The OHS Pipe Organ Database

BuilderID 8032

Builder Identification

United States, 1832-1944.

Additional Notes

  • From the OHS Database Builders Listing Editor, May 22, 2016. -

    The Pilcher family came to America from England beginning in 1832 with the arrival of the senior Henry Pilcher. His wife and sons soon followed. Henry ran his own shop in Newark, New Jersey, then worked for Henry Erben in New York City for ten years before returning to Newark.

    In 1852, Pilcher's sons Henry [II] and William decided to head west and settled in St. Louis, Missouri, where they established the first Pilcher factory in 1852. The firm rapidly expanded into a musical conglomerate, not simply building organs, but also selling pianos and other musical instruments, sheet music and even publishing music. After the death of his wife, the senior Henry moved to St. Louis and joined his sons in a new partnership; he retired in 1858. The brothers continued on, first under William, then under Henry [II], then again under both by 1862.

    Although St. Louis was relatively quiet during the Civil War, there was an incident in 1863 when Confederate sympathizers killed some of the Union troops stationed there.The Pilcher brothers decided to pack up shop again and move to safer ground in Chicago. While in Chicago, the Pilchers paired with organist Henry William Chant to produce organs under the nameplate of "Pilcher and Chant." The partnership was short lived; two years later, the name was again "Pilcher Brothers." The Pilcher brothers labored on in their new location until the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 left the city in ruins. While their factory escaped the flames, the Pilcher brothers decided to go their separate ways. 

    William remained in Chicago for a short time with his sons, but then returned to St. Louis for another attempt there. William's latest venture in St. Louis did not work well. He moved about (Galveston, Texas and Mobile, Alabama) before finally settling in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he remained until his death. Of William II's sons, his oldest, Dr. William H., gained a reputation as an organist and composer which eclipsed that of his being an organ builder. Charles H. remained with his father, except for a period when the senior William was working in the conservatory started by William H., but he made one last try with his father in Brooklyn, New York before returning to New Orleans. The other sons sought employment with other businesses in New Orleans. William died in 1912 in New Orleans.  

    Henry Pilcher Jr. [II] moved to Louisville, Kentucky, with his sons Henry W. [III] and William Edward and built organs under the name "H. Pilcher and Sons."  In 1880, Henry [II]. passed the business in Louisville on to his sons, the third generation.  Some 2,000 organs were built with the nameplate "Henry Pilcher's Sons." The business continued to prosper through the 1920s, but barely survived the Great Depression of the 1930's and did not recover with the war production efforts.  Finally, in 1944, the company's remaining assets were sold to M.P. Möller, Inc. of Hagerstown, Maryland. William E. Pilcher. Jr., great-grandson of patriarch Henry [I] and the last Pilcher to control a company by that name, became a sales representative for Möller.

    NOTE: The suffixes Jr, II and III were not in common use in America in the 1800s, and the Pilcher family did not use them. They have been added here in brackets simply as an editorial means of distinguishing between men with the same names. In other documents, both Henry [II] and Henry [III] have been referred to as Jr., while Henry [I] and Henry [II] are sometimes referred to as Sr. There are also four different Williams in the family tree, but they are not direct lines. See the Family Tree below to help in distinguishing the person you are seeking.
  • The Pilcher Family Tree of Organ Builders courtesy of Bynum Petty, OHS Archivist

  • The Pilcher Family Firms compiled by the editor


    Henry Pilcher [I]
    Newark, New Jersey, 1848-1852

    ________________ Henry II & William Move to St. Louis 1852 ______________________

    H. & W. Pilcher Organ Co.
    St. Louis, Missouri, 1852-1856

    Henry Pilcher & Sons
    St. Louis, Missouri, 1856-1858

    William Pilcher
    St. Louis, Missouri, 1858

    Henry Pilcher
    St. Louis, Missouri, 1859-1861

    H. & W. Pilcher Organ Co.
    St. Louis, Missouri, 1861-1863

    ________________ Move to Chicago 1863 ______________________

    Pilcher Brothers
    Chicago, Illinois, 1863-1864

    Pilcher Brothers and Chant
    Chicago, Illinois 1864-1866

    >Pilcher Brothers [continuation of the firm after Chant's departure resuming previous name]
    Chicago, Illinois, 1866-1871

    ________________ Great Chicago Fire 1871 ______________________

    Henry II and William separate for the last time: Henry [II] moves to Louisville, Kentucky and establishes H. Pilcher & Sons, William remains in Chicago until 1874, then moves south living in different cities and establishing firms under various names.

  • The Louisville Branch

    H. Pilcher & Sons
    Louisville, Kentucky 1874-1891

    ________________ Henry II Dies 1891 ______________________

    The firm is renamed, and experiences a long period of stability and growth until the Great Depression.

    Henry Pilcher's Sons
    Louisville, Kentucky, 1891-1944

    ________________ Stock Market Crash of 1929 ______________________

    The firm barely survived the Great Depression of the 1930s, it manufactures other goods besides organs in order to continue.

    ________________ America Enters WW II 1942 ______________________

    Organ production is halted throughout the U.S. as resources are diverted to the war effort. By 1944, there is little left of the company, M.P. Moller firm purchases the remaining assets and rights to the name.

    ________________ The last Pilcher firm Closes 1944 ______________________

  • The New Orleans Branch

    After the Chicago Fire, the brothers separate, William Pilcher and his family returned to St. Louis from 1874-1878. He then was briefly in Galveston, Texas (1880 census) and Mobile, Alabama. By 1883 he was in New Orleans, Louisiana.

    William Pilcher & Son
    Chicago, Illinois, 1871-1873;

    ________________ Return to St. Louis 1874 ______________________

    William Pilcher & Son
    St. Louis, Missouri, 1874-1878

    ________________ William leaves St Louise 1878 ______________________

    After Leaving St. Louis, William is briefly in Galveston, Texas (1880 census) and Mobile, Alabama. By 1883 he settles in New Orleans, Louisiana. William H. becomes better known as an organist and composer, but continues to try his hand at organ building. William II's sons work for other firms, but Charles Hobart Pilcher joins his father for their last venture in Brooklyn, New York.

    Pilcher Brothers
    New Orleans, Louisiana, 1883-1892

    Wm. & Chas. H. Pilcher
    New Orleans, Louisiana, and/or Brooklyn, New York City, New York

    ________________ William Dies 1912, end of New Orleans Branch ______________________

    Note: There is considerable confusion regarding both persons and firms within the William [II] Pilcher family. William II is often confused with his oldest son, William Henry. Both were organists and organbuilders, but William H. is the composer, recitalist, and founder of the Pilcher conservatory in New Orleans.
    Likewise, there is some disagreement as to the location of Wm & Chas. H. Pilcher firm. New Orleans or Brooklyn, New York.

Database Entries

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