Peter Bilhorn

Peter Bilhorn

Peter Philip Bilhorn (Jul. 22, 1859 – Dec. 13, 1936) (aged 77) was an evangelist preacher, a prolific hymn writer, and inventor of the portable pump organ. He founded the Bilhorn Bros. organ company in Chicago, which sold the  World Famous Folding Organ, a 49-note folding preacher’s organ.


Bilhorn also used the name P.P. Bilhorn, and the pseudonyms Irene Dur­fee and P. H. Rob­lin (an an­a­gram of his name).

Early life

Bilhorn’s mother, Katherena “Ca­the­rine” Nie­hardt

Bilhorn was born in Mendota, Illinois. His parents were George F. Bill­horn, and Ca­the­rine Nie­hardt, both born in Bavaria, Germany. [4][5] He had six brothers and sisters. A sister died in infancy; another brother died at the age of 4, by drowning, while the family was immigrating to the U.S. by boat. [6] The family name was originally Pul­horn, it was changed by a judge in Ot­ta­wa, Il­li­nois, named Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln.[3]  His fa­ther died in the Am­er­i­can Ci­vil War when he was three years old, leaving the family in financial difficulty. When he was 15, the family moved to Chicago, and Peter and his bro­ther, Christian Felix Püllhorn-Bilhorn, formed a carriage business, the Eu­re­ka Wa­gon and Car­riage Works. [1][3][7]

In 1894, he married Nellie May McCaughna Bilhorn ( – 1932). [6]  Nellie M. Bilhorn is listed in the copyright as the author of the lyrics to the hymn “Happy in His love”. [10]

Happy in His love.; words by Nellie M. Bilhorn, music by P. P. Bilhorn. © Peter P. Bilhorn, Chicago, as the author. R 32485, Dec. 24, 1925.[9]

Bilhorn had a popular voice, and in the evenings sang in taverns and German concert halls. In 1881 he was approached in a German concert hall by a member of Moody’s church who invited him to attend the church. [11]

At the age of 19, Bilhorn started attending the Chicago Avenue Church (now Moody Church), where he came in contact with some the most notable religious personalities of the day, including revivalist preacher George F. Pentecost, and gospel songwriter George C. Stebbins.  He studied music under composer George F. Root, who was most known for his secular Civil War compositions, and was also associated with Moody. Bilhorn attended Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, founded by evangelist D.L. Moody. [1]


Bilhorn was an evangelist preacher, preaching and singing throughout the U.S. and worldwide. He was song leader for Billy Sunday during the 1908 season. [1]

He wrote more than 2000 gospel songs and hymns, and compiled several song books. [1]

In 1900, he tra­veled to Lon­don to conduct a 4,000 voice choir at the Crys­tal Pal­ace.  Queen Vic­tor­ia in­vit­ed him to sing in Buck­ing­ham Pal­ace.[3]

From LOC: [8]

Portable pump organ

Bilhorn invented a portable pump organ for his travels and street meetings.

Peter Bilhorn founded the Bilhorn Brothers Organ Co. in 1885 with his brother George E. Bilhorn. (Might this be Rev. Johann Georg “John” Püllhorn-Bilhorn?) They made organs for Sears, Roebuck in 1902, and were active at least through 1941. [2]

They started manufacturing the small “Bilhorn Telescope Organ” in 1887.  It weighed 16 pounds. [1] (Or maybe 25 pounds).

From Sears Roebuck catalog

There is one in a museum in Alaska, courtesy of Commons.

Or you can watch them played in the wild (see videos at the end). They even turn up on ebay once in a while.

From Worthpoint:

“The first address on letterheads was 56 Fifth Avenue, Chicago, presumably expanding later to 518-520 Fifth Avenue. The next address to appear was 207 North Wells Street, Chicago, followed by 1414 McLean Avenue. These may have been additional buildings for sales or trade deliveries. Another known address was 77 West Lake Street, with yet another change – 136 West Lake Street. They were known to be t in 1925, as this address is on the later letterheads and envelopes. It is also possible that these were administrative offices away from the manufacturing complex. The company was still in existence in 1941, but we know nothing of it after that time. It is clear that the Bilhorn production reached huge proportions. They sold many instruments themselves and also made them for the big department stores, such as Sears & Roebuck (c. 1902). They bought their reeds and reed boards from Hinners Organ Co. – a company that was also producing reed organs, and big enough to make their own reeds….

