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History of the Pipe Organ 6 of 6: American Colonies to Present

Because of the association of the American colonies with Britain, early American organ building came under the influence of British organ builders. This was not good. Organ building in the British Isles during this period was unlike the French and the Germanic regions. Also, many churches in the colonies refused to accept pipe organs because of its strong association with Roman Catholicism. Thus, American organ building got off to a slow start, only to plunge off the deep end toward the end of the 19th century, abandoning historical European organ building practices. One of those practices, use of mechanical (tracker) action, fell by the wayside with the advent of new-fangled electric key action organs. Because electric key action was a new technology in the early 1900s, there was no way to know how durable these actions were. From the early 1900s through the 1940s, pipe organ factories churned out thousands of new electric key action organs. As these electric action organs approached 30-40 years of use, they began failing across the nation, yet American throw-away culture did not seem to mind. Simply replace the “old” organ with a new one. The build-and- replace cycle was born in America! The first St. Joseph organ (1949) utilized electric key action and began failing after 32 years. It was replaced with another electric key action pipe organ in 1982, which failed in 27 years, 2009. Only mechanical (tracker) organs last the life of a church building.


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