From the AMICA, V 13, No. 5, June 1976
Recently the AMICA Board of Directors elected Dr. Clarence N. Hickman an honorary member of our society. Dr. Hickman made many contributions to the design of the Model 'B' Ampico and worked for the American Piano Company along with Charles Fuller Stoddard, the inventor of the Ampico reproducing piano, for a period of five years. The following brief biographical sketch has been excerpted from a "Genealogy of the Hickman Families" and from Larry Givens' book, Re-Enacting The Artist.
Dr. Hickman was born on a farm in Indiana and was one of nine children. His early childhood interests were archery, magic photography, and playing the guitar and clarinet, each of which were to play an important role in his later life. Educated in Indiana, he received an AB degree from Winona College. He began his active career as a teacher of physics and mathematics.
In 1917 Dr. Hickman went to Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, to study for his Master's degree and while there undertook work in the development of rockets. Following graduation, he continued his research and development work on rockets at the Mount Wilson Observatory shops in Pasadena, California. These rockets were intended for use in World War I. It was here that a rocket charge explosion caused the loss of several fingers on Dr. Hickman's left hand and parts of those on his right hand.
Next came a short stint at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds to demonstrate the rockets he had developed, following which he joined the Bureau of Standards in Washington. During 1922 he received his doctor's degree from Clark University, using as his thesis the work he had done at the Bureau of Standards. For a short period thereafter he worked at the Washington Navy Yard developing submarine mines, and it was from here that he joined the American Piano Company. His assignment: "to develop a better Ampico reproducing piano!" What a change! From rockets, submarine mines and other explosive devices, to developing that most explosive of all automatic musical instruments - the Ampico Re-Enacting Piano!
In 1924 the American Piano Company decided to establish a fully equipped research laboratory in the new Chickering Hall in New York under the direction of Charles Fuller Stoddard, the inventor of the Ampico. Mr. Stoddard realized the need for a physicist and mathematician in undertaking more advanced research in the operation of reproducing instruments. Thus Dr. Hickman was employed to work on the improvement of the Ampico as well as on other aspects of automatic piano manufacture and operation.
Dr. Hickman's work brought a high degree of sophistication to player piano technology and resulted in two monumental accomplishments: the development of the Ampico dynamic recording machine; and the improved Model 'B' Ampico. These developments, and other improvements to both the piano and reproducing mechanisms are well described and illustrated in Larry Givens' book on the Ampico. It is apparent from reading this historical account that Dr. Hickman made an outstanding contribution to the development of this reproducing piano.
Here is a quote from Larry Givens' book: ''Dr. Hickman's employment with American Piano Company, from 1924 through the end of 1929, may accurately be said to represent the only period in the history of the player piano industry in which real sceintific methodology was applied to the development of the player piano. Most development work in the industry had theretofore consisted of scratch-paper sketches and empirical constructing of models with hopes that they would function!" Dr. Hickman was responsible for changing this "hit-and-miss" approach.
After the disastrous stock market crash of 1929, the depression pushed the piano business to such a low ebb that the American Piano Company was forced into receivership and later merged with the Aeolian Company, which continues today in the manufacture of fine pianos. The research department was closed and Dr. Hickman left to join Bell Telephone Acoustical Laboratories.
An interesting sidelight of Dr. Hickman's work in the Ampico research lab relates to his early hobby of archery. While in the lab he became interested in the physics of bows and arrows. He made many measurements in the laboratory and wrote several papers which were published in scientific archery magazines. Later he invented a method of making silk backing for bows, and produced these materials in his home during the thirties. According to his calculations he produced enough of these materials to back 42,357 bows!
At the Bell Telephone Laboratories Dr. Hickman developed the method of magnetic recording on metal tape, and worked on many devices for measuring and showing speech patterns. He also worked on new ways of doing machine switching in central telephone offices.
It was not long, however, before he was back at work on rockets, armor piercing bombs, recoilless guns, bazookas, and flame throwers at the Rocket Research Laboratory in the old Naval Proving Station in Maryland. It was here that his early interest in photography was put to good use in developing a ribbon frame camera for photographing rockets in flight.
Upon retiring from the telephone company in 1950, Dr. Hickman joined the Sandia Corporation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was concerned with guided missle developments. Since 1953 he has been living in New York and has been serving as a consultant to some of the leading industrial companies in the country.
Dr. Hickman's interest in music continues to this day but in a most unusual way. Here is what he writes: "After having the accident in Pasadena where I lost several fingers, I sold my clarinets thinking that I_would no longer be able to play them. However, I began to have dreams that I could still play the clarinet. These dreams persisted for over ten years. Finally when I was in the research laboratory of the American Piano Company I went to the Wurlitzer Co. to see if they could modify a clarinet so that I could play it. When they saw my hands that laughed at me, saying that it was impossible. The dreams persisted and then I went to see a young man whom I had met in our laboratory. He was a clerk in a music house on 14th street. I put the problem to him and he said they could not do the job but suggested that I do the modification. He said: "You are a good mechanic and you have excellent tools in your laboratory." I had never thought of doing this but it sounded reasonable to me so I bought a 'C' Clarinet and he gave me a box of old keys. On a weekend I did the job. When the job was completed, I was amazed to find that after a period of ten years I could still play and found to my utter amazement that I could still read music."
