This page is sponsored and paid for by Vintage Hammond Church Organs of Houston, TX & Atlanta, GA
Click on logo to Visit Vintage Hammond
"Let's get organized to make the radio sets in an empty factory, that has nothing to do with our factory," I said, "for there’ll come a day when the war will be over. And we can then start making organs immediately as soon as the restrictions are lifted, because there will be a great back-log of orders."
This they did. During the war, with no new ones to be had, second-hand Hammond organs sold at 2 or 3 times their original price. As soon as the war was over, without having to change over, the Hammond employees went back to their own factory and started immediately trying to fill all those back orders.
Although circumstances later forced him to spend more and more time running the business, Hammond was at this time still primarily the inventor. Though everyone looked up to him as the Head of the Company, he depended on Redmond to manage the business end.
Although of course he had assistants in his work as an inventor, Hammond was something of a loner. "It's a very lonely life," he said. He often worked out his problems in his office or at home. To his assistants, it was apparent that he'd been thinking after hours about the things the rest of the laboratory staff had put out of their minds for the night, for he'd come in at ten in the morning, full of ideas. He would have a comprehensive plan of how something would work out, about how you would assemble it. The idea wasn't always producible, but he'd drive right through the middle of a problem, and say "Do it" - sometimes sticking people with pretty tough difficulties and sometimes what he asked them to do would interfere with the functioning of the business. But if he asked you to do it, you did it. When you actually started working with him, he was very down-to-earth and got in there with the pliers and scissors. But he did very little work with his hands - he did the thinking. In his office, he'd start pacing, at first inside the office, then a little further-and further out of it each lap, thinking. If the secretary outside his office were new, she would stop typing and look around to see if he wanted anything. But he didn't even see her. He would look right through people then - when he was thinking, his employees could-be standing on their heads, and he wouldn't even notice them.
Yet he was in the midst of what was going on. His ability to spot a phony was phenomenal. A phony wouldn't last two weeks. He was close to things, and when he wasn't lost in thought, he kept an eye on everything and everybody.
One day Hammond and a young research engineer saw, through the window, a great cloud of black smoke coming from below. He made for the stairs on the run, and grabbed a fire extinguisher from the stairway wall on the way to the floor below. A "stovepipe" exhaust ventilator had become coated inside with wax and cotton cuttings - the insulation from wires. Somehow this had ignited and created an inferno in that long ventilator stovepipe, which led across the room to its outlet through the wall. But as the fire was inside the stovepipe, the workers in that room weren’t even aware of it. Hammond arrived just as the soldered joints melted and the stovepipe fell apart, its sections pouring out fire. Before the workers knew how to react to the fiery tubes hurtling down among them, he had extinguished the flames.
Eating lunch, he might write on an assistant's paper napkin, "When you get back, do so and so." He was tireless in what he liked to do, and would be just getting into his stride by five o'clock - but he was considerate to his assistants - he’d let them go. He himself used to work around the clock - at all hours. No one spent more time in the plant, or came in more on Saturdays. He always had the interest of the Company at heart, putting aside his most vital personal concerns if there were pressure to get something completed.
At Eglin Field he worked Saturdays and Sundays as well as other days, and expected his assistants to, also - but if there wasn't anything to do, he might offer his car to an assistant for the day.
When Redmond was out, Merrill filled in for him as business manager of the Company. But both Redmond and Merrill had serious illnesses in 1946, and from then on, Hammond had to spend a lot more time in the business end of things, He didn't do so much inventing - partly for this reason, and partly through natural causes. "You are less inventive as time goes on," he says. "The time to invent-things is when you're twenty-two." Merrill's illness proved fatal, and Redmond only partially recovered. Hammond realized someone had better be trained to manage the business. He assigned young Sorenson to drive Redmond to and from work when Redmond began to return from his illness, so Sorenson could learn as much as possible from Redmond. And though he preferred his laboratory, Hammond continued to spend more time in his office, which he hadn't used much before. It was a "small, tiny, crowded office," says Sorenson, "but he wouldn't have it changed, though we pleaded with him. He had the worst furniture in the whole building - he loved it - it was big, bulky, old-fashioned stuff, but he wouldn't change it."