“Bilhorn produced an astonishing number of different models in their portable folding styles. One catalogue of c. 1916 has 21 different types of instruments. There were organs with only one row of reeds and others up to three rows of reeds, making a pretty awesome sound! The keyboards were sometimes 4 octaves long, but could be 3 1/4 octaves if the buyer wished, or even 5 octaves. Such options were on many of the models.The reeds were tuned according to the likely use of the organ-for example: ”…reeds will be tuned Concert pitch or International, Loud, Pipe, Medium or Soft.” The tuners were obviously “voicing” the reeds to produce more or less volume of sound, depending on whether the organ was for indoor or outdoor use. That is indeed good service and also pretty ingenious!! The cases were built of oak: …

“The Junior Folding Organ was very small and slight. This had one row of reeds, 3 1/4 octaves, case of maple with legs of hard maple, costing $50.00 in the 1916 catalogue. T were those specially prepared for ”Tropical” use, with brass screws, keys specially treated against the damp and felts poisoned against the insect life!”

Selected publications

There is a partial list of hymn lyrics here.

  • Crowning Glo­ry No. 1, 1888
  • Crowning Glo­ry No. 2 (Chi­ca­go, Il­li­nois: 1890)
  • Soul Win­ning Songs (Chi­ca­go, Il­li­nois: 1895)
  • Sunshine Songs
  • Songs of Peace and Pow­er
  • Century Gos­pel Hymns
  • Songs for Male Cho­rus­es
  • Sacred and Sec­u­lar Se­lect­ions for La­dies’ Voices, 1900
  • Songs and Stor­ies of Mo­ther, Child­hood and Home (Chi­ca­go, Il­li­nois: Bil­horn Bro­thers, 1903)
  • Hymns of Faith and Vic­to­ry, with C. Ma­son Jones & George O. Web­ster (Chi­ca­go, Il­li­nois: Bil­horn Bro­thers, 1904)
  • Hymns of Hea­ven­ly Har­mo­ny (Chi­ca­go, Il­li­nois: Bil­horn Bro­thers, 1910)

Available from the Internet Archive

  • Bilhorn’s Male Chorus No. 1: Author: Peter Bilhorn; Publisher: Bilhorn Brothers, Chicage; Date: 1893
  • Century Gospel Songs: Author: Peter Bilhorn; Publisher: Bilhorn Brothers, Chicago; Date: 1901
  • Crowning Glory: For use in the church, evangelistic meetings, Sunday school, young people’s societies, and the home. Author: Peter Bilhorn; Publisher: Peter Bilhorn; Date: 1894.
  • Crowning Glory No. 1: A choice collection of gospel hymns. Author: Peter Bilhorn; Publisher: Peter Bilhorn; Date: 1890.
  • Crowning Glory No. 2: A collection of gospel hymns; Author: Peter Bilhorn; Publisher: Peter Bilhorn; Date: 1890.
  • Sacred And Secular Selections: For gentlemen’s voices. Author: Peter Bilhorn; Publisher: Bilhorn Brothers, Chicago; Date: 1900.
  • Sun-Shine Songs For The Sunday School: Author: Peter Bilhorn; Publisher: Bilhorn Brothers, Chicago; Date: 1895.
  • Voices of Victory: Author: Peter Bilhorn; Publisher: Bilhorn Brothers, Chicago; Date: 1913.


See also

Authority control:

Listen to the organ here.  Artis Wodehouse (red link) is a New York piano and harmonium player, and reed organ collector who specializes in performances on historical instruments. The NYTimes called her the “savior of the old and neglected”. She also rescues old piano rolls.

Here she demonstrates a 1925 Bilhorn Bros. 49-note folding preacher’s organ made in Chicago, starting at 3:20

Here she plays Rob Hollerman’s (Holleman?) arrangement of Deep River, an American spiritual that supposedly has some jazz elements. Published in “Nieuwe muziek voor harmonium” issued by the Harmonium Vereniging Nederland.

Unboxing the thing:

This is more recent, she dons a mask and travels to an abandoned stone church in New York for this little recital:

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