Wild Air

Mathias Peter Moller (1854-1937) the business genius behind the Moller pipe organ.

In the history of the pipe organ, especially in America, the name M.P. Moller stands apart.  In well over a century of organ building, Möller produced a staggering number of pipe organs – over 11,000.  Considering the complexity of each instrument, this is a huge number, and makes Moller not only the largest builder in the world, it makes this Hagerstown, MD firm the largest builder ever.  Moller built some of the largest organs in the world, including the celebrated organ at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  They also build some of the tiniest.  At different times, they built mechanical action (tracker) organs, tubular pneumatic organs, and electropneumatic organs.  They built for churches, schools, and civic auditoriums.  During the short heyday of the theater pipe organ, they built many of them as well, including the giant organ in Atlanta’s Fox Theater, an organ known simply as “Mighty Mo”. 

Of interest to us, they built the organ for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Shelbyville, much of which is now becoming part of the new Reynolds Associates pipe organ under construction.

Eighteen-year-old Mathias Peter Moller arrived in New York City in the spring of 1872, after a three-week ocean voyage from his native Denmark.  According to Bynum Petty’s book, An Organ A Day, The Enterprising Spirit of M.P. Moller, young Mathias arrived with seven gold dollars in his pocket, which he exchanged for eleven paper dollars, and thereby made his first profit on his first day in his new home.  In a time when entrepreneurship was encouraged and success admired, Moller’s hard work, combined with very considerable business skills, would bring him that success, along with personal wealth and community standing.  In addition to the organ business, which eventually flourished in Hagerstown, Moller also started a luxury car company, was on the board of the local bank, owned a music store, and was a hotelier.  By all accounts, he was a deeply religious man, and he remained attached to his home country of Denmark all his life.

M.P. Moller's massive organ plant in Hagerstown, MD. St. Joseph's pipe organ was built here.

The Moller Company produced a quality instrument, and had a marketing department to insure success.  By the time the Shelbyville organ was built, the company had already produced well over 1,000 pipe organs.  At the height of the Roaring Twenties, ten years later, M.P. Moller would be producing an organ a day – a feat they equaled again in the post World War II period.  By that time, however, Mathias Peter Moller was gone.  He had passed away quietly on April 13, 1937, in his 83rd year.

At the time the Shelbyville organ was constructed, the sound of Moller organs was similar to that of other major builders in turn-of-the-century America.  The construction of the pipes, in particular, was excellent.  At that time, Moller was actually building three different kinds of pipe organs.  Until 1916, they continued to build mechanical (tracker) organs upon request.  The new electropneumatic organs were just coming into prominence.  But most organs like St. Joseph’s were tubular pneumatic, using a system of pneumatic tubes to provide the link between the keys and the pipes.  These organs had ventil stop actions that were often troublesome.  In fact, in later years, when asked to rebuild one of their own organs, the company would insist on replacing the old ventil chests with their solid and dependable pitman windchests, which they built until the company closed in 1992.


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