The organs were constructed so as to be able to produce the popular music of the period. Organs were designed to mimic the musical capabilities of a typical human band. For this reason they are known as band organs in the US. Consequently the pipes and percussion and their divisions were chosen specifically to fulfil this concept.
The motive force for a fairground organ is typically wind under pressure generated from mechanically powered sets of bellows mounted in the base of the instrument. The instruments, designed to be operated without a human performer, are keyboardless apart from a few one-off examples. The organ is played mechanically by either a rotating barrel with the music pinned thereon like a musical box, a strip of card perforated with the musical data and registration controls called book music or interchangeable rolls of paper similarly programmed called music rolls.
Like all mechanical instruments fairground organs come in a vast array of sizes and technical specifications made by a myriad of manufacturers all of which had their own trademark characteristics. As with all vintage equipment there is a stong preservation movement associated with these instruments and today new instruments and music are still being made.
Fairground organs were used in many settings such as general fairground rides, static side shows such as bioscope shows and various locations in amusements parks such as ice rinks and the like.
Early organs were designed to be compact and operated mechanically or by an unskilled person. These were played by an integral pinned barrel which required no human input, other than selection of the number of the tune to be played. These had a fixed repertoire and, if it was desired to change the tunes, a complete new pinned barrel was required. To offer a more flexible choice of repertoire a system of robust interchangeable perforated cardboard book music was adopted first by Parisian manufacturers Gavioli. Their mecahnical system became widely regarded as reliable and they soon established a very strong market position, which is still evident today when one looks at the number of their surviving instruments. Other manufacturers soon followed suit. Book music offered a cheaper, more readily updated alternative to barrel music. Also introduced by various innovative manufacturers was operation via paper music roll. These rolls were more compact and cheaper to manufacture than even book music. Although they were more susceptible to poor handling, all systems experienced their own types of characteristic wear and tear during repeated playing. Both "book" and "roll" systems were manufactured with different patent operating actions which read the music either a) under pressure b) under suction c) mechanically. To extend longevity mechanically-read cardboard book music is typically strengthened with an application of shellac. Music rolls are typically fortified via the use of robust moisture resisting paper stocks.
All the functions of the organ are (apart from the smallest instruments) operated automatically from the music media. Larger instruments contain automatic organ stop register control and additional control tracks for operating percussion instruments, lighting effects and even automaton figures.
A non-exhaustive list of builders, past & present, categorised by the type of organs they built/build;
+ company still operating/new company - defunct company
Bopp, Ron: The American Carousel Organ: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Grove, OK: Ron Bopp, 1998.
Bowers, Q. David: The Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments. Vestal, NY: Vestal Press, 1972.
Jüttemann, Herbert: Waldkircher Dreh- und Jahrmarkt-Orgeln. Waldkirch: Waldkircher Verlag, 1993.
Jüttemann, Herbert: Waldkirch Street and Fairground Organs. Rufforth, York: A.C. Pilmer, 2002. (Revised translation of above)
Reblitz, Arthur A.: The Golden Age of Automatic Musical Instruments. Woodsville, NH: Mechanical Music Press, 2001.
Reblitz, Arthur A. and Bowers, Q. David: Treasures of Mechanical Music. Vestal, NY: Vestal Press, 1981.
Cockayne, Eric V. The Fair Organ - How It Works. UK, published by The Fair Organ Preservation Society
Wheel of fortune favours the ambitions of Taylor brothers; Leisure firm takes bold step into Scottish tourism market
Mar 06, 2002; DOUGLAS Taylor has more than eight generations of fairground folk in his blood and has roamed the globe from Capetown to...