"I kept it because I didn't like the idea of having a doggy office - what's the use of it?" says Hammond,
At one point Stephens decided that the drafting room was poorly lighted, and should be laid out differently, and assigned Tony Trendler, today a V.P. to make the plans. He did, with fluorescent lighting, and was sent to "sell" his plans to Hammond. Hammond listened patiently to the proposal. Yes, he agreed the drafting room was pretty old-fashioned; Trendler could go ahead. After the new lighting was installed, Trendler was quite pleased with it, and invited Hammond to come and see it. He came in, walked around very quietly, talking to people and tugging at his moustache. Trendler couldn't figure out whether the response was favorable or not. Finally Hammond shook his head a bit and said, "You know, it looks like a Walgreen drugstore."
Although he was among the first Chicagoans to install air-conditioning in his home, he wouldn't have it in his office. The workers in the plant can't have it, he pointed out.
Everyone in the Company thought he was a great person, but he didn't encourage closeness. The time came when he had lunch with Sorenson every day, but he never called him by his first name. Yet Sorenson feels, "He was like a father to me. " Hammond said it's more important that your employees respect you than that they like you." He was formal in his relationships. This sometimes led to a result you might not think of. He wrote so few letters that he didn't have a secretary of his own, and when he needed to write, he borrowed someone else's secretary - Redmond's or somebody else. And so sometimes it was a new girl he had never seen before. And they would introduce her to him. "Mr. Hammond, this is Miss Plink-Plink." And he would immediately get up from his desk and shake hands with her in his courtly way, and say, "How do you do, Miss Plink-Plink." Here was the big boss getting up out of his chair to say how do you do, and this would practically paralyze her.
He seemed a "man of things, not people" - a man who was shy and "was to himself." They remember him as tall and straight and soft-spoken. Although he could, of course, be steely, the recollection old employees retain is that he was pleasant in manner and always said hello whether he knew you or not, and would pass the time of day if he had time. In the early days when there were only 500 employees, he knew them by name, but now that the Company had grown so big, that had long since passed. If formal, he was someone you could respect; he wasn't going to be buddy-buddy, but he wasn't unapproachable. And although somewhat impersonal, he was always considerate.
One long-time employee said, "If he knew I was going downtown and he was going that way, he'd give me a ride - or if I was walking down the street and he saw me, he'd stop and offer me a ride. But I don't remember him ever using my name. "Names weren't his strong point. But if he was in the elevator and it passed you just before you pressed the button, he would stop it and go back and pick you up. Once an assistant found Hammond’s windshield covered with ice and started to scrape it for him. "But he wouldn't let me."
Employees remember that at Company picnics he rubbed elbows with everybody. And one time a pretty girl named Shirley Cheever induced him to jitterbug with her, and he really stayed with her, movement for movement. (He had an eye for a pretty face). And after that, he did his soft-shoe routine. "He really did know how to step around."
He usually came to the Christmas parties, had a drink and discreetly left - but on one occasion he made a great impression by doing a clog dance until he accidentally kicked a desk in jumping up to kick his heels. He stopped and further amazed the group by sheepishly referring to the time that Ziegfeld had once offered him a clog dancing act.
Hammond's philosophy of running the Company was a simple plan - he had half a dozen department heads to get a thing done. "He was really running the Company", says a long-time staff member "and everybody knew it in those days. If he wanted something done it was put first." The attitude of the workers was fine then; the organ was hand-made with loving care, and a finished product that had something wrong with it when it reached the stage of being tested, was a rarity. It was a blow to Hammond when the Company got so large that he couldn't run it personally.
But they never seemed to catch up with that backlog of orders. They stopped making clocks about 1946, as that had become less profitable, but still the orders for organs outran their facilities for production. Their Western Avenue plant was no longer big enough; they had to purchase another on Diversey Avenue (a plant that had housed Al Capone's cleaning racket, incidentally). And when they introduced the chord organ, they had to take on still another building to produce it. Hammond was reluctantly drawn into allowing the business to get larger. "He couldn't keep it small without strangling it," says Volkober.
"He was a wonderful man to work for. He was the kind of a guy, if anything had to be done, who was willing and ready to pitch in and do whatever he could." He would say to someone to whom he had entrusted some authority, "Well, you know more about this than I do." And he recognized a good idea of someone else’s; he would admit that "That idea is better than mine." Very few inventors will do this, says Sorenson.
