The Mills Violano-Virtuoso violin was originally designed and patented by Henry Sandell (born 1878, died 1948), a Swedish immigrant and early contemporary of Thomas Edison. His first patent for elements of the machine was from 1899. Looking for funding, he proposed his machine to Mills in 1903. The actual patent for the self-playing violin was submitted in 1905 as the “Automatic Virtuoso,” with the piano element added to make it the Violano-Virtuoso later. It received great acclaim during a highly-publicized tour of England. King Edward VII requested a performance, which required a piano accompanist (the performance had to be cancelled due to the King's obligation to attend the funeral of the King of Denmark).
Sandell was 27 when he got the job at Mills specifically to work on the Violano. He ultimately received over 300 patents, many for the technology used with the Violano.
The first major American presentation of the Violano-Virtuoso was at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, WA in 1909, where it was put on display by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as one of their “8 Great Inventions of the Decade,” alongside:
1. The steam turbine principle of power transmission
2. The modern system of light generation and distribution
3. The Ives Kromskop
4. The Ives Calorimeter – this and the Kromskop furthered the art of color photography
5. The Parallax Stereogram, a projector of stereoscope photography used with aerial photography for accurate map making
6. The Telepost, “a system of great telegraphical importance”
7. The International Harvesting machinery for modern farming