Laurens Hammond, at the keyboard of what appears to be a Model B2. Courtesy of Hammond/Suzuki.

(1895-1973) Prolific inventor and engineer whose accomplishments include the Hammond organ. Hammond was born in Illinois in the USA, but grew up in France. In his late teens he returned to the U.S. to attend university; he graduated from Cornell University (the same school where Robert Moog would study decades later) in 1916. He then entered the U.S. Army, with which he served during World War I in France.

After the war he worked for several years as the chief engineer for a marine-equipment company, while pursuing his own inventions on the side. An early invention was a method of 3-D movie projection, involving glasses with motorized shutters worn by the audience members; it was reported to work well, but it proved too expensive to implement. In the mid-1920s, he developed a type of synchronous electric motor, whose rotation rate is controlled by the frequency of the power line (mains) that it is connected to. He incorporated this into electric clock designs, and went into business as the Hammond Clock Co. of Chicago in 1928. The clock took advantage of the fact that, at the time, small power companies in North America and Europe were combining their systems into large distribution grids, and it became necessary to have accurate frequency control in order to prevent dangerous and damaging generator "quarrels". A side effect was that it made the power grid an accurate time base, and a synchronous-motor clock would keep good time without any input from the user, unlike the mechanical clocks of the day.

The Hammond Clock Co. did well for a while, but like most American businesses, it was hit hard by the Great Depression in the early 1930s, leading Hammond to seek out new markets for his synchronous motors. After a few oddball products like a mechanized card table that dealt playing cards automatically, he hit on the idea of using the motor to generate accurate signals for a musical instrument, and after some experimenting, devised the tone wheel system. This proved suitable to make an electric organ that would stay in tune thanks to the synchronous motor. The company introduced its first Model A organ in 1934. The Hammond Organ was an almost-instant hit and it saved the business. In fact, the organs proved to be such a money-maker that Hammond changed the name of the company to the Hammond Organ Company in 1937, and the company discontinued manufacture of clocks by 1941.

During WWII, Hammond worked on the design of a guided-missile system for the U.S. Navy. This broadened his interests into more fundamental areas of electronics, particularly having to do with timekeeping and oscillator circuits. Hammond remained as the head of the Hammond Organ Co. until 1955, when he resigned his management role, remaining on as a technical consultant. At the time of his death, he held over 100 patents.

It is often noted that Hammond seldom played any of his instruments before an audience, and because of this, a myth has arisen that Hammond was tone deaf. In fact, he had a keen ear for tone and timbre, and his interests in the basic aspects of sound and music perception might have led him further into the development of synthesizer circuits, had the electronics technology of the day been up to the task. What Hammond did not have was skill at the keyboard, and it is for this reason that he nearly always declined invitations to perform in public.

Hammond as in Organ: Online biography

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