He spent hundreds of hours sitting on the bench with different organists asking them, "Have you got any suggestions? What would you like to see in this organ that isn't here?" He got a tremendous lot of information that way.
One man particularly said, "I think the organ is fine, except for this tremulant you have. I keep trying to think what's wrong with it, but that is not the right effect." He couldn't describe exactly, but he was so positive, he said, "You'll just have to find that. The thing you have is no good."
The tremulant Hammond then had was merely a variation in loudness, and that was the trouble. There was no vibrato. To give the vibrato effect there has to be a slight variation in pitch. And you couldn’t slow down the wheels in the organ to alter the pitch. Some other method of modulating the frequency had to be found. Hanert applied an artificial transmission line with a variable condenser, which did the trick,. "I was going to do it in a different way," says Hammond, "but his way was much better."
After this he decided to work on a dry reverberating device - without the tube of oil at the bottom. He spent a great deal of time and ingenuity devising and testing new oil-less substitutes. Other engineers on the staff were also working on this problem. Sorenson said, "Why don't you look at what they're doing?" Hammond did, and then told Sorenson, "Those fellows are so far ahead-of me, I'm not going to touch my stuff."
"He'd come to me one day with a brilliant idea," says Sorenson, "and just swarm all over me with his enthusiasm, and the next day he'd say, "Well, what did you think about it?" "I learned fast that I couldn't stand up under his enthusiasm - he was like a steam roller then - so I never tried to attack an idea the same day, but the next day when he'd cooled off, I'd speak. If I said it was good, he'd be happy. If I said, ‘I don't think it's so good’ he'd say, ‘Why not?’ And I’d tell him. And he’d say, "You're right, you're absolutely right." It was nice to talk to someone who'd admit he was wrong.
Actually, Hammond said to Maurice Webster once that out of all the ideas he had that looked really promising, only about one in a hundred actually panned out. The product might not be marketable - or someone else might have patented it. But he had an extraordinary knack for recognizing a good commercial product - "that's unusual for an inventor," says Sorenson, "for they usually like to invent." Hanert was always inventing a new instrument that nobody in their right mind would ever buy, but we had to take a long time to convince him of this. Laurens Hammond was the stabilizing influence. Besides the fact that he was an inventor, he obviously was able to identify those products that would be salable - because that was the history of our Company - we really didn't have any flops while he was there."
Up to 1949, organs had been designed primarily for churches and theaters, or for entertainers, etc., though many people had bought these models and put them in their homes. The possible home market was, of course, colossal, and in that year the Company produced the first spinet organ, based on a patent Hammond filed: a smaller version with offset manuals - the upper keyboard to the right, the lower one to the left - and only forty-four keys on each instead of sixty-one. It was designed for the living room, and amplifiers and speakers were all housed right in the console.
That year, Hammond's annual report said, in his unpretentious way, "We are currently in production of this new model but have not yet advertised it, nor promoted its sale, We introduced it surreptitiously in Rockford, Illinois, and so many were sold there, locally, that we have been encouraged to think that a large number will be needed on a national basis. Nevertheless, what we have said is merely our guess . . ." A year later the new model was accounting for almost half the dollar volume of the Company. Within six years, the Hammond Company (by then named The Hammond Organ Company) sold more spinets than all the organs it had previously made. Competitors lept on the bandwagon and copied them as soon as they could.
A year later, 1950, came the chord organ, an easy-to-play device, for which Hammond modestly gives Hanert almost all the credit. But Hammond himself also had a significant part in it; it was in a way a stepchild of his Novachord; furthermore at least one of the chord organ patents is his. Like the Novachord and Solovox, it used not tone wheels, but vacuum tubes as tone generators. The chord organ is played much like an accordion, but also has two pedals, either of which gives a bass note appropriate to the chord you're playing - and it has a number of stops for the melody, so it may resemble various instruments, from banjo to cello to clarinet, etc. It's one of the easiest to play instruments ever devised; with a minimum of skill and practice, even with clumsy fingers, you can produce beautiful music of a simple variety on it, chords, bass and all.
