top of page

History of the Pipe Organ 1 of 6: 250 BC - 800 AD

The forerunner of what we call a pipe organ today was invented by a physicist, mathematician, and inventor named Ktesibios who lived around 250 BC in Alexandria, Egypt. Ktesibios theorized air could be pushed into, and trapped in, an airtight container. In order to prove this he first had to invent a pump. The bicycle pump we use today uses Ktesibios’ basic design. Once he figured out how to compress air in a container, he figured out how to release it with sudden, explosive force. The next logical step was figuring out how to release the air in a controlled, sustained manner.

In Alexandria where Ktesibios lived, there were flute players everywhere and some could play two or more flutes at once. So, Ktesibios decided to invent a machine to test his theory that compressed air could be released in a sustained manner by taking several flute-like pipes, tuning them, and setting them in holes atop a hollow, airtight box connected to an open-ended, upside down canister submerged in water, into which air could be forced using his pump invention. During up-stroke, the pump drew air through a one-way valve into the pump. During down-stroke, the piston displaced air from the pump into the upside down canister submerged in water. As the pressure of the water entered the canister, air was forced into the airtight box waiting to be released through a pipe once the pipe valve was opened.

This ύδραυλις οργανον (hydraulis organon) was a brilliant invention and became a popular novelty item throughout the Roman Empire. Most likely, Jesus heard one whenever he was in or around Jerusalem.


bottom of page