Laurens Hammond

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Laurens Hammond
Laurens Hammond with his 3D glasses.jpg
Hammond with his 3D glasses
Born (1895-01-11)January 11, 1895
Evanston, Illinois
Died July 3, 1973(1973-07-03) (aged 78)
Cornwall, Connecticut
Education Cornell University
Parents William Andrew and Idea Louise Strong Hammond
Engineering career
Engineering discipline Mechanical engineering
Significant projects Hammond organ, Hammond clock

Laurens Hammond (January 11, 1895 – July 3, 1973), was an American engineer and inventor. His inventions include, most famously, the Hammond organ, the Hammond Clock, and the world's first polyphonic musical synthesizer, the Novachord.


Laurens Hammond was born in Evanston, Illinois, to William Andrew and Idea Louise Strong Hammond. Laurens showed his great technical prowess from an early age. His father, William, took his own life in 1898, ostensibly due to the pressures of running the First National Bank, which he himself had founded. Upon her husband's death, Idea, who was an artist by trade, relocated to France with Laurens to further her studies. It was during their stay in France that Laurens began developing many of his early inventions.

Early inventions[edit]

When the family returned to Evanston, Laurens, then 14, was as fluent in French and German as he was in his native tongue. By this time, he had already designed a system for automatic transmission for automobiles. At his mother's suggestion, he submitted his designs to engineers at French automaker Renault, only to be rejected.


Laurens studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University and was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity. He graduated with an honors degree in 1916. At this time most thoughts were concentrated on the ongoing World War I, and Laurens made his contribution to the war effort serving his time with the 16th Regiment Engineers (Railway) American Expeditionary Force in France.


Following this, he moved to Detroit, where he was fortunate to occupy the post of chief engineer of the Gray Motor Company, a manufacturer of marine engines. Col. John H. Poole (husband of Caroline Boeing the daughter of Wilhelm Böing) who Captain Hammond served with in France, knew of his engineering skills and as a partner in the company paid him an extra $300 a week under the table to stay with Gray Motor. In 1919, he invented a silent spring-driven clock.[1] This invention brought Laurens enough money to leave Gray Motor Company and rent his own space in New York.

In 1922, Hammond invented the Teleview system of shutter glasses in association with 3-D films. One feature was made for the system, a film called Radio-Mania, that year. Hammond premiered his show at the Selwyn Theatre in New York City in December 1922 to major critical success, but the economics of installing the expensive machinery in the theater prematurely killed the project's success.

In 1928, Hammond founded the Hammond Clock Company, after designing a synchronous clock motor that was inspired by Henry Warren's Telechrons, but was not self-starting. These clocks were still popular in Britain in the 1960s, because they would not display a false time. (If a short power failure occurs when the owner is away, a self starting clock will display an incorrect time.) The British generating stations also corrected the number of cycles at the end of the day so that the Hammond clocks would be accurate. Hammond's clock business ran into difficulties in the early 1930s, and he struggled to save his business through a number of other inventions, such as an electric bridge table and, slightly later, his famous organ.

In 1933, he bought a used piano and proceeded to discard everything apart from the actual keyboard action. Using this piano keyboard as a controller, he was able to experiment with various sound generating methods until he found the best one—the tonewheel generator. The company's assistant treasurer, W. L. Lahey, was the organist at the nearby St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, and so Laurens consulted with him during the design process and sought feedback on the quality of the new instrument's sound. With all his previous manufacturing and engineering experience, the tonewheel generator was incredibly well engineered by the time the organ finally went into production. The number of tonewheel organs still in regular use is a testament in itself to the quality of the original design and execution of the product.

Laurens filed his patent on January 19, 1934. At this time, unemployment was a major problem due to the Great Depression, and with this in mind, the patents office rushed to grant Hammond's application,[2] with the hope of creating job opportunities in the area.

He was awarded the Franklin Institute's John Price Wetherill Medal in 1940 for the invention of the Hammond electric organ.


World War II gave Laurens new areas in which to exhibit his technical skill. He helped design guided missile controls and was awarded patents for infrared and light sensing devices for bomb guidance, glide bomb controls, a camera shutter[3] and a new type of gyroscope. The glide bomb was the forerunner of today's guided missiles, carried by nuclear submarines.


Laurens Hammond left his position as president of his company in 1955, to allow himself more time to concentrate on researching and developing new ideas. On February 12, 1960, at the age of 65, he retired. At the time of his retirement in 1960, he held 90 patents: he would be granted another 20 before his death.

By the time Laurens Hammond died, there were over thirty one manufacturers of electric or electronic organs. This figure would increase still further towards the end of the 1970s, as the demand for easy-play home organs grew to incredible proportions.


Further reading[edit]

The most comprehensive source on Laurens Hammond's life and inventions is the book by Stuyvesant Barry, Hammond as in Organ: The Laurens Hammond Story. This book was never published, but is available on the web at The Hammond Organ Story.

External links[edit]