Hammond’s respect for Stephens as a designer was illustrated when the chord organ was planned. Hammond had made a prototype metal cabinet for it, designed and decorated for the rumpus room - something like the Hammond Piper organ of today. He was even going to put a radio into it. Stephens said, "That's not the way it's going to be." He had planned a handsome wooden frame for it which would grace any living room. Designing was one of Stephens’ great strengths; Hammond deferred to him, and it was encased in a handsome wooden frame. Hammond was again, ahead of his time. The racy-looking rumpus room fun-organ with self-playing mechanisms in it is all the rage today.
But the chord organ at $880.00, achieved great popularity. It was then copied by competitors and gradually its reputation was cheapened by the inexpensive lower-quality models some of them put out, until it finally lost its respectability as a serious musical instrument.
Although he "didn't have any real flops," Hammond did, of course, develop some inventions that didn't make it, and some of these are worth mentioning.
Just before the war he developed a "quartet organ." This had four movable speakers, one, for each of the top four notes played at any one time on the keyboard. Thus, in training a quartet, or a chorus or choir singing in four parts or fewer, those singing each part could stay by their own speaker and hear clearly their own part played for them while all sang. If you've ever sung in such groups, you can easily see the advantage of such an instrument, how helpful it would be, and how much teaching time and effort it would save the organist and the chorus. But it is a kind of specialized use, and when a market survey was made, it appeared that there weren't enough people interested to justify going ahead so the new organ, on the verge of production, was shelved.
In 1950 Hammond patented a rotary (revolving) antenna for TV. He had one made which he used in his home. In the same year he applied for a patent, issued in 1958, on a "circular musical scale." This is an arrangement of chords and notes which seems to be constantly climbing up higher and higher, but actually isn't.
In all, he patented nearly one hundred inventions, a list of which appears in the appendix.
"He is one of the most brilliant men you'll ever meet," said Sorenson, "Pick anything and he’ll start talking about it. I started a farm, a hobby farm, spent the summer on it and started to raise beef cattle. He told me everything there was to know about raising beef cattle," Volkober was telling Hammond one day how he had taken his young sons to "'Wisconsin for a fishing expedition, but they'd caught nothing, until he was rowing home as fast as he could, when much to everyone's surprise, they each caught a fairly large pike. Hammond said, "Why John, the only way you can catch pike is by trolling." It was the same with almost any subject.
"The most brilliant man I've ever met, and I've met some brilliant people," says his nephew, David Shepard, himself now an inventor of distinction. "He's just fantastic in terms of his comprehension of things and ability to set things in order."
In 1950, Hammond published an eighty-page booklet called "A Scheme for Perpetual Prosperity," It is concerned with preventing the tragedy of mass unemployment, which has accompanied depressions.
"The American economy is run by businessmen. For as long as this is true, businessmen in particular should be seeking a practical answer to the great riddle. Those who run successful enterprises, from which they have gained personal fortunes, have a special obligation to keep trying to think of something that could protect business in general, beyond their own enterprise. When unemployment develops in the economy, it starts like cancer. To attempt to improve something, once the patient develops serious symptoms, is a task which is almost hopeless..." "Every man who is capable of doing a good day’s work, and is sincerely and persistently looking for such work, should be able to find it. If he cannot, there is something basically wrong with the system which so many of us admire ... If we were smart enough, and willing enough, it is unthinkable that it could not be improved without destroying its best features."
Hammond started where Keynes left off - with the conviction that there must be a "novel expedient" which could be applied to prevent depressions and their dreadful concomitant, mass unemployment. He sought a sort of thermostat - - an automatic set of actions which by law would take effect when unemployment rose above a given percentage - and would be reversed when employment reached acceptable levels again.
To find what would work, he devised a kind of mathematical diagram which isn't easy for the layman to follow, but which does seem to lead to definite answers. Very roughly, he divides up workers among groups A and C - those who work for the government; group K - those who work to produce private capital assets; Group G - those who repair them; and group E - those who produce consumers' goods or are in the service industries. He apportions the total income of each group to taxes, living expenses, repairing old assets, and savings. He points out that, although some totals are relatively stable (such as figures for government employees, and repairing old assets), others are definitely not stable. The figures for producers of private assets are particularly unstable, for example.
With his diagrams, using convenient figures (ranging from 1 to 2205) to represent the amount of money involved in each case, he is able to trace the effect on each other group if one groups a income or savings changes to a considerable degree; for the whole system is interacting. Living expenses, for example, go to the income of Group F. Taxes go to Group A or C, etc.
