Wanamaker Organ

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The display pipes of the Wanamaker Organ. These pipes are decorative only. The pipes that sound are behind and above them. Store architect Daniel Hudson Burnham designed the organ casework. Detail of Wanamaker Organ.jpg
The display pipes of the Wanamaker Organ. These pipes are decorative only. The pipes that sound are behind and above them. Store architect Daniel Hudson Burnham designed the organ casework.

The Wanamaker Grand Court Organ, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (United States of America) is the largest fully-functioning pipe organ in the world, based on the number of playing pipes, the number of ranks and its weight. [3] [4] The Wanamaker Organ is located within a spacious 7-story Grand Court at Macy's Center City (formerly Wanamaker's department store) and is played twice a day Monday through Saturday. The organ is featured at several special concerts held throughout the year, including events featuring the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ Festival Chorus and Brass Ensemble.


Notable characteristics

The Wanamaker Organ is a concert organ of the American Symphonic school of design, which combines traditional organ tone with the sonic colors of the symphony orchestra. In its present configuration, the instrument has 28,750 pipes in 464 ranks. [5]

The organ console consists of six manuals with an array of stops and controls that command the organ. The organ's String Division fills the largest single organ chamber in the world. The instrument features eighty-eight ranks of string pipes built to Wanamaker specifications by the W.W. Kimball Company of Chicago. [5]

The organ is famed for its orchestra-like sound, coming from pipes that are voiced softer than usual, allowing an unusually rich build-up because of the massing of pipe-tone families. The organ was also built and enlarged as an "art organ," using exceptional craftsmanship and lavish application of materials to create a luxury product.

There is a minimum of borrowing and unification in its disciplined design, except in the Pedal and Orchestral divisions, where it adds genuine value, and duplexing is reserved for when valuable solo voices can be separated from their divisions without tying up the remaining tonal resources of said division. Choruses (16', 8', 4') are true choruses of three ranks, each with their own personality, rather than a single rank electrically "tapped" at three pitches, with the resulting weakening of the octaves and sameness of tone between the voices as found in unification. [6]

The Wanamaker Store maintained its own organ factory to ensure an ultra-high-grade result. The artistic obligation entailed by the creation of this instrument has always been honored, with two curators employed in its constant and scrupulous care (what leads to the state of one of the best maintained organ in the world). This dedication was enhanced when corporate parentage shifted from the Wanamaker family to Carter Hawley Hale Stores followed by Woodward & Lothrop, The May Department Stores Company, and Lord & Taylor. When the space was occupied by Macy's and with the founding of the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ with its input of outside capital, an aggressive restoration schedule developed and is still maintained. Current restoration efforts are a combination of Macy's expenditures and significant contributions by Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to the instrument.


The Wanamaker Organ centennial plaque WanamakerBuilding2.jpg
The Wanamaker Organ centennial plaque

The Wanamaker Organ was originally built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Company, successors to the Murray M. Harris Organ Co., for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. It was designed to be the largest organ in the world, an imitation of a full-size orchestra with particularly complete resources of full organ tone including mixtures. In addition to its console, the organ was originally equipped with an automatic player that used punched rolls of paper, according to the Los Angeles Times of 1904. [7] It was built to a specification by renowned organ theorist and architect George Ashdown Audsley. Wild cost overruns plagued the project, with the result that Harris was ousted from his own company. With capital from stockholder Eben Smith, it was reorganized as the Los Angeles Art Organ Company, and finished at a cost of $105,000 (equal to $3,166,722 today), $40,000 over budget, equal to $1,206,370 today. The Fair began (in late April 1904) before the organ was fully installed in its temporary home, Festival Hall. Although the organ's debut was scheduled for May 1, official fair organist and St. Louis local Charles Henry Galloway did not give his opening recital until June 9. The organ was still not entirely finished in September of that year, when Alexandre Guilmant, one of the most famous organists of the day, presented 40 very well-attended recitals on the organ.

Following the Fair, the organ was intended for permanent installation by the Kansas City Convention Center. Indeed, the original console had a prominent "K C" on its music rack. This venture failed, bankrupting the L. A. Art Organ company after the Fair closed. There was a plan to exhibit the organ at Coney Island in New York City, but nothing came of this.