"I am still interested in music but not in collecting. I have been going to our local hospital (Jackson Heights) to play the clarinet for the patients. I have also been trying to help handicapped patients by showing them what I was able to do in resuming playing the clarinet after losing five fingers in that rocket charge explosion."
Dr. Hickman has certainly had a brilliant career. Who else has obtained patents for inventions covering such a wide field? Submarine mines, rockets,
archery, telephone applications, pianos and reproducing pianos! AMICA is honored to have this distinguished gentleman to join us.
"Dr. Clarence Hickman"
Article by acquaintance of Dr. Clarence Hickman: Boris F. Kim Johns Hopkins
Clarence N. Hickman was the man who was quite influential in the development of the Ampico Model "B" Re-producing piano.
Dr. Hickman, who died about 1987, was an amazing person who had many varied interests and contributed with his knowledge and inventiveness to many diverse fields. He was primarily a rocket scientist and worked at the Bell Telephone Laboratories for most of his professional career.
During the second world war, he was the head of a wartime project that developed rockets; he in particular was the inventor of the bazooka rocket launcher. As part of his rocket research, he developed a high speed camera (called a spark gap camera) that was capable of extremely high frame rates for photographing rockets in flight.
Hickman was very interested in the sport of archery and is considered by many the father of the science of archery, having made many seminal studies both theoretical and experimental into the mechanics and dynamics of the bow and arrow. He used his high speed camera to photograph the flight of an arrow as it leaves the bow and showed that the arrow bends and vibrates in flight. This phenomenon, which he discovered, is called The Archer's Paradox.
Dr. Hickman was a consultant to the American Piano Company during their development of the reproducing piano. The specific problem that he addressed was how to measure the velocity of a hammer striking the string so that loudness could be accounted for in player pianos. Here he made use of his spark gap camera to measure the speed of the hammers.
I wasn't much interested in pianos when I knew Dr. Hickman, so unfortunately I am not familiar with specific details of his work at Ampico Research Laboratory. I understand, however, that he designed an action that was subsequently used in the reproducing pianos.
In July, 1979, Dr. Hickman (then in his 90's) was invited by AMICA to give a talk on his work at Ampico. The talk was given at the Ben Franklin Hotel in Phila, Pa. I was not present but I understand that the talk was very well received; many in attendance sought his autograph on books about player pianos.
Boris F. Kim Johns Hopkins University/APL email@example.com
C. Hickman's own Account:
I was born August 16, 1889, on a farm about one mile
north of Lizton, Indiana. With the
exception of William, all my brothers and my sister were born on this same farm.
(This does not include the two children that died in infancy).
We lived in a four room frame house that belonged to my grandfather Leak.
As children, we played with bows, crossbows and arrows made by my father
or older brothers. We all used the PINCH DRAW.
The arrows had heavy heads so that we did not need feathers to guide the
arrow. We all went to the Leak
country school. My teachers were
Ora Leak, Obe Higgins and Ethel Jacks.
On March 1st, 1898, we moved from the Leak farm to the
Job Hadley farm farther north. We
all attended another country school, walking about one and one-half miles to the
school. We boys shot fish with
bows, using umbrella staves as arrows. I
well remember that I could not understand why we had to aim under the fish to
hit it. It was not until I attended
high school, where I learned about refraction of light, that I understood this
phenomenon. At this early age I
showed ability to tinker with watches. Our
house had four rooms downstairs and one large room upstairs. In addition, there was an adjoining log house that we used as
a summer kitchen and dining room during the summer months.
On March 1st, 1900, we moved from the Hadles farm to the
Mappen farm which was about one mile west of Jamestown, Indiana.
The Big Four Railroad ran right through this farm.
The house had only three rooms and the seven of us lived there for three
years. We attended a country school
that was about on-half mile from out house.
While living on this farm I became interested in
photography and became well acquainted with Stanley Hendricks, who owned and
operated a photo-graphic studio in Jamestown.
Stanley Hendricks was to have a profound influence on my life at a later
date. I also became interested in
music, playing guitar and cornet.
On March 1st, 1903, we moved from the Mappen farm to a
240 acre farm about four and one-half miles north of Martinsville, Indiana.
The farm house had three rooms downstairs and two upstairs.
We attended a country school not farm from our farm.
My father had bought this farm; here-to-fore we had been renters.
