John Turnell Austin was born in England in 1869, enjoying a childhood that included choral singing and amateur organ building with his father. In 1889, he emigrated from England and found work at Farrand and Votey Organ Company in Detroit, and while working for the company he developed the soon-to-be famous Universal Air Chest system. At age 23 he received a U.S. Patent for this innovative concept. He attempted to sell the idea and patent to Farrand and Votey, but instead was able to interest the Clough & Warren Company in Detroit, a reed organ maker. After reaching an agreement, they started a new pipe organ division led by John Austin. The first Austin-patent organs were built in 1893, the same year that Johnís brother, Basil Austin, came to the United States to also seek employment. Unfortunately, while installing the organ at Fourth Congregational Church in Hartford in 1898 (Opus 22), the Clough & Warren factory burned to the ground, not to be rebuilt.
After the fire, The Austin Organ Company was incorporated by John T. and Basil G. Austin. The Austins rented space in Boston to complete two contracts in New England, but during that year prominent Hartford businessmen convinced John T. Austin to move to Hartford. He leased a space on Woodland Street in the recently built (and never-occupied) Watson H Bliss mills building during the spring of 1899. A few years later, the thriving new company purchased the property. During the first few years of the new century, the company engaged in several clever, but risky endeavors that placed them in the public eye.
In 1900, the company secured the services of Robert Hope-Jones, a rather controversial organ architect and tonal designer who developed some signature voices that continue to this day. In 1902, Austin sponsored the first American tour of Edwin H. Lemare, who soon became one of the company's most ardent champions. Through constant growth along with the reliability of the Universal Air Chest system, the Austin Organ Company had become nationally recognized by 1910. In 1915, Mr. Lemare's concert season on Austin Opus 500 at the Panama-Pacific Exposition commanded enormous success: he performed 121 concerts to more than 150,000 people overall. In 1917, John T. Austin was awarded the Edward Longstreth Medal of Merit by the Franklin Institute for ďthe Universal Chest and valuable improvements in the pipe organ.Ē
The years between 1915 and 1931 were the most prosperous in Austinís history. The company produced a staggering 1200 pipe organs over that span, or approximately 75 instruments per year. However, 1929 brought the Great Depression, and sales began to dwindle. By 1935, the officials of the company ceased organ production and began liquidating company assets, most of which were purchased by the newly established Austin Organs, Inc., run by John Austinís nephews, Frederic B. and Basil F. Austin. In 1937 Austin Organs, Inc. officially became successors to Austin Organ Company. The new company relocated to a smaller facility behind the behemoth complex that had served as the Austin Organ Company factory for 38 years. During World War II, the factory was contracted to produce coat hangers and glider wings for the war effort, but the glider wing contract was cancelled shortly thereafter. After the warís conclusion, Austin Organs, Inc. saw tremendous growth and proceeded to expand the factory several times.
F.B. Austin served as president and chairman from 1937 to 1973. He remained chairman of the board until he died in 1990. In 1973, his son Donald B. Austin became president of the company, and C.E.O. in 1990. He remained President until 1998, when Kimberlee J. Austin assumed that role, but remained C.E.O. until his death in 2004. A year later Austin Organs, Inc. was purchased by Michael Fazio, and Richard G. Taylor (who was employed in the Austin office some 30 years prior).
Well-established in its second century of pipe organ manufacturing, Austin Organs, Inc. continues to innovate, inspire and create instruments that endure the test of time. Quoting a byline from our Centennial celebration, we remain: Proud Of Our Past, and Focused On The Future.