QUESTION: In 1880, how many Italian men who immigrated to New York City made a living as an organ grinder?
A) 1 in 2
B) 1 in 20
C) 1 in 200
D) 4 men
It was genius! They did not require electricity - which was a good thing since their invention some time in the late-18th century came long before they could have been plugged in. The street organ is, to put it simply, a box with lots of cool stuff inside that, when combined, makes music. First, you have the crank. Manually operated, this works the bellows and gets a wooden cylinder moving. On the cylinder are pins and staples which create different melodies when keys (called levers) move rods that operate valves. Lots of technical mumbo-jumbo, but trust us. They are quite ingenious and can make absolutely beautiful music.
They would be played on street corners or wherever street grinders could get away with it. The longer they stayed in one spot, though, the less popular they would become. Quite possibly, the same song would be played over and over again, all day long, while the grinder would have an assistant soliciting change from passersby or nearby listeners. The kick is that these assistants could be kids, dogs, or monkeys. This went on in New York City pretty much until 1935, when Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia banned them from the streets. His arguments for doing so including traffic congestion, the involvement of organized crime in renting the machines to the grinders, and the 'begging' element of them. After that, hundreds of machines were destroyed, their music lost forever. The law was repealed in 1975, but the damage was done. The street organ became a thing of the past. Of course, there are still places you can go to hear them played. We can think of one of them associated with this very blog....
ANSWER: B) 1 in 20