Using algebra as an aid, he found some startling results most important being that to lower the total income of those producing capital assets, even to a moderate amount, has a snowballing effect and creates much more unemployment than you could imagine and conversely, to raise their total income a modest. amount results indirectly in an extraordinary boost in employment throughout the economy. Public works are a second-best choice, but pile up government deficits.
He suggests what he calls "taxidy" - a subsidy to the capital-assets producers in times of unemployment, a tax of the same amount during times of satisfactory employment.
"We want a device which will make it in the interest of individuals to hire others at the precise time when employment is falling off elsewhere."
The booklet was sent to business friends. Adlai Stevenson wrote an appreciative letter, was sending it on to an authority in economics, etc. It is not easy reading, and didn't become popular. Hammond says that some of the ideas brought out in it are now implemented on a national scale. "We do not yet have an "E" (employment) Day and a "U" (unemployment) Day, however, or "taxidy".
In 1953 Redmond, who had managed the Company so capably for so many years, died. This was a grievous blow to Hammond. He not only had relied completely on Redmond to run the business, Redmond had become his intimate friend and colleague. Hammond picked what he considered the three brightest men; Sorenson, Hodson, and Volkober. He put them on a sort of competitive basis. They were to be a Committee of three that were to consider all-important questions. If they agreed, that was fine. They could just go ahead and do it. If they had a serious disagreement, then they should bring the problem to him. Ultimately, Hammond asked other members of the staff which of the three they would rather serve under, and Sorenson was chosen, "Probably people wanted the easiest guy to deal with," says Sorenson, modestly. Anyway, he was put in charge of the business in 1955.
But meanwhile Hammond suffered an even more crushing blow, In 1954 his beloved wife Mildred died.
"That just changed everything for me. As far as I was concerned, it was the end of the world had come, and I just lost interest in everything. Everything more or less collapsed for me. I had no interest in doing anything about the business."
He was so depressed that for six months when he came to the office he would close his door and speak to no one.
"I was absolutely at loose ends. When my wife died, I was quite stoutish - 220 pounds, I think. The flesh all just fell off me, I lost weight, and in no time I weighed 170. My clothes all - - nothing fitted. Losing her just took the heart out of me, and finally I thought, well to hell with all this business, I am going to see if I can get along by myself, and I shall go to Europe, and get a car and drive - which I did.
And I was driving this car along, by myself, and I saw two young girls, and first they sort of stepped out to hitch-hike, and then when they saw it was a man alone, they got kind of scared, and they didn't know whether to get in. And I just reached around and opened the back door and said, "Get in, it’ll be all right." They got in. Well, we drove and drove and drove and drove. And I never paid much attention to them, but we got finally to a place where there was this big restaurant with tables out on the sidewalk. And I said, "Well, now, you kids, I'm hungry, and I want to eat here, and I'm glad to have you as my guests for luncheon, and the first thing I suggest you do is go into the watercloset" - I mean, I just acted like a father "you go and wash up, and then you come out and order anything you want to eat, and I mean it - the cost doesn't mean anything to me - anything you would like to eat." Well, they came out and I never in my life ever saw anybody eat so much! It was absolutely fantastic - I just couldn't believe it. They ate so much that it was absolutely appalling - so much that even the waiter would look at me and sort of wink and get to laughing. I'd say, "Now don't you want this - ?" "Oh yes, yes". And they'd take off on one major dish after another. -I don't see how anybody could have eaten so much.
So after lunch we drove on. They were going to go, it turned out, to the University of Grenoble. And this was the famous drive that I was on from the French Riviera. And you go up via Grenoble, and you get to Lyon. Well, on the way up after all this eating and this paternalistic business, these kids had changed their mind about me, and they said, "When we got into the car, one of us had a handful of pepper in her hand, and it was agreed that if we were attacked or molested, she was going to slap the man right in the face with the red pepper." She had carried this pepper in her poor little hand, and it was all gummied up, and when they had gotten to the place where they were sent to the bathroom to wash, she could wash the pepper out of her hand because they'd decided they wouldn't need that.
