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What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

Wanamaker Organ, Philadelphia, PA: The World’s Largest Organ

plaqueSince we’re on an historic preservation bent this month, we wanted to share Matt’s recent experience seeing – and hearing – the Wanamaker Grand Organ at Macy’s in Philadelphia. Built in 1911, the world’s largest operational pipe organ is still in excellent shape, thanks to its preservation group, the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ.

You may be wondering why Matt – not the biggest shopping fan – chose to spend his free time during a business trip in a twelve-floor department store.

Matt has grown up hearing his grandmother’s story about working at “Wanamaker’s,” (now Macy’s) when she was 18. To offer some context, Matt’s grandmother is now a sound 100 years old, so this was back in 1931! She was a seamstress by trade, and worked at the time for a hosiery company, demonstrating how to mend silk stockings.

Hearing her tell it, you realize that this was her first real adventure as a young woman in the big world beyond the small New York suburb she grew up in. Her eyes still light up when she recounts the grandeur of the Wanamaker Building. So Matt wanted to see it for himself, and share in her excitement.

So Matt wasn’t there to shop (not even a little something for his wife); he went straight to the organ. What you see from the central courtyard is only a partial view of the organ’s 28,500 pipes. The largest pipe is more than 32 feet long, and so wide that a Shetland Pony was once posed inside for publicity photos. The smallest pipe is only a quarter-inch in length.


The musicians sit in a massive console which has six ivory keyboards and 729 color-coded stop tablets. There are 168 piston buttons under the keyboards and 42 foot controls. The console weighs 2.5 tons, and the entire instrument weighs 287 tons!


What’s so fantastic about this grand instrument is not just its opulent design, but the amazing sound it makes. You can hear it being played – for free – every day at 12:00pm, and most evenings at either 5:30 or 7:00pm. Visitors are welcome to tour the console area and meet the staff following these 45-minute recitals.

So, close your eyes, and take a listen. No, seriously, close your eyes. The video is a little shaky.

And if you want a better view of those pipes, the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ give a comprehensive, two-hour tour of the organ on the last Saturday of the month ($20/person; reservations required).

The Wanamaker Organ at Macy’s
1300 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA
(215) 241-9000


  1. April 23, 2013 @ 10:58 am

    We love visiting the Wanamaker Organ during the holidays, and I even featured that for Retro Roadmap. BUT I had no idea about the 2 hour tour on the last saturdays of the month – I’m going to have to check that out for a possible Retro Roadmap Roundup idea. Thanks so much for the info!

    • Traci Suppa said,
      April 23, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

      Oooh, I would have to make that trip to join you!

  2. Pat said,
    April 23, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    That’s impressive. I played the video while I read the post. We have Organ Stop Pizza here in Arizona. Not as impressive, but with the pizza makes for a fun dinner.

    • Traci Suppa said,
      April 23, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

      That sounds fun! We’ve been to the historic Bardavon theater in Poughkeepsie, where they show old movies with a pre-show on the Wurlitzer!

  3. Mike said,
    April 23, 2013 @ 4:12 pm

    Sounds cool, but $20 for a two-hour comprehensive tour might be a bit too much for me. Then again, if it keeps my wife from shopping….

  4. Carol said,
    April 23, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing. My grandmother played an organ at our church and I still love the sound of one. I’m a new reader. And that is quite some Macy’s! WOW!

    • Traci Suppa said,
      April 23, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

      Thanks for your note! The organ totally needs a renaissance…we need to make it cool again!

  5. Leigh said,
    April 24, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

    That organ is impressive! I’m not much of a shopper either but listening to the organ play while shopping may be nice, and calming! The sound of an organ is always beautiful, this is one I’ll have to see in real life, it looks amazing!

  6. April 25, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    I always wanted to go to this place and see this organ and spend my day clicking photographs of this great place. thanks for haring the video and giving us a hint what it is all about.

  7. Tripobox said,
    April 26, 2013 @ 8:41 am

    Hi Traci,

    This is a great article and a great opportunity for anyone who visits Philadelphia. Rare places like this don’t come by that often.


  8. April 27, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

    Great post. It brings back so many memories of my Mom talking of her trip there as a little girl!

    I host a weekly linking party called “Oh, the PLACES I’ve been!” and would love to have you link up. The link goes up Thursdays at 7 pm EST. Hope to see you there!

    – The Tablescaper

    • Traci Suppa said,
      April 28, 2013 @ 8:41 pm

      Thanks for the invitation! I’ll definitely try to be there!

  9. Gina said,
    May 1, 2013 @ 12:24 am

    I’ll keep this in mind for the next time I find myself in PA.

  10. June 6, 2013 @ 1:22 am

    I’m a sucker for pipe organs and this has to rate way up there. Amazing it was destined for a department store. Thanks for the story, photos and recording.

    • Traci Suppa said,
      June 6, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

      Thanks for stopping by! Have you visited the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ in Atlantic City? That one’s also pretty BIG!