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Western Electric Piano Company

Secretly owned by the J.P. Seeburg Piano Co., the Western Electric Piano Company (formerly the A.F. Larson Piano Company, one of the best-known manufacturers of automatic pianos) was purchased shortly after it was founded. This move was driven by Seeburg's "desire to stimulate more competition among the his dealers, who had exclusive territories and really needed competion," (in the words of N. Marshall Seeburg). Larson, along with fellow Western Electric officer, a Mr. Waters, were earlier officers of the Marquette Piano Company, makers of the Cremona line of instruments.) It is also interesting to note that Western Electric's 900 Blackhawk Street address was actually the side entrance to the now-infamous J.P. Seeburg factory!

J.P. Seeburg

From about 1924 until the late ’twenties (although the company remained a legal entity until bankruptcy proceedings in 1933) Western Electric produced a line of coin-operated pianos and orchestrions, mostly of the cabinet type. To avoid detection by the public and those in the trade, the easily-visible portions of the Western Electric instruments – the cases, the pumps, roll mechanisms, etc. – were different from Seeburg products. However, the serial numbers of the pianos (mostly in the late 150,000 and in the 160,000 series) are concurrent with contemporary Seeburg pianos of the 1920s and many of the interior parts, the pneumatic stacks of certain pianos for instance, are the same.

Western Electric pianos were durably built and enjoyed a good reputation with dealers and reoutemen who operated them in various locations. In the Minneapolis area, Oswald Wurdeman had 350 of them out "on location" earning money!

Most Western Electric pianos used a standard 10-tune "A" rolls and were built into cabinets (today, "A" rolls may be obtained with more than 10 tunes). Only a very few instruments were made with keyboards. A few orchestions (which used "G" or "4X" rolls) were made, but the number must have been exceedingly limited as few are known to remain.

Today, collectors regard Western Electric instruments as among the most desirable American-made nickelodeon pianos. Like similar Seeburg instruments, they are ruggedly built and have lots of reserve vacuum capacity so that minor leaks will not be noticed.

Further history of the Western Electric Piano Company, from the "Player Piano Treasury" by Harvey Roehl, is reprinted in Bowers*, page 656.

J.P. Seeburg History

*Bowers, O. David
"Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments"
Vestal Press, 1972-1997
ISBN 0-9115-08

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