouraging Möller toward clarity and cohesion of sound through lower wind pressures and complete principal choruses. The text also discusses Whitelegg's interest in electronically reproducing pipe organ sound. The culmination of nine years of research and study by Bynum Petty, An Organ a Day abounds with previously undiscovered source material. In addition to a variety of period factory and family photographs, 22 appendixes include copies of Möller, Whitelegg, Felgemaker, and Roosevelt organ patents; stop lists of famous Möller organs; copies of Richard Whitelegg's pipe scales, and pages from the diary of M.P. Möller describing, in his own words, his thoughts and impressions of Copenhagen, Oslo, and visits with family during a 1921 tour of Denmark and return to his homeland. Two final appendixes, presented in CD format, contain the first-ever complete Möller opus list, arranged both chronologically and by location. Numbering 855 pages in length, this catalog is an impressive tribute to an amazing 107 years of organ building.

An Organ a Day: The Enterprising Spirit of M.P. Moller is an engaging and compelling work about a life and a company deeply colored by courage, intelligence, a bold and keen and even cunning business prowess, and an industrious resolve thoroughly comfortable with American excess. For generations of organists, M.P. Möller helped to define what the American organ was and was to become. An Organ a Day is a superb and fitting addition to the account of American organ building, and will be of particular value to those with an interest in American organ building and its history, and to the many organists, organ builders, service people, and tuners who have had experience with Möller organs. As one of those organists, I couldn't put it down.

Thomas Brown
The American Organist

Bynum Petty:

Archivist of the American Organ Archives of the Organ Historical Society. Previously, he was a founding member of Petty-Madden Organbuilders of Hopewell, New Jersey, from which he is now retired. He lives in rural central New Jersey, where he is frequently seen hiking along woodland and mountain trails.

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