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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Miller Organs

One day last fall when I was at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, someone brought in an old pump organ that was being donated to the society. Things were moved to make a place for it in the library. I finally remembered to take my camera along this week and get some pictures of it.
The thing that caught my eye was the name just above the keyboard, "Miller Organ Company." I knew something about these organs.
Miller organs were manufactured in Lebanon, Pa. The company was born out of necessity. Adam Miller wanted an organ but he was a farmer and could not afford to buy one. He put his woodworking skills to use and made the cabinet but did not know how to make the inner works. When he heard Abraham Miller (unrelated) had an organ that needed repairs, he offered to do the job so he could learn how organs were assembled. Adam was a quick learner and he was soon being called on to repair and build organs. He built a shop on Eighth and Maple Streets in Lebanon in 1872. Soon afterward Abraham became a partner in his business and the company expanded rapidly. At the height of productivity in 1901 the company employed sixty people and produced 1600 organs per year.
The company began to decline after Adam's death in 1904 and the death of Abraham in 1911. The organ business could not compete with the Victrola and went out of business in 1923, a victim of the changing times.

Our daughter-in-law, Amy, is a descendant of this Miller family. Abraham Miller's brother, Henry, was her 3x-great-grandfather. They were descendants of Johannes Miller who bought a farm in 1783 near what is now Annville, Pa. He and his wife, Magdalena (Baum), are buried in the Miller family cemetery on the farm. Some of his descendants are also buried there and at the Gingrich Mennonite Church. The Miller line was firmly planted in Lebanon County until Amy's grandfather who lived across the line in western Berks County. Now you know why "Miller Organ Company" caught my eye.


Mark Herr said...

I came on your blog while looking through the web for Miller organ material. I have been doing research and restoration on Millers over the last 10 years and was responsible for organizing the Miller Organ Fest held in Lebanon two years ago. I would be interested in contacting your daughter in law re her family connections to the Miller organ families. I live in the Denver, PA area.

FM Redd said...

Can you put me in touch with Mark Herr? I have a very elaborate Miller parlor organ with massive carved top ca 1888 that has been in the family since purchase-has been maintained and still plays beautifully. Very much interested in contacting Miller organ enthusiasts and learning more about the history. I do not do facebook or twit.FM Redd
Chapel Hill,NC

Cathy said...

I have one of the Miller organs and is identical (that I can see) to the picture shown on your first page. It needs tuned but the body is in good shape. I don't know the year it was made nor the estimated value of this organ. It was given to me as a gift. I would like to know more of the Miller Organ Co. of Lebanon. I also would like to find a organ tunist to repair this organ. I live in central West Virginia. Still researching. This organ is beautiful.

judyb said...

I'm wondering why the Miller Organ Company parlor type organ I saw has Shanch (I think, it's faint)PA (it's just below)instead of Lebanon
Judy Blaisdell

Chernobieff Piano said...

I have restored two Miller Organs over the years as part of my restoration business. They were very well made and were similar to the Estey Organ. Makes me wonder if that was the make of organ that Abraham had that he had Adam restore. When i make a trip to Penn next year i'll have to go to the musuem and check out the other Miller organs they have. They were very good marketers too, as I have seen several of their ads in trade magazines. I remembered this company because during my restorations I do research to become familiar with the instrument. I distincly recall learning of the elevator accident. Must have been horrible.
Chernobieff Piano