The organ in its original home, the 1904 World's Fair. This facade was formerly installed at Macy's, it used to be behind the current facade. Wanamaker Organ 1904.jpg
The organ in its original home, the 1904 World's Fair. This facade was formerly installed at Macy's, it used to be behind the current facade.

The organ languished in storage at the Handlan warehouse in St. Louis until 1909, when it was bought by John Wanamaker for his new department store at 13th and Market Streets in Center City, Philadelphia. It took thirteen freight cars to move it to its new home, and two years for installation. It was first played on June 22, 1911, at the exact moment when British King George V was crowned. It was also featured later that year when U.S. President William Howard Taft dedicated the store.

Despite its then-unprecedented size (more than 10,000 pipes), it was judged inadequate to fill the seven-story Grand Court in which it was located, so Wanamaker's opened a private organ factory in the store attic, which was charged with enlarging the organ. The first project to enlarge the organ was the addition of 8,000 pipes between 1911 and 1917.

Wanamaker's sponsored many historic after-business-hours concerts on the Wanamaker Organ. The first, in 1919, featured Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra with organist Charles M. Courboin. [5] Every sales counter and fixture was removed for the free after-hours event, which attracted an audience of 15,000 from across the United States. Subsequently, more of these "Musicians' Assemblies" were held, as were private recitals. For these events Wanamaker's opened a Concert Bureau under Alexander Russell and brought to America master organists Marcel Dupré and Louis Vierne, Nadia Boulanger, Marco Enrico Bossi, Alfred Hollins, and several others. (This agency, which worked in partnership with Canadian Bernard R. LaBerge, evolved into the Karen McFarlane Concert Agency of the present day.) During his first recital on the organ, Dupré was so impressed with the instrument that he was inspired to improvise a musical depiction of the life of Jesus Christ. This was later published as his Symphonie-Passion.

From April 24, 1922, to 1928 the store had its own radio station, WOO, and music from the organ was a major feature of the broadcasts. [8]

In 1924, a new project to enlarge the organ began. Marcel Dupré and Charles M. Courboin were among those asked by Rodman Wanamaker, John Wanamaker's son, to "Work together to draw up a plan for the instrument. Use everything you have ever dreamed about." They were told there was no limit to the budget. This project resulted in, among other things, the celebrated String Division, which occupies the largest organ chamber ever constructed, 67 feet long, 26 feet deep, and 16 feet high (22 by 9 by 5 m). During this project, the organ's current console was constructed in Wanamaker's private in-house pipe-organ factory, with six manuals and several hundred controls. By 1930, when work on expanding the organ finally stopped, the organ had 28,482 pipes, and, if Rodman Wanamaker had not died in 1928, the organ would probably be even bigger. [9]

Plans were made for, among others, a Stentor division, a section of high-pressure diapasons and reeds. It was to be installed on the fifth floor, above the String Division, and would be playable from the sixth manual. However, it was never funded, and the sixth manual is now used to couple other divisions or play various solo voices from other divisions that are duplexed to this keyboard. [10]

The organ's six-manual console ConsoleOrgueWanamaker.jpg
The organ's six-manual console

Rodman Wanamaker was not interested in mere size, however, but in artistic organ-building with finely crafted pipes and chests using the best materials and careful artistic consideration. The Wanamaker Organ console, built in the store organ shop by William Boone Fleming, is a work of art in its own right with heavy, durable construction, an ingenious layout of its pneumatic stop action and many unique features and conveniences. Wanamaker also had a collection of 60 rare stringed instruments, the Wanamaker Cappella, that were used in conjunction with the store organs in Philadelphia and New York, and went on tour. They were dispersed after his death.

Following the sale of the store to The May Department Stores Company, in 1995, the Wanamaker's name was removed from the store (first as Wanamaker-Hecht's) in favor of Hecht's, but the organ and its concerts were retained. During the local renaming of the Hecht's stores to Strawbridge's, the historic Wanamaker Store briefly took the name of its longtime rival Strawbridge's. The May Company began a complete restoration of the organ in 1997, as part of the store's final May Co. conversion into a Lord & Taylor. At that time the store area was reduced to three floors and additional panes of glass were put around the Grand Court on floors four and five, greatly enhancing the reverberation of the room.

