Today I visited a two hours long organ concert (man, it was amazing) and weird idea have popped up in my head: organ powered by steam instead of pressurized air. This also made me thinking that it would make nice addition to some kind steampunk world (and look pretty cool anyways).

So, here are my questions:

  • Is it possible to make steam-powered organ? That means that it still would be useful to making similar kind of music.
  • If yes, how would it differ from existing ones, powered by high-pressure air?
  • What would happen if I'll try to pump (pressurized) steam into regular one without any changes first?
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Someone else had the idea too! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calliope_(music) $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 8, 2019 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk Nice finding. Looks like heavily stripped down organ (especially version which uses air). $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2019 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ one question per post, please $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 9, 2019 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Ok, sorry. I think I saw this few times here (when few closely related questions are in same post). $\endgroup$ Aug 9, 2019 at 7:04
  • $\begingroup$ Steam is gas. It's easy to pressurize -- you youngsters never heard of Steam locomotive railroads? $\endgroup$ Aug 9, 2019 at 15:20

1 Answer 1



The answer is the calliope. Basically, pressurised steam is piped through whistles attached to a keyboard.

The main differences between a calliope and a pipe organ are pressure and medium. Pipe organs are made, mostly, of wood and thin metal parts. Steam is made almost entirely of water, and hot water at that. The wooden pipes of an organ will eventually come unglued or become saturated and will rot quickly. Metal parts will tarnish.

The steam pressure in a calliope is around 1385 inches of water (50psi); while some individual organ stops operate at very high pressure (as high as 100 inches of water) the typical air pressure of an organ is about 2 3/4 inches of water (0.1psi).

Pumping extremely high pressure steam into an organ would probably only cause a rupture in the bellows of the air reservoir, which is the part that regulates the flow of air into the instrument.

In action:

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View of the manual:

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For comparison, the workings of a calliope and organ compared. Notice down at the bottom of the organ picture is the blower and the reservoir: that's where high pressure steam would do the most damage.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Since the pitch of each note is largely affected by the temperature of the steam, accurate tuning is nearly impossible" wiki/Calliope $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 8, 2019 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander -- That's why calliopes sound the way they do! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 8, 2019 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ Had to immediately go youtube this to find out how they sound. Was not disappointed. 10/10, would laugh till I cry again. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Aug 9, 2019 at 6:04

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