After lunch everything was so relaxed, conversation flowed, and they were willing to talk about themselves, and we were very warm friends. And when we got to Grenoble and they got out, both of them instinctively just stepped up to me and kissed me."
But driving a car around France didn't cure the emptiness, and back home, Hammond began to invite relatives and friends to cruise with him in the Caribbean on a yacht he would rent. On one of these cruises he invited among others his cousin Walter Strong's daughter, and a man for her escort, whom we'll call Point. Well, this girl became so ill that she couldn't go, and Hammond called up Point to explain this, but asked him to come anyway.
Point called back with great embarrassment, and asked, "Is it true that there is a cabin for an extra girl who won't be there?"
Well," said Point, "I know the most wonderful woman. She's more fun in any group. And - it's silly for me to suggest it - but it would be marvellous if you'd invite her. I know that she'd be a tremendous asset."
And I said, "Well, now, whoa,. Whoa! I've bad a lot of experience with boats. And there is nothing worse than to invite a guest, and then it turns out that they get terribly seasick, When they get seasick, you just have to put back, and the whole party ends up, and it's an impossible situation. So I would have to know, in the first place, has she ever been seasick, and in the second place, how and where has this been tested, has she been on boats, and so on,"
"Oh," he said, "I'll get that information right away."
So he called up the woman, whose name was Roxana Harrison, and said he thought she was going to be invited, but that the man was absolutely adamant that she mustn't get seasick. Did she get seasick?
Oh, no, no, she didn't get seasick.
"Well," he said, "it isn't just you saying no, he has to know where you have been and whether you know anything about a sailboat, whether you've ever been in a sailboat, and so forth."
And Roxana told him, "Well, yes, I've been up and down the Coast of Maine in a sailboat. And I never get sick. But you don't mean he's counting on me to do any of the sailing or steering?"
"Oh God, no. The boat has a professional crew of six."
So he arrived with Roxana in his little plane. And she turned out to be everything he had said and more - a delightfully spontaneous person with a lovely voice and a tremendous sense of humor, who not only was "more fun in any group," but cared tremendously about people, was sensitive and understanding about them, very charming as well as strikingly good looking, and a wonderful sport.
Roxana Hammond Passport Photo, around 1963
And we had an awful lot of fun on this trip - everybody enjoyed it very much- it was a great success, And Point kept saying all the time that he kept asking Roxana to marry him, and she hadn't actually said yes, but he felt very confident he would eventually get her to say yes. He was sure he could wear her down to that point.
"Well, I sort of fell in love with Roxana on that trip. So towards the end of the cruise, I was sitting on the deck in siesta time when everyone else was below, and Roxana appeared. And I said, "Roxana, I want to ask you an impertinent question. Are you going to marry this man?"
And she said, "Well, I don't know, but I don't think so."
"Well, he says you are virtually engaged to him."
"Oh, no, no, that's not true at all."
"Well," I said, "everything is sort of fair in love and war. And I would like to get you to go on another trip of this kind, but without him. We could have Rod (the Skipper) and Julie here, as chaperones, and I would send them over to Europe, and see if they could find a nice big boat on the Mediterranean and we could sail around the Mediterranean, which has a lot more interest than here. If so, would you accept, and be willing to go?"
"Oh, would I," said Roxana. It was absolutely marvellous!
So, unbeknownst to the rest of the passengers, the next cruse was quietly arranged by radio, - and it was equally successful.
Back home, Hammond visited Roxana in her home in the Connecticut hills - and was amused and somehow delighted that she liked to cook without shoes on. He invited her to see his house in Chicago. She got off the plane with, typically, an enormous bunch of flowers, gladiolus from her Connecticut garden. They would have died if she hadn't picked them, she said simply. But one thing still worried Hammond, and he asked his daughter, Peggy, for advice.
"What would you think of my marrying somebody fifteen years younger than I am? When she's 65, I'll be-80." Peggy, who had recently seen "Tea House of the August Moon", quoted a line from it, "You're old, Pops, but you not dead."
And on October 25th, 1955, Roxana became Roxana Hammond, and their marriage, too, has been a very happy one. They were married by the country doctor at Cornwall, Connecticut, where he is also Justice of the Peace and the most prominent and beloved citizen. Next day they sailed on the Liberté. When they returned from their wedding trip, Roxana wanted to see the Hammond plant. Her husband was almost like a schoolboy in his excitement as he took her through.
