Tel-Electric – These machines played thin brass rolls rather than paper rolls, and were designed to attach to traditional pianos. The company was in business between 1907 and 1918. The 65-note Tel-Electric model cost $350. (The Telektra, introduced in 1913, was $450 – the second model produced by them, which offered an 88-note machine with wider brass rolls.) The machines are stand-alone devices that could be installed in any type of grand or upright piano, with a wooden cabinet designed to conceal the mechanism. It is attached to a bank of electromagnets (solenoids) mounted under the keyboard of the piano and connected to corresponding keys by a series of wires. Expression coding determined the amount of voltage that channeled through the magnets to impact the striking force of the keys and, as such, the volume.
John Forrest Kelly (born in Ireland in 1859, he died in Massachusetts 1922) was an assistant to Thomas Edison in Menlo Park before leaving to join the Westinghouse Company. He was a proponent for alternating current (Edison advocated direct current), and went into independent electrical development. He became a co-founder of the Telectric Piano Company in 1905, for which he served as president until 1910. Over his life of invention, he accumulated over seventy patents, commercialized the electric piano and a food dehydration system, and advocated for Irish nationalism.
The Tel-Electric Company had offices located at 299 Fifth Avenue (near 31st Street), New York City; 14 Grand Avenue, Suite 6, Milwaukee, WI; 405 Boylston Street, Boston, MA; 248 Michigan Blvd., Chicago, Illinois.
The Tel-Electric required electric power to operate, but did not demand that the home in which it was performing had electric wiring. It could work off of 12-volt batteries, which were provided when purchased. The 65-note player operates from the second “A” in the Bass to the last “C sharp” in the treble. The various degrees of expression are controlled by a resistance bank, there being a resistor for each individual magnet.
An advertisement written during its production described that: "It requires no pumping, but electricity in the house is not essential. It plays from the keys, but does not obstruct the keyboard. It does not alter the appearance of your piano. It enables you to play your piano from a distance. It uses indestructible brass music rolls that are not effected by dampness. It costs no more, attached to your piano, than the cheapest player piano of the same grade. It can be attached to any grand upright piano." The price was $350 in 1911, which was less than an average car, but more than the average family would likely consider practical.
These machines were very popular in the nineteen-teens. Thousands were sold, and there were a number of options advertised by the company for their brass rolls, including classical, sacred, operatic, songs and ballads, marches and two-steps, dance music, national war songs, accompaniment, college songs, transcriptions and variations, in a lighter vein, and ‘duets’ between the machine and a human.
The durability of the brass rolls was definitive; however, the Tel-Electric’s demise occurred because of a brass shortage associated with World War I. The federal government’s reclamation drive of metals needed for the war effort included the brass rolls used for the machines. The company tried to modify their machines to mini-paper rolls of stiff paper, but the company went out of business anyway in 1918.