My brother, Hanson, attended high school at Martinsville, walking several
miles to the interurban.
I continued my interest in music, especially the guitar,
and began to take pictures for a small fee.
I attended the firs and cleaned the school house for a small fee.
In June, 1904, I graduated from the eight grade but, not
being able to attend High School, I took the 8th grade over again.
We cut wood -- hickory poles for the Old Hickory Chair Factory at
Martinsville -- and we had to do lots of ditching.
At that early age I surveyed an open ditch for my father, using a square
and level. He did not have much
confidence in the ditch, claiming that the water was going to run backwards.
When we had our first big rain, he went out in the rain to see how the
ditch was working and was surprised but happy to see that the water was running
the right direction.
Disturbed over the fact that we children were not going
to be able to get a high school education, my father and mother sold this farm
and in September, 1905, we moved to a farm west of Jamestown.
The farm house had five rooms all on the same floor.
I attended high school at Jamestown and on the side
studied German (from books only). My
interest in photography continued and I did lots of professional work.
I continued playing guitar and renewed my interest in magic, which had
begun when I was about five years old. I
gave a magical performance at Jamestown and then later at Brownsburg.
I was the official photographer for the Standard Oil Company that was
erecting a pumping station at Jamestown.
I renewed my friendship with Stanley Hendricks and he
hired me to clerk in his clothing store on Saturdays and later during the
summer. He had given up the
photographic business and had bought the clothing store in Jamestown.
In September, 1906, we moved from this farm to a farm of
eight acres, about one and one-half miles south of Jamestown.
My father and mother had bought this farm.
This house had five rooms downstairs and three rooms upstairs.
This was the largest house we had ever lived in.
Furthermore, there were fewer in the family.
My oldest brother, William, had married and my brother Hanson was Supt.
of Schools in the Philippine Islands.
I continued my studies in the Jamestown High School and
also continued my home studies of German.
Stanley Hendricks had sold his clothing store in
Jamestown and had established one at Waynetown, Indiana.
He had tried to get me to quit high school and go with him to Waynetown
to clerk in his store. However, I
told him I wanted to get a high school education.
In the fall of 1908, I received a letter from him offering to let me
finish my high school at Waynetown, by clerking in his store, mornings, noons
and evenings and all day Saturdays. I
accepted his offer and went to Waynetown. I
slept in the store for some time.
Stan, as we all called him, was like a brother and father
to me. I owe a great deal to him.
He always called me "Hick".
In June, 1909, I graduated from the Waynetown High School
and continued clerking full time in Mr. Hendrick's clothing store.
In the late fall of 1909, I took a leave from the store to attend a
teacher's Normal Course at Winona Collect, Winona Lake, Indiana.
Dr. Johnathan Rigdon, who had been president of Central Normal Collect at
Danville, Indiana, had established a new college at Winona Lake, Indiana.
In the spring of 1910 I resumed my duties clerking in the
clothing store. In the fall of 1910
I accepted a position teaching 7th and 8th grade in the Waynetown public
schools. During the winter I
organized a band in the school and by spring they were playing well enough to
perform in public. It was at this
time that I took up the clarinet as I was never able to develop a lip for the
cornet good enough to play as much as was needed as a band instructor.
I had continued my interest in magic and had given a few
performances in Waynetown and Hillsboro. I
made a short tour of churches and opera houses in Indiana, billed as The Hoosier
Magician. I had one assistant that
traveled with me, Lacy Shuller. In
the spring of 1911, I made another tour under the same billing.
After this tour, I went back to the farm at Jamestown for the summer.
I had expected to teach 7th & 8th grade again in
Waynetown but was offered a position at about double the salary to teach in the
Jamestown High School. I taught
mathematics, physics, botany and German in this school.
I took the state teacher's examination in German and got a license
without ever having had an hour of study in any school.
I had been elected president of a German club in Waynetown because they
thought I knew more German than others who had studied German in college for
The Hickman Answers - By Richard J. Howe
From the AMICA, Nov/Dec 1987
From the early 1960's through the late 1970's, Larry Givens of Wexford, PA, had an extensive exchange of correspondence with Dr. Clarence N. Hickman, inventor of the Ampico B. In 1965 Larry posed a series of sixteen questions to Dr. Hickman. What follows are the questions and Hickman's answers. Although some of this material is covered in the Hickman Interviews and Hickman Diaries (See The Ampico Reproducing Piano, edited by Richard J. Howe and published by The Musical Box Society International in 1987), additional information is contained in this material. A subsequent article entitled "The Hickman Letters" will contain a substantial amount of new information.
CH: I think the Ampico Tower was the tower on top of Chickering Hall.
CH: They used the same machine for recording the notes that we used. This machine was originally invented by Mr. Stoddard. I do not know what system was used by Welte-Mignon or Duo Art. However, neither of them recorded dynamics.
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