Hammond was always a boatman, from his youth up. When he lived in New York, he kept a boat at West 112th Street, and he gave dinner parties on it while taking his guests clear around Manhattan Island. The excursion had to be carefully planned, as the tide in the East River ran so fast that the leaky, plodding "Aseptic" had to run with it - couldn't make headway against it. And there were tense moments: if you didn't realize, that a steamer's blast was directed at you, you might get the blinding glare of its searchlight in your eyes - and then you couldn't see anything.
When he moved back to Illinois, he kept a sailboat on Lake Michigan. He had a special hobby of navigating it across the Lake with precision, day or night, using navigating instruments he had designed himself. He later owned larger and larger "stinkpots" on the Lake. Keeping up the sails and rigging of a sailboat was too time-consuming. He usually spent two or three weeks each summer on a cruise in his boat, and it was on one such cruise that he designed the automatic-dealing bridge table.
He felt absolutely at home on a seaworthy boat, and was an utterly intrepid navigator in rough seas. One time Merrill was with him, also his first wife Mildred, on his cruiser "Vaune", when a storm blew up enormous waves without warning. A man who had been on a subchaser was aboard, and exclaimed to Hammond, who was at the helm, "I can't believe that a boat as little as this would stand up under these waves."
The next day, a fellow-commuter said to Merrill, "Did you see the Lake yesterday?"
"Yes," said Merrill, "I guess it was pretty rough."
"And would you believe it? A tiny little boat appeared and came through the breakwater with one foot to spare."
"Really?", said Merrill.
Hammond liked to go to Europe with his wife on one of the "Queens", and when the Queen Mary was fitted up with tilt-able fins to prevent. rolling, he could hardly wait to apply the principle to his motor boat. (Every ocean liner adopted them - even freighters).
He went to interview the Sperry people about it and was greeted warmly with, "Oh, we know all about you - you're the inventor of the trim corrector." This harked back, of course, to his work for the Air Force. Sperry was most interested.
But this wasn't an easy thing to install on a yacht. The pressure seemed to be too tough on the boat. Hammond ultimately tried two fins above water which could be lowered and held in place by a cable. This proved impracticable because the cable vibrated so in the water, that it would finally break - and there was no way of preventing this vibration.
But while the cable held, the fins worked. And in one memorable thunderstorm when no other boat would brave the weather on Lake Michigan, Hammond was out there, with Roxana. They just got through an extremely narrow breakwater entrance - about a foot on either side, in this roaring sea. Without the stabilizing fins, the feat would have been impossible. Later, in the harbor, a Coast Guard Cutter hailed them, and its skipper said, "Are You the boat we've been watching all day? - What are those things?"
Today the larger yachts have movable fins built-in.
Hammond bad never lost his interest in chess, and in the Lakefront park he met a chess lover named Buck, and used to play a game with him every week. Seeing other chess-lovers without any place to play, he conceived the idea of a pavilion in Lincoln Park devoted just to chess playing, and he commissioned his old friend Maurice Webster (an architect, by this time retired) to design it for him. The City of Chicago was pretty tough in its stipulations, but the pavilion was finally built in 1957, of reinforced concrete. It is not very large, but extremely attractive in design. It is very popular, and Hammond saw to it that lights be kept on late into Saturday or Sunday night whenever anyone wants them. A recent trip on a Monday afternoon found 37 people (including Mr. Buck) either playing, or watching intently. There was no talking. Thirty-six men and one woman. (Let the feminists field that one.)
Sorenson was now executive Vice-President and general manager of the Company. Hammond was anticipating retirement at 65. His theory was that if you want to train a successor, you leave him in charge and go away. He would leave a post-office address. He "practiced retirement" for five years before the time came. Hammond had been happy to have his Company called the "Steinway of the electric organ business" - clearly superior, but a comparatively small, family operation. But it had grown willy-nilly. And those to whom he had given responsibility for directing the business felt that it still had too narrow a base to continue to lead the field. With intensive marketing display and sales campaigns, ("razzle-dazzle", Hammond called it) they greatly increased the size of the operation. A third building had to be purchased, in Melrose Park, where organs are assembled and shipped. But it became apparent to Sorenson after a while that the electric organ industry was beginning to level off. It wasn't a booming thing going up forever. And he talked to Hammond, saying, "Now, you've got tremendous talent. Please invent something; You're the only real inventor we have."