The Wanamaker Organ in the Grand Court Wanamakers Organ at Macys Philadelphia.jpg
The Wanamaker Organ in the Grand Court

The Philadelphia Orchestra returned to the Grand Court on September 27, 2008, for the premiere performance of Joseph Jongen's Symphonie Concertante (1926) on the organ for which it was written. The ticketed event, featuring soloist Peter Richard Conte, also included the Bach/Stokowski arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Marcel Dupré's Cortege and Litany for Organ and Orchestra, and the world premiere of a Fanfare by Howard Shore, composer for The Lord of the Rings films. Shore visited the store in May 2008 to meet with Peter Richard Conte and hear the Wanamaker Organ. The Philadelphia Orchestra Concert was co-sponsored by the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ and was a benefit for that organization. [11]

In 2019 the Wanamaker Organ facade, designed by Daniel Hudson Burnham, was restored and re-gilded in 22-karat gold to a color scheme close in sympathy to its original appearance but which fits in with its new surroundings. Evergreene Architectural Arts did the work. Grant money from Macy's and several Philadelphia area charities funded this project, which was overseen by the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ.


Although numerous famous organists have played special concerts on the organ, it has had only four chief organists in its history:

For about a decade beginning in 1919, Dr. Charles M. Courboin was the organist for a series of special evening concerts, including several collaborations with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Courboin also headed the Wanamaker Organ Shop in the late 1920s.

Noteworthy assistant organists

Present curator

Music inspired by or written for the Wanamaker Organ

Original compositions

Arrangements of existing music

Architectural layout

The pipes are laid out across the space occupied by five floors of the building, with the sections situated as follows:

The 32 Wood Open, 32 Diaphone, and 32 Metal Diapason pipes run the length of a little more than 2 stories, beginning on the second floor. [5]


Main Organ

I Choir(C-c4 - 61 pipes)
Double Dulciana16′
Open Diapason8′
Violin Diapason8′
Stopped Diapason8′
Concert Flute8′
Vox Angelica8′
Vox Celeste8′
Forest Flute4′
Soft Cornet VI
English Horn8′
II Great(C-c4 - 61 pipes)
Unenclosed Great
Sub Principal32′
Contra Gamba16′
Double Diapason16′
Sub Quint10+23
Diapason Phonon8′
Diapason Major8′
First Diapason8′
Second Diapason8′
Third Diapason8′
Fourth Diapason8′
Gamba (2 ranks)8′
Major Tibia8′
Mezzo Tibia8′
Minor Tibia8′
Double Flute8′
Nasard Flute (2 ranks)8′
Mixture VIII
Harmonic Trumpet8′
Enclosed Great
Covered Tibia8′
Harmonic Flute8′
Harmonic Flute4′
Octave Quint2′
Super Octave2′
Mixture VII
Double Trumpet16′
Harmonic Clarion4′
Great Chorus (73 pipes)
Diapason Magna8′
First Diapason8′
Second Diapason8′
Third Diapason8′
Major Flute8′
Double Flute8′
III Swell(C-c4 - 61 pipes)
Double Diapason16′
Soft Bourdon16′
Horn Diapason8′
Violin Diapason8′
Bell Flute8′
Orchestral Flute8′
Harmonic Flute8′
Grand Flute (2 ranks)8′
Double Flute8′
Tibia Dura8′
Soft Dulciana8′
Gamba Celeste (2 ranks)8′
Quint Bourdon5+13
Harmonic Flute (2 ranks)4′
First Octave4′
Second Octave4′
Nazard (prepared for)2+23
Harmonic Piccolo2′
Corroborating Mixture V
Mixture VI
Bass Tuba16′
Bass Trombone16′
Contra Fagotto16′
Double Oboe Horn16′
Bassett Horn8′
Clarinet (2 ranks)8′
Vox Humana (2 ranks)8′
Harmonic Clarion4′
Original String Division
Contra Bass16′
Viol (sharp)8′
Quint Viol5+13
Octave Viol4′
String Mixture V
Viol Cornet IV
IV Solo(C-c4 - 61 pipes)
Double Open Diapason16′
Grand Viol16′
First Diapason8′
Second Diapason8′
Third Diapason8′
Violin Diapason8′
Harmonic Flute8′
Tierce Flute (2 ranks)8′
Chimney Flute8′
Nasard Gamba (2 ranks)8′
Grand Gamba8′
Grand Gamba8′
Quint Diapason5+13
Harmonic Flute4′
Harmonic Tierce3+15
Twelfth Harmonic2+23
Piccolo Harmonic2′
Double Trumpet16′
Soft Tuba8′
Soft Tuba4′
Grand Mixture VI
Mixture V
Mixture VI
Pedal(C-g1 - 32 pipes)
Contra Diaphone32′
First Contra Open Diapason32′
Second Contra Open Diapason32′
Contra Bourdon32′
First Open Diapason16′
Second Open Diapason16′
Third Open Diapason16′
Open Flute16′
Soft Bourdon16′
Open Quint10+23
Stopped Quint10+23
Open Diapason8′
First Tibia8′
Second Tibia8′
Octave Soft Bourdon8′
First Cello8′
Second Cello8′
Soft Flute8′
Soft Dulciana8′
First Tibia4′
Second Tibia4′
Mixture VI
Mixture VII
Mixture VIII
Grand Mutation ×
Contra Bombarde32′
Contra Fagotto16′
Octave Fagotto8′

