About Barton Player Pianos

About Donald Barton

Donald Barton is the proprietor of Barton Player Piano Company.  He is a registered tuner technician. He was born in Columbus, Ohio, and has a B.S. in Engineering Technology from Franklin University in Columbus. He worked for R. J. Leonard & Sons Player Piano Company for 13 years, and has run his own business since 1985. Don is a member of the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG), the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors' Association and the Music Box Society International (MBSI).

Who invented the player piano?

The question, “who invented the player piano?” is like “ who invented the automobile?” There just isn’t any clear-cut answer, for as in the the case of the auto, the credit must be divided among a number of pioneers in the field.

In 1863 a Frenchman named Forneaux patented what appears to be the first player operating on pneumatic principles. The Pianista formed the basis of practically all later developments in the field. The Pianista had it’s American début at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876. It is what is commonly referred to as a “push-up” player. It operated by means of a hand crank.

Alfred Dolge, publisher of “Pianos and Their Makers” suggests that R.W. Pain was probably the first to build a self contained player piano in 1888.

In 1886 George B. Kelly developed the slide-valve wind motor used to cause rotation of the drive spool for music rolls.

In 1891 William D. Parker received a patent assigned to his employer, the Wilcox and White Co., for a combination manual and paper-roll operated piano. The first successful automatic product of this company was the Angelus Orchestal player patented in 1897.

John McTammany, however, who patented certain devices pertinent to automatic organ construction went to his grave claiming to be the inventor of the player piano.

A Bargain is not always Necessarily a Bargain

With the popularity of Craigslist and Ebay, many consumers are enticed by inexpensive player pianos listed on such web sites. Most player pianos are 85 to 100 years old—just like a house or a car, materials wear out with age. There are approximately 100 bellows and pneumatics in a player piano. It is very unlikely that a well functioning and restored player piano would be offered for several hundred dollars. Often the seller will state that the piano isn’t working due to a missing hose, which could be true, but in most cases is not. It is best to hire a professional to evaluate the system before purchasing and spending $200–$300 moving the piano to your home.