The steam calliope is a steam-whistle musical insturment with a loud, shrill sound
audible miles away. It is used to attract attention for circuses, fairs, and arriving steamboats. On October, 9 1855, the United States Patent Office issued Patent #13,668 to Joshua C. Stoddard of Worcester, Massachusetts for an instrument producing music by passing steam or compressed air through steam-whistles. The Worcester City Council banned him from playing it within the city limits because it was too loud.
On August, 8 1858, a steam calliope was first fitted on a boat, which was a steamer
called the “Union.” Stoddard’s first calliope had fifteen steam-whistles, today, average calliope has 32 whistles. The riverboat “Mississippi Queen” has the world’s largest calliope, with 44 whistles. In the heyday of the riverboat, there were 9,000 calliopes on the Ohio and Mississippi River waterways.
The steam calliope requires a boiler that delivers steam to a set of whistle pipes.
Riverboats generally had ample steam. Wagon mounted calliopes (like the circus calliopes) required a separate boiler to generate the steam. A keyboard (similar to an organ keyboard) is used to direct the steam to the proper whistle pipes, however, a pinned cylinder could be used in lieu of the musician.
For more information, don't miss the Mechanical Music Digest's Calliope Home
[From "The Encyclopedia of Mechanical Instruments" by Q. David Bowers, p. 840.]
A steam calliope and its operator.
The circus calliope, America.
A cast-iron toy calliope.

Site Coordinator: Lori Niemuth Last updated: December 27, 2007