Ethereal Organ

V Ethereal(73)
First Open Diapason8′
Second Open Diapason8′
Clear Flute8′
Harmonic Flute8′
Double Flute8′
Quint Flute8′
Grand Gamba8′
Grand Gamba8′
Harmonic Flute4′
Twelfth Harmonic2+23
Harmonic Piccolo2′
Mixture IV
Tuba Profunda16′
Tuba Mirabilis8′
French Trumpet8′
Grand Clarinet8′
Post Horn8′
Tuba Clarion4′
VI Stentor(73)
Cello 1 (String)8′
Cello 1 ♯ (String)8′
Cello 1 ♭ (String)8′
Cello 2 (String)8′
Cello 2 ♯ (String)8′
Cello 2 ♭ (String)8′
Nasard Gamba II (String)8′
Nasard Gamba II ♯ (String)8′
Clear Flute (Ethereal)8′
Clear Flute (Ethereal)4′
Ethereal Pedal(32)
Acoustic Bass32′

Echo Organ

Echo(73) (floating)
Open Diapason8′
Violin Diapason8′
Stopped Diapason8′
Night Horn8′
Orchestral Viol8′
Soft Viol8′
Soft Viol8′
Unda Maris (2 ranks)8′
Open Quint5+13
Harmonic Flute4′
Mellow Flute4′
Cornet Mixture V
Mixture VI
Double Trumpet16′
Capped Oboe8′
Vox Humana8′
Echo Pedal(32)
Open Diapason16′
Stopped Diapason16′

Orchestral Organ

Orchestral(73) (floating)
Contra Quintadena16′
Covered Tibia8′
Concert Flute8′
Harmonic Flute8′
Mellow Flute8′
String Flute8′
Double Flute8′
Hollow Flute8′
Harmonic Flute4′
Orchestral Flute4′
Covered Flute4′
Harmonic Piccolo2′
Super Octave2′
Orchestral Reeds(73) (floating)
English Horn16′
Bass Clarinet16′
Bass Saxophone16′
English Horn8′
Orchestral Clarinet8′
Orchestral Bassoon8′
Bassett Horn8′
Orchestral Oboe8′
Orchestral Trumpet8′
Muted Cornet8′
Orchestral French Horns(73) (floating)
First French Horn8′
Second French Horn8′
Third French Horn8′
Vox Humana Chorus(73) (floating)
Vox Humana16′
First Vox Humana8′
Second Vox Humana8′
Third Vox Humana8′
Fourth Vox Humana8′
Fifth Vox Humana8′
Sixth Vox Humana8′
Seventh Vox Humana8′
Vox Humana Chorus Pedal(32)
First Vox Humana16′
Second Vox Humana16′

