Votey, Edwin


Edwin Scott Votey was an American inventor of the mechanical musical instruments. He is credited for the invention of pianola in 1895. “The New York Times” stated that Votey could be regarded as “the inventive genius of the automatic music industry”.

Votey’s pianola was the first cylinder-operated piano playing device that allowed truly musical performances to be achieved.Edwin Votey was born in Ovid, New York in a family of a Baptist pastor. In April 1873, the family moved to Vermont, where Charles Votey headed the newly established Baptist church. The building had been purchased and repaired by three directors of the “Eastey Organ Company”, the most influential employers in the town. Soon Edwin Votey started his career as a seller of organs. “Eastey” then was something of a hothouse for talent encouragement, sort of an unofficial university for pneumatic engineers.

Edwin Votey's engineering skills attracted attention of a wealthy Detroit music dealer, C.J. Whitney, who bought out the failing “Detroit Organ Company”, renamed it as “Whitney Organ Company”, and set up Edwin Votey as the Technical Director. In 1887 the name of the firm was changed to “Farrand & Votey”.

In 1890, Edwin Votey spent six months in Europe studying pipe organs and selling reed organs, and later the same year his firm added the manufacture of church pipe organs to its business.

In 1892, “Farrand & Votey” purchased the pipe organ business of “Hilborne Roosevelt”. One of the owners was Frank Roosevelt, a cousin of Theodore, the US President. The company was a success with an organ constructed in 1893 for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the first Aeolian Pipe Organ installed in New York.

In 1898, the “Aeolian Company” purchased “Votey Organ Company”, and a new-built factory was soon opened in New Jersey. The organs’ production was transferred there in August, 1900.

In August 1903, a new holding company was set up, known as “Aeolian, Weber Piano and Pianola Co” with Edwin Votey serving as the Vice-President, Company Secretary and Technical Director.

Years between 1900 and 1930 were the peak of prosperity not only for the “Aeolian Company”, but also for Edwin Votey's career.

In 1878 Edwin Votey married Annie M. Gray and they had three children - a son, Charles, and two daughters, Fanny and Edwina. Charles followed his father in the Aeolian Company, where he rose to be in charge of the company's production facilities, and Fanny, who upon marriage became Fanny Votey Rogers, became a concert pianist, and recorded several Duo-Art and Metro-Art music cylinders.

Edwin Votey continued his active business until spring of 1930, when he retired due to his poor health, though retaining his directorship of “Aeolian Company”. He died on January 21, 1931, at the age of 74.