Wurlitzer Harp

Location: Music Hall

Manufacture date: Circa 1906-1910

Among the earliest automatic musical instruments was the unlikely self-playing harp. Like the Violano, it was perfected by an independent inventor, J.W. "Row'' Whitlock (1871-1935). Whitlock spent six years developing the automatic harp, according to family sources. The patent, issued on September 8, 1900, read as follows:

This invention relates to musical instruments which are automatic in their action, starting upon the introduction of a coin...and stopping automatically when the piece is finished.

In 1905 Wurlitzer established an agreement with Whitlock to sell the harps on an exclusive basis. The two firms signed a contract for 1000 harps, to be delivered in three years, at a rate of 35 per month. The last harp was produced in late 1910 or 1911.

The harp contains sixty fingers (almost human in their operation) and produces a volume of soft, sweet music equal to several Italian harps played by hand. The face of the instrument is covered by large harp-shaped plate glass, showing the interior lit up by electric lights and the wonderful little fingers picking the strings. This feature gives the instrument an exceedingly attractive appearance.

Approximately 1100 style harps were made, of which 4 are known to exist today. The change of case design to a Style B took place in 1906. About 400 Style B harps were made of which 7 are known to survive.

The machine was promoted as soft and sophisticated, the correct music for elegant dining. Except for the electric motor, it is made almost entirely of wood. Another even more attractive model, shaped like a real harp, was designed but few were built. When player pianos were more perfected, the popularity of the soft¬ playing harps waned. Several dozen harps survive nationwide. This harp and the beautiful Wurlitzer DX Roll Changing Piano now in the Nevada City Music Hall were purchased from the Five Mile Inn, which still stands on South Harrison Ave. in Butte, Montana.