The first major electronic music instrument was the Telharmonium, invented by Thaddeus Cahill (1867-1934).
His idea was to connect electrical dynamos (alternators) to telephone receivers, and that the result should be a simple sine tone. An organ keyboard was to be connected to a series of dynamos, so that a harmonic series could be produced for each key on the keyboard. This required a large switching system to turn dynamos on and off, and miles of wiring. The outputs of the alternators could be combined into one line that went to a telephone receiver, producing a complex tone. Each dynamo had to produce 12-15,000 watts of power. The organ keyboard was designed to be touch-sensitive, an innovation not seen again until the mid 1970s. The instrument had multiple keyboards, so that different keyboards could produce different tone colors (sets of harmonics). Pedals were assigned to different keyboards, controlling their volumes individually. It was meant to be played by two people.

The intention was to synthesize music electronically and distribute it through telephone lines to be played at hotels, restaurants, and homes. Cahill got the patent in 1897, began work in 1899, gave the first demonstration for potential investors in 1901. The demo was a success, and the principal backer formed the New England Electric Music Company. Production began in Massachusetts.

The instrument weighed some 200 tons. A switching system combined the outputs of the dynamos. The sounds were amplified through special horns attached to telephone receivers.

The first transmission took place in 1904, from Massachusetts to New Haven, CT. The backer formed the New York Electric Music Company to raise funds in NY. In 1905, an agreement was reached with New York Telephone Company. NYT would lay telephone lines to transmit the Telharmonium throughout NYC.


Darter, Tom and Greg Armbruster. The Art of Electronic Music, New York, NY: GPI Books, 1984.