String Organ

String(73) (floating)
First Contra Gamba16′
Second Contra Gamba16′
First Contra Viol16′
Second Contra Viol16′
First Viol16′
Second Viol16′
Violin Diapason8′
Nasard Gamba (2 ranks)8′
Nasard Gamba (2 ranks)8′
First 'Cello8′
First 'Cello ♯8′
First 'Cello ♭8′
Second 'Cello8′
Second 'Cello ♯8′
Second 'Cello ♭8′
First Orchestral Violin8′
First Orchestral Violin ♯8′
First Orchestral Violin ♭8′
Second Orchestral Violin8′
Second Orchestral Violin ♯8′
Second Orchestral Violin ♭8′
Third Orchestral Violin8′
Third Orchestral Violin ♯8′
Third Orchestral Violin ♭8′
Fourth Orchestral Violin8′
Fourth Orchestral Violin ♯8′
Fourth Orchestral Violin ♭8′
Fifth Orchestral Violin8′
Fifth Orchestral Violin ♯8′
Fifth Orchestral Violin ♭8′
Sixth Orchestral Violin8′
Sixth Orchestral Violin ♯8′
Sixth Orchestral Violin ♭8′
First Muted Violin8′
First Muted Violin ♯8′
First Muted Violin ♭8′
Second Muted Violin8′
Second Muted Violin ♯8′
Second Muted Violin ♭8′
String (continued)
Third Muted Violin8′
Third Muted Violin ♯8′
Third Muted Violin ♭8′
Fourth Muted Violin8′
Fourth Muted Violin ♯8′
Fourth Muted Violin ♭8′
Fifth Muted Violin8′
Fifth Muted Violin ♯8′
Fifth Muted Violin ♭8′
Sixth Muted Violin8′
Sixth Muted Violin ♯8′
Sixth Muted Violin ♭8′
Quint Viol5+13
Quint Viol ♯5+13
First Orchestral Violina4′
First Orchestral Violina ♯4′
Second Orchestral Violina4′
Second Orchestral Violina ♯4′
Tierce Viol3+15
Tierce Viol ♯3+15
Nasard Violina2+23
Nasard Violina ♯2+23
Super Violina2′
Super Violina ♯2′
First Dulciana8′
First Dulciana ♯8′
Second Dulciana8′
Second Dulciana ♯8′
Third Dulciana8′
Third Dulciana ♯8′
Fourth Dulciana8′
Fourth Dulciana ♯8′
Fifth Dulciana8′
Fifth Dulciana ♯8′
Sixth Dulciana8′
Sixth Dulciana ♯8′
First Octave Dulciana4′
First Octave Dulciana ♯4′
Second Octave Dulciana4′
Second Octave Dulciana ♯4′
Dulciana Mutation V
String Pedal(32)
Contra Diaphone32′
Contra Gamba32′
Diaphone (ext)16′
Gamba (ext)16′
First Violone16′
Second Violone16′
Viol ♯16′
Diaphone (ext)8′
Gamba (ext)8′
First Violone (ext)8′
Second Violone8′
Viol ♯8′
Mutation Diaphone16′
Mutation Viol16′
Mutation Viol10+23
Mutation Viol8′
Mutation Viol5+13
Mutation Viol4′
Mutation Viol2+23
Mutation Viol2′
Mutation Viol1+35
Mutation Viol1+13
Mutation Viol45
Grand String Pedal Mixture XII32′

Stentor Division

Tuba Magna (from 8′)16′
Tuba Magna8′

Percussion Division

Major ChimesC–c1
Minor ChimesG–g
Celesta (by Mustel of Paris)C–c2
Piano I(prepared for)
Piano IIstandard 88 notes
Harp Itenor C–c2
Harp II(prepared for)
Gongstenor C–C2 (now playable)
Crescendo Cymbal
Cymbalstar, a memorial to Virgil Fox
Chinese Gong (84" diameter)


