Open-Source Hardware Circa 1920

Julie Porter | EE Times | September 17, 2014

Recently the group that I work with on pipe organs was able to add a rather unusual example to our collection: an early, self-contained theater organ, which would have been installed in the orchestra pit. Properly, this is a "pit organ."

What is unusual about this one is that it comes with documentation and provenance. This organ is 92 years old. It was originally installed in a San Francisco vaudeville house then called the Orpheum. This theater no longer survives, but others still carry the brand name. After the theater, the organ was used in a mortuary, until about 40 years ago when it was placed into storage.

For those unfamiliar with radios of the 1920s, it was customary to paste the schematic and wiring diagram inside the back panel of the unit -- the original open-source hardware! This practice remained through the transistor radio days of the 1960s. Later circuits became integrated, and products were no longer designed for self or local service; only the factory-authorized service people had access to the schematics...