Mills Violano-Virtuoso - April 11, 2014

Happy Friday, April lovers!  We here at the American Treasure Tour blog are happy you're here with us today.  Because you are, we are going to give you a special treat today:  a discussion of one of our very favorite orchestrions - the Mills Violano-Virtuoso Double Violin.  Its name is a mouthful, but it is an absolutely wonderful mechanical musical instrument.  We do not profess to be unbiased when we say this, but the Double Violin is one of our favorites.  If you have not yet heard it, you really do need to come on our tour.  We got some pictures of it while it was getting its routine maintenance, too, so you can get a "behind the scenes" tour of it as well - only on our blog!

Herbert Mills established the Mills Novelty Company in 1891 Chicago. They started out constructing gambling machines and arcade games before getting into the orchestrion business. As you may know, most orchestrions use a pneumatic (air) system to operate.  Mills' engineer Henry Sandell defied tradition with the Violano-Virtuoso and replaced the bellows with solenoids and electromagnets to create an entirely electric machine that perfectly blended the sounds of the violin and the piano.  Instead of using a tracker bar to read the paper music, it has little wire brushes that press against the paper pressed against a steel roller.  When metal contacts metal, music happens.  And the music is absolutely beautiful!  When the United States Patent Office saw a prototype of the machine at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909, they rated it one of the eight great inventions of the decade.

QUESTION:  Which of the following was also one of the eight great inventions of the decade?

a)  The steam turbine principle of power transmission

b)  The hydraulic technology used for building construction

c)   Advancements in wireless telephony

d)  The slinky

e)  Comprehensive development of aerodynamic simulation

Answer Below


A film was released in 1995 that was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  It was based on the true story of the manned Apollo 13 manned space mission.  The actual mission left from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on this day in 1970 with the intention to land on the moon.  Two days into the journey, an oxygen tank on the service module exploded, effectively crippling the command module.  Not only did the moon landing have to be aborted, but no one was entirely confident that the three astronauts on the mission - James Lowell, "Jack" Swigert and Fred Haise - would be able to safely return to earth.  It took five long days before they got home, but everyone was safe.  When Ron Howard's film came out fifteen years later, some people in the audience who didn't realize it was a true story complained about its "Hollywood ending."

1976 was the year that America celebrated its bicentennial.  It also marked the beginning of a new era, although no one could have known it at the time, when Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs sold their favorite calculator and VW Microbus (respectively) to pay for the equipment necessary to manufacture Apple 1 - the prototype personal home computer they released on this day. Massive success did not come to the ambitious entrepreneurs over night, but it all started here, with an order for one hundred computers, each one with a $500 price tag.


Edward Everett was born on April 11, 1794.  It's not too likely you've heard of him, although Civil War buffs most certainly have, and fans of the 1960's cartoon Rocky & Bullwinkle may be familiar with its narrator Edward Everett Horton (no relation).  But Everett was a highly accomplished intellectual - an educator, politician and orator.  He was governor of Massachusetts, United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and even Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore for a short while.  But his greatest legacy is as the keynote speaker at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg in November 1863.  He spoke for two hours about the horrendous battle that had happened there earlier in the year and the nobility and sacrifice of the Union soldiers.  And then, President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech that lasted right about two minutes. Afterwards, Everett said to Lincoln, "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."  An opponent of Lincoln in 1860, Lincoln had his vote in 1864. 

Answer:   A) The steam turbine principle of power transmission.  We pretty much made up the other stuff.  Doesn't mean anything (especially this "wireless telephony" nonsense.  Who's ever heard of a phone that is not connected by wire to other phones? That's just crazy!)  Except for the slinky.  Of course, the world was not quite ready for that technology in 1909. It would not walk down stairs until 1943.