Hammond, who bad maintained to his daughter Peggy that no one invents anything after forty, was now over sixty. But he produced an invention he called "steak-sticks." These were little aluminum sticks half as long and half as thick as a pencil. Each one had stamped on it "rare" or "medium" or "well-done". And the sharp end you'd stick into the steak. It was a temperature device, and when the steak was done to the degree the label said, a pellet inside would melt, (remember his heat seals?) and a little red lever would fly out the big end, and you’d take out the steak. At one point he tried putting little gunpowder caps on them that would attract your attention by going POP! when the steak reached the proper temperature. But these left powder stains, etc., so he decided to stick with the little red lever.
Well, they tested out these steak sticks, and they worked. The Company gave a number of employees $3.00 to buy steaks and try out the sticks, and they worked fine. Incidentally, these $3.00 gift steaks cost one of the staff $340.00. They made his wife conscious that other people had ovens with glass windows in them, and you can guess the rest.
But though the steak sticks worked, they couldn't be made to sell for five cents, as Hammond had hoped. They might not even be profitable for less than 15 cents - and that was beginning to make them a luxury item, for they could only be used once. Besides, they would have to be made in mass production by fully automated machinery, something the Hammond Company had never gotten into. About this time Hammond began to lose interest. But I hear that in the last couple of years similar products have appeared on the market, made out of plastic.
Another food device Hammond invented at this time, but not for commercial use, was a sauce spoon, to separate sauce from the grease that floats on top of it. This was a big silver spoon with a little trapdoor in the bottom of it. You'd press a lever and open the little trapdoor and pour out the sauce - then close the trapdoor when you came to the grease, which you could then dispose of.
In 1959, during a cruise with Roxana on Lake Michigan, Hammond made a mis-step leaving his boat, fell between two boats, and broke a couple of ribs. He was taped up and after a while had an X-ray to see whether his ribs were healing in the right positions. The report was affirmative - but went on to say that his lungs were nearly opaque from smoking - he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day.
Hammond was debating with himself whether he could stop smoking. At this point, his daughter Polly, who had stopped smoking, talked casually about how much cleaner it made her feel, etc. And he made up his mind. After breakfast on September 1, 1959, he said, "This is my last cigarette." He threw it away, deciding never to smoke another. But it was terribly hard. Many who have gotten to the stage he had reached cannot throw it off. He broke out with hives. The whole thing became a torture. But the worse it got the more determined he grew never to go through this again.
"Then all of a sudden nature stepped in with most extraordinary kindness. It shut off my ability to smell cigarette smoke. Anyone could smoke, and I couldn't smell it. I could smell cigar smoke, but not cigarette smoke! From then on, I knew I had won the battle, But oh, boy, was it difficult! It was maybe three years before my chest X-rays looked good. And I have never smoked again."
Hammond believed very strongly that a man should retire at 65 to give younger men a chance to move up and he had announced that he was going to do just that; he was going to retire completely from all Hammond Organ Company activity. Many in the Company thought he shouldn’t, and were particularly concerned that he at least stay on the Board of Directors. Others didn’t think he would be able to break away that easily - in a way, it was his life. But he felt his work for the Hammond Company was done. And that if he stayed at all, he would have more influence than he wanted. Those in the business who had been closest to him - Merrill and Redmond - were dead and gone. And he had been "practicing retirement" for some time, taking longer and longer vacations, leaving Sorenson in charge, so that the break, when it came, wasn't such a big break, at that.
The first Board Meeting after his 65th birthday was in February, 1960. Hammond was wintering at the charming house he’d built on the Island of Antigua. At this Board Meeting, held for his convenience in Miami, he resigned from all offices, including his directorships, and said good-bye without any fanfare - and he never returned to the plant where he had toiled so long and so extraordinarily successfully. He had started a new industry that had enriched the lives of millions. He had built up a great business, based on a good that had never existed before. And he believed that when you retire, you don't look back.
|Chapter XVIII - Hammond and the Organ||Index|
©Copyright 1974, Stuyvesant Barry All Rights Reserved May not be copied, published, used on anyone else's web pages or in any way without express written permission.