M.P. Moller Organ Co. music and memories live on


View the Moller Organ Co. slideshow.

Editor's note: The following story about the M.P. Moller Organ Co. is one in an occasional series of stories about some of the treasures of Washington County's past.

HAGERSTOWN - The M.P. Moller Organ Co., once one of the largest makers of pipe organs in the world, had a turbulent few years before closing its doors in 1992, but the memories and the beautiful music the company made live on.

Company founder, Mathias P. Moller, was born Sept. 29, 1854, in Denmark, and came to America in 1872.

Moller worked in Warren, Pa., as a woodworker at a furniture manufacturing firm, and in Erie, Pa., with the Derrick & Felgemaker organ building shop.


Moller returned to Warren, where he built a pipe organ in 1875. A year later, he went to Philadelphia, where he manufactured and sold four pipe organs before moving his operation to Greencastle, Pa., in 1877.

According to the Allison-Antrim Museum's Web site at www.greencastlemuse, Moller organized and named his early business Moller Brenishottz and Co.

"When Moller was unsuccessful at securing financing from the Greencastle banks to expand his business, he moved to Hagerstown in April 1881," the Web site states.

In Hagerstown, Moller set up shop in a small building near the Western Maryland Railroad on Potomac Street. He only had eight workers.

That building burned in 1895.

In an attempt to keep the company in Hagerstown, property on North Prospect Street was deeded to Moller, and the factory reopened in January 1896.

According to the book "M.P. Moller and the Urban Fabric of Hagerstown," by 1902, the factory had 50,000 square feet of floor space, offices and sheds. It was on the western side of the factory complex where the actual work of building organs took place and where raw materials arrived by rail.

"The western and eastern sides of the building had utilitarian brickwork, the western side displayed Moller's name, and the side of the building dealt with work, labor and production," according to the book.

The organ factory imported wood materials, metals and animal products from around the world. Lumber was the most important raw material for making an organ, and 2 million board feet of lumber always were on site.

Unique skills

Over the years, the organ-maker's space expanded to 125,000 square feet, according to a 1962 story in The Herald-Mail, and it was here that skilled craftsmen plied their trades.

There were voicers, whose job it was to make sure each pipe had the correct tone, color, transparency and timbre.

There were people who carved parts by hand, and Moller cast its own metal alloys to ensure the proper combinations, according to the 1962 newspaper story.

There were fathers who passed on to their sons the skills involved in crafting the custom-made organs, thus making sure the Moller tradition would continue, according to the story.

William Penner, 91, of Hagerstown, worked for the company for 50 years, some of those years while Moller was president, and said in a recent interview that he would describe Moller as a kind and gentle, yet strict boss.

"He required everyone to produce a full day's work all the time," Penner said.

Frederick Morrison, who worked for the company from 1967 to 1992, said Moller organs were some of the best ever made.

"In the company's lifetime, they've built more organs than anybody else," Morrison, 60, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., said in a recent interview. "They were considered to be reliable, and I think there are some Moller organs out there now that have gone on for 60 to 70 years. They're very durable."

And Moller organs were in demand.

Moller organs could be found at West Point, the U.S. Naval and Air Force academies, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and Lincoln Center in New York. Even the chapel at Camp David had a Moller organ, which was dedicated in April 1991 with President George H.W. Bush present.

A number of Moller organs were installed locally, including one at St. John's Episcopal Church at 101 S. Prospect St. in Hagerstown, where the organ still makes music for the congregation.

To get the organs to their new owners, the company used its own truck, and at one time had three or four tractor-trailers.

In later years, the company started using commercial van lines to transport the smaller organs.

"It was a nice company to work for," Penner said. "It was always something new to work on because mechanical, electrical and architectural were all things involved with building an organ, so the job became interesting."

Penner, who worked with production, engineering, consulting and the sales department at the organ company from 1935 to 1985, said making an organ was a complex job.

Hard times

The company remained family owned until 1989, when it was sold to a limited partnership.

By 1992, the company's fortunes had fallen. A story in The Herald-Mail referred to outdated equipment and increasingly bitter labor relations.

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