Step-On-In Saturday

General Admission is a great thing!  That's when anyone can come to the tour - and you don't even have to be a part of the military!  Although we love when veterans come visit us, regardless of whether they're Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, Air Force, or Army.  And we admit all ranks - notably Generals!   We're pretty sure that's what "General Admission" means.

This is not actually The General.  It's a globe located near the ATT entrance. We didn't want to spoil the surprise.

This is not actually The General.  It's a globe located near the ATT entrance. We didn't want to spoil the surprise.

Did you know that the American Treasure Tour has our very own General?  It's not a person, though. It's a one-of-a-kind band organ - a Wurlitzer Model 164 band organ in a trailer that we bring out for special occasions. We do tend only to play it outside, and include it in parades when scheduling allows.  So, if you're in the military, we thank you for your service.  If you're into band organs, though, you may be better off enjoying our General.

J.W. Whitlock

QUESTION:  Which of J.W. Whitlock's machines was once played for sitting President Richard Milhouse Nixon?
A)  Model A harp
B)  Model B harp
C)  Model 1 banjo
D)  Model 44 piano

You likely have never heard of a man named J.W. Whitlock; however, that is due more because of a disinclination to grab at headlines than it is because he lacked the innovative flair of peers such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. He also moved between projects such that his focus never lasted in one place for very long.  He created an electric starter for automobiles (he discarded it once he saw another had been installed in a car), he created an arcade game depicting a miniature horse race, but never bothered to patent it or produce many. It never reached a mass audience because he didn't want to devote the time to it. He also designed a boat for Henry Ford intended to traverse swampland. It was an early form of the fan boat. Although it never reached mass production, it did show Whitlock's understanding of water vessels.  He did reach people with his skills as a speedboat racer, making records that remain in place to this day.

His greatest legacy, as far as the American Treasure Tour is concerned, is associated with his design and development of an automatic harp machine.  He began work on it in 1899, and his relationship with these magnificent machines lasted for almost twenty years.  He produced around 1,500 harps for the Wurlitzer Company, who sold them across the country.  They were hugely popular for a number of years, providing elegant music for people wanting a quiet experience.  Now, they are considered one of the pieces in the great trifecta of stringed automatic musical instruments, alongside the Encore banjo machine and the Mills Violano Virtuoso.  The American Treasure Tour proudly displays all three in our collection.

ANSWER:  B)  Model B harp

North Tonawanda, NY - February 21, 2014

The writers, editors, producers and consultants at the American Treasure Tour blog would like to acknowledge all of our die-hard fans as we end our week of the Wurlitzer Family.  Today's entry will be dedicated to the town where nickelodeons were made: North Tonawanda, New York.  We realize that this little suburb of Buffalo has appeared in the blog in months gone by, but there is a lot about it that merits our time.  After all, as the center of the American mechanical music industry, North Tonawanda is pivotal to the story of the Treasure Tour itself!

Originally settled along the Tonawanda River in 1809, North Tonawanda was not incorporated as its own entity until 1897.  It had achieved some prominence prior to that, though, partly because of its strategic location along the Erie Canal, but also because of the great forests of the region that inspired its nickname "The Lumber City" by the mid-19th century.  Allan Herschell and James Armitage set up shop among the trees in 1873 for their carousel and roller coaster manufacturing company.  Fifteen years later, they recruited German band organ producer Eugene DeKleist (another favorite!) to come to town, and the North Tonawanda Barrel Organ Factory began production.  It was this company that, in 1908, was purchased by the Wurlitzer Company and became the center of production for their musical empire.  The Wurlitzer factory still stands in town, although it is not used for its original purposes anymore.  It now houses offices and shops, but back in the heyday of mechanical music, it was truly the place to be!


Which of the following did Wurlitzer NOT manufacture?

a)  Band Organs

b)  Traditional Instruments

c)  Music Boxes

d)  Nickelodeons

e)  Juke Boxes


New Haven, Connecticut is likely more famous for being the home of Yale University and for its connection with the American Revolution leader and traitor Benedict Arnold than for publishing, but it deserves recognition for printing the first telephone directory ever.  In the world.  Ever.  On this day in 1878, only two years after Alexander Graham Bell presented his invention to a curious public at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.  The first phone book was a single cardboard sheet that contained information for fifty local business that happened to have telephones on the property, but that was the start of it all, and it guided people - and their fingers - for generations.  Today, the internet has made them all but obsolete, and many communities regard these once-vital resources for communication as unnecessary.  

Generally regarded as one of the greatest accomplishments of an otherwise controversial presidency, today marks the forty-second anniversary of the day when Richard Nixon traveled to China and met Communist leader Chairman Mao.  He paved the way for active trade routes between the two countries and gave American citizens who were glued to their television sets during the visit their first ever glimpses of China and Chinese culture.  Nixon's accomplishments are obvious today, as Chinese-made merchandise virtually dominates the American marketplace.


Very rarely do we get the opportunity to celebrate the birthdays of 17th-century Americans, so the ATT blog had to jump at the chance today.  On February 21, 1621, a daughter was born to William and Joanna Towne in Great Yarmouth, England.  Rebecca was nineteen years old when the family migrated to Salem Colony in Massachusetts.  Four years later, she married Frances Nurse, a "tray maker," or a woodworker who specialized in household goods.  The mother of eight lived an honorable, largely anonymous, life until her seventieth birthday.  Then, things took a turn for the worse.  She was accused of witchcraft by a few young girls in town.  Their claims were taken seriously, which led to the hanging of Rebecca Nurse and eighteen others accused of similar crimes (and the pressing to death of a nineteenth), a tragic incident in American history that reminds us of the dangers of false accusations.  On the positive side, the Salem Witch Trials have served as a draw for this beautiful New England town that is worth a visit regardless of your interest in witches.

On this day in 1925 was born a baby boy who would become one of the most controversial film directors of the late-twentieth century.  Sam Peckinpah gained a devoted following by people who enjoy violence-filled action films. Ironically, Peckinpah was a World War II veteran who saw too much action in Japanese-occupied China and wanted to use the art of film to show people the horrors of violence.  Instead, films including The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid became were often interpreted as glorifying violence and proved inspirations for many future directors, rather than the deterrent he had intended.


We shall support whatever our enemies oppose and oppose whatever our enemies support. - Chairman Mao

Answer:  c)  Music Boxes - they did distribute music boxes for the Regina Company of New Jersey, but they did not manufacture them.