See also

Notes and references

  1. "The Wanamaker Organ - Inside the world's largest operating musical instrument". Archived from the original on 2021-12-13 via www.youtube.com.
  2. "The Wanamaker Organ". 11 August 2015.
  3. Theatreorgans.com, The World's Largest Pipe Organs, list of the world's 75 largest organs based on number of ranks
  4. "The Top 20 - The World's Largest Pipe Organs". Sacred Classics. Atlas Communications. Retrieved 8 April 2016. (The Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ has more pipes but fewer ranks).
  5. 1 2 3 4 Biswanger, Ray (1999). Music in the Marketplace: The Story of Philadelphia's Historic Wanamaker Organ. The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ Press. ISBN   0-9665552-0-1.
  6. "About the Organ – Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, Inc". Archived from the original on 2019-11-12.
  7. "Detour to 1904". 9 June 2007.
  8. 1 2 "The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia". www.broadcastpioneers.com. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  9. Whitney, Craig R. (2003). All the Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ and Its American Masters . PublicAffairs New York. ISBN   1-58648-173-8.
  10. The Philadelphia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists lists all the stops on the organ and mentions the unrealized Stentor division.
  11. CRAIG R. WHITNEY (June 9, 2007). "Amid the Shirts and Socks, a Concert Can Break Out". The New York Times.
  12. Goodfellow, William S. (April 5, 1992). "Fate Brings Organist to Tabernacle Post". Deseret News . Retrieved January 2, 2022.
  13. Whitney, Craig (April 1, 2003). All The Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ And Its American Masters . PublicAffairs. pp.  126-127. ISBN   9781586482626 . Retrieved September 12, 2017.
  14. 1 2 Xaver Varnus (9 July 2011). "XAVER VARNUS IMPROVISE ON WANAMAKER, THE WORLD'S LARGEST PIPE ORGAN IN PHILADELPHIA (1987)". Archived from the original on 2021-12-13 via YouTube.
  15. "The Wanamaker Organ on the Radio".
  16. "Around the Wanamaker Organ in 80 MinutesA DVD video tour of 28,482 pipes, their history and their sounds!".

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Wanamaker Organ at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 39°57′05″N75°09′44″W / 39.9515°N 75.1622°W / 39.9515; -75.1622

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Pietro Alessandro Yon was an Italian-born organist and composer who made his career in the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Keith Chapman (organist)</span>

Keith Chapman (1945–1989) was an American concert organist known best for his flair at playing in the symphonic style of organ performance, and particularly for his long and distinguished association (1966–1989) with the Wanamaker's Department Store of Philadelphia as the principal organist of the Wanamaker Organ.

Murray M. Harris (1866–1922) is considered to be the "Father of Organ Building in the American West", and is remembered for building pipe organs of exceptional beauty and quality.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles M. Courboin</span> Belgian musician

Charles Marie Courboin (1884–1973) was a Belgian–American organ virtuoso who enjoyed popularity during the 1920s. During this time he was engaged by department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker to oversee the second enlargement of the Wanamaker Organ. He added the huge string and orchestral sections bringing it to 461 ranks and 28,482 pipes. He also served as Director of Music for St. Patrick Cathedral, New York City from 1943 until his retirement in 1968.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexander Russell (composer)</span> American classical composer

Alexander Russell (1880–1953) was an American composer, organist and the first Frick Professor of Music for Princeton University. He is most remembered today as the long time organ impresario for the Wanamaker Department Stores.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Castro Organ Devotees Association</span>

The Castro Organ Devotees Association (CODA) is an American nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the tradition of live organ music in San Francisco's Castro Theatre. The theater is a popular San Francisco movie palace, built in the 1920s, which gained Historic Landmark status in 1976. The original Robert Morton organ was removed in the 1950s. The present organ, widely regarded as one of the finest theatre organs assembled, was assembled in the late 1970s using components from other organs, including its console, which was originally built in 1925 for the State Theatre in Detroit, Michigan to accompany silent pictures. The current console and organ were built by the Taylor family starting in 1979, and it has been owned and maintained by them since, but in 2014 they moved taking the console and one fourth of the pipework.