MACUNGIE, Pa. - Allen Organ in Macungie is celebrating 85 years in business in the Lehigh Valley. It was founded in 1937 by Jerome Markowitz, who created the first electronic analogue organ.
"Analogue sound basically came from the technologies of the 20's and 30's which was basically radio oscillators," said current president Steven Markowitz, Jerome’s son.
“People like my father found ways to use this oscillator technology to create musical instruments,” Markowitz said. "This technology advanced to a point by the mid-60's it really couldn't advance any further."
And 50 years ago this year, in 1971, the company hit another milestone – rolling out the Allen Digital Computer Organ, the first digital instrument. The advancement fundamentally changed the way we play, record, and listen to music. The instrument is the direct ancestor of digital keyboards, CD's and MP3 players.
"Anything that produces sound today digitally,” Markowitz said.
The original model, first used in local church for 25 years, is now in the Smithsonian. "It allowed the company to be successful over all of these decades," Markowitz said.
It might never have happened without the Apollo 11 mission.
"This is a story that is really American, it's a basis that we have a company that started from nowhere – with an individual that became successful, saw the future, grabbed the future," Markowitz said.
The story of the digital organ begins in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy said we were putting a man on the moon. That would require circuit boards. Good ones.
“The company that created them, Rockwell, understood the space program was a finite program and they wanted to use this technology in the commercial world," Markowitz said.
One way to use them – they thought – was instruments. Soon, Rockwell and Allen Organ were under contract to develop the first digital instrument, a $2-million risk at the time for Jerome.
"At the time organs were really the only electronic musical instruments,” Markowitz said. "This project actually took about three years from the time the agreement was made till the first organ was introduced."
It worked: "The MOS board was made up of 22 custom, integrated circuits. 13 different ones. In fact in 1971, it was the most sophisticated computer board in any product in the world."
"Digital tone generation has complete control of the harmonic content of sound. In other words it allows us to exactly replicate the sound of either musical instruments, our voice, or whatever,” Markowitz said.
Of course, the technology has come even further and Allen Organs continues to push the technology further – in the spirit of its founder.
"I'm sure if he was sitting here today he would be more focused on what's going to happen five years from now," Markowitz said.