Electric keyboards have been an integral part of music for decades, and their invention has revolutionized the way we create and perform music. The history of electric keyboards dates back to the early 20th century, and over the years, they have undergone significant changes and improvements.

The first electric keyboard was invented in the 1920s by Laurens Hammond, an American engineer. His invention was called the Hammond Organ, and it used a series of tone wheels to produce sound. The Hammond Organ was a significant improvement over traditional organs, as it was more compact, portable, and versatile.

Since the invention of the Hammond Organ, electric keyboards have continued to evolve, and today, they are used in a wide range of musical genres, from classical to pop. The history of electric keyboards is a fascinating one, and it is a testament to human ingenuity and creativity.

Early History of Keyboards

The history of keyboards dates back to the 3rd century BC, where the first keyboard instrument was invented in ancient Greece. This instrument was called the hydraulis, and it was a type of pipe organ powered by water. The hydraulis was used in theaters and temples, and it was the largest and most complex musical instrument of its time.

Pre-Electric Keyboards

Over the centuries, various types of keyboard instruments were invented, including the clavichord, harpsichord, and piano. These instruments were all acoustic, meaning they didn't require electricity to produce sound. The piano, invented in the early 18th century, became the most popular keyboard instrument and is still widely used today.

During the 19th century, inventors began experimenting with ways to use electricity to power musical instruments. In 1876, Elisha Gray invented the musical telegraph, which used a keyboard to send electrical signals over a wire to a receiver that produced sound. The musical telegraph was not a commercial success, but it paved the way for future inventions.

In 1902, Thaddeus Cahill invented the Telharmonium, which was the first electric keyboard instrument. The Telharmonium used rotating disks to produce sound, and it was capable of producing a wide range of tones. However, the Telharmonium was very large and expensive, and it was not widely adopted.

It wasn't until the 1930s that electric keyboards began to gain popularity. In 1935, Laurens Hammond invented the Hammond organ, which used a series of tone wheels to produce sound. The Hammond organ became a popular instrument in jazz and rock music, and it was used by many famous musicians, including Jimmy Smith and Keith Emerson.

The Invention of Electric Keyboards

Electric keyboards have come a long way since their invention. The first electric keyboard was invented in the early 20th century, and it was a significant milestone in the history of music. This section will explore the history of electric keyboards, including the pioneers who made it possible.

Christopher Latham Sholes and the Typewriter

Christopher Latham Sholes is credited with inventing the first practical typewriter in 1867. His invention revolutionized the way we write and communicate. Sholes used a keyboard to input characters onto a sheet of paper, and this technology was later adapted to create electric keyboards. Sholes' typewriter was the precursor to the modern computer keyboard.

Elisha Gray and the Audion

Elisha Gray was a prominent inventor and scientist who made significant contributions to the development of the telephone and the telegraph. He is also credited with inventing the Audion, an electronic device that could amplify electrical signals. The Audion was a crucial component in the development of electric keyboards, as it allowed for the creation of electronic sounds. Gray's invention paved the way for the development of modern electronic keyboards.

The invention of electric keyboards was a significant milestone in the history of music. It allowed musicians to create new sounds and experiment with different styles of music. The use of electricity and technology in music opened up new possibilities for musicians, and it continues to influence the way we create and perform music today.

The Rise of the Electronic Keyboard

The electronic keyboard has come a long way since its inception in the early 1900s. The first electric keyboard was invented in 1902 by Thaddeus Cahill, who created the Telharmonium, an instrument that used dynamos and telephone lines to produce sounds. However, it wasn't until the mid-20th century that electronic keyboards became widely available and popular.

The Trautonium and the Synthesizer

One of the earliest electronic instruments was the Trautonium, invented by Friedrich Trautwein in 1929. It used oscillators to produce sounds and had a unique user interface that allowed for expressive playing. In the 1950s, the first synthesizers were developed, including the RCA Mark II and the Buchla Series 100. These instruments used various modules to generate and shape sounds, and they were often controlled by complex patch cables.

The ARP and the Rhodes

In the 1970s, electronic keyboards became more accessible and user-friendly. The ARP Odyssey and the Fender Rhodes were two of the most popular instruments of the time. The ARP Odyssey was a compact synthesizer that had a built-in sequencer and a modulation wheel for adding effects. The Fender Rhodes was an electric piano that used hammers to strike metal tines, creating a unique sound that became popular in jazz and rock music.

The Polymoog and the Odyssey

In the late 1970s, the Polymoog and the Yamaha CS-80 were introduced. The Polymoog was a polyphonic synthesizer that had a unique sound engine and a built-in power amplifier. The Yamaha CS-80 was a massive instrument that had a rich, complex sound and a unique user interface that included a ribbon controller and aftertouch.

The Yamaha CS-80

The Yamaha CS-80 was one of the most advanced and expensive instruments of its time. It had two sound generators, each with its own set of filters and envelopes. It also had a built-in effects processor that included chorus, phaser, and delay. The CS-80 was used by many famous musicians, including Vangelis and Stevie Wonder.

The Evolution of Keyboards in Entertainment and Pop Culture

The Hammond Organ

The Hammond Organ was invented in 1934 by Laurens Hammond. It was initially marketed as a cheaper alternative to the pipe organ. However, it quickly gained popularity in the entertainment industry due to its versatility and portability. The Hammond Organ was used in various genres of music, including jazz, blues, and rock and roll. It was also used in churches and other religious institutions.

The Loudspeaker

The Hammond Organ was initially designed to be used with a large speaker system, which was necessary to amplify its sound. However, in the 1940s, the invention of the loudspeaker made it possible for the Hammond Organ to be used in smaller venues. This made it even more popular in the entertainment industry.

The Hammond Organ and the loudspeaker paved the way for the development of electronic organs, which were more compact and easier to transport. Yamaha was one of the first companies to introduce electronic organs in the 1950s. These organs were more affordable than traditional pipe organs and were used in various genres of music.

In the 1960s, synthesizers were invented. These electronic keyboards could produce a wide range of sounds and were used in various genres of music, including pop, rock, and electronic music. The development of synthesizers revolutionized the music industry and led to the creation of new genres of music.

In the 1970s, electronic keyboards became more popular in pop culture. They were used in television shows, movies, and commercials. The introduction of MIDI technology in the 1980s made it possible for electronic keyboards to be connected to computers, which opened up new possibilities for music production.

Overall, the evolution of keyboards in entertainment and pop culture has been a fascinating journey. From the Hammond Organ to the synthesizer, these instruments have played a significant role in shaping the music industry.


Electric keyboards have come a long way since their invention in the 1920s. From the first electric piano, the Neo-Bechstein, to the modern-day digital keyboards, these instruments have revolutionized the music industry.

Through the years, electric keyboards have been used in various genres of music, from classical to rock and pop. They have become an essential tool for musicians and composers, providing them with a range of sounds and effects that were previously not possible.

While the exact date of the invention of the electric keyboard is still up for debate, it is clear that the development of this instrument has had a significant impact on the world of music. The continued evolution of electric keyboards will undoubtedly bring new innovations and advancements in the years to come.

Harlan Kilstein began playing piano during covid with no piano background at all. He taught himself how to play learning what to do and what not to do.
Today he's an advanced intermediate player and can help you grow in your skills because he learned all this on his own.