reed organ, an organ in which air is forced over free reeds by means of bellows, usually worked by pedals. It is played by the use of one or more keyboards. Variations in tone are produced by stops that control different sets of reeds or vary the manner in which the air acts upon them. Couplers add the upper or lower octave of each tone played. In the late 18th cent. C. G. Kratzenstein built a small reed organ, inspired by the Chinese sheng. In 1810, G. J. Grenié of Paris invented the orgue expressif, and numerous similar instruments followed. Most of these, including the harmonium, as modified in 1840 by Alexandre Debain of Paris, had bellows that blew the air over the reeds, but c.1835 a workman conceived the idea of employing suction bellows. His idea was used by Jacob Estey of Brattleboro, Vt., and Mason Hamlin of Boston in the mid-19th cent. American organ, melodeon or melodium, and cabinet organ were the names generally applied to this type of instrument, although the terms harmonium and melodeon have sometimes been confused. Both types of instrument found wide use in churches and homes in the United States. Many larger modern reed organs are electrically powered and have pedal keyboards like those of the pipe organ.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.