The autoharp is a musical string instrument having a series of chord bars attached to dampers, which, when depressed, mute all of the strings other than those that form the desired chord. Despite its name, the autoharp is not a harp at all, but a chorded zither
On the 4th of July, 1806
We set sail from the sweet cove of Cork
We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks
For the Grand City Hall in New York
‘Twas a wonderful craft, she was rigged fore and aft
And oh, how the wild wind drove her
She stood several blasts, she had twenty seven masts
And they called her The Irish Rover
We had one million bags of the best Sligo rags
We had two million barrels of stone
We had three million sides of old blind horses hides
We had four million barrels of bones
We had five million hogs and six million dogs
Seven million barrels of porter
We had eight million bails of old nanny-goats’ tails
In the hold of the Irish Rover
There is debate over the origin of the autoharp. A German immigrant in Philadelphia by the name of Charles F. Zimmermann was awarded US 257808 in 1882 for a design for a musical instrument that included mechanisms for muting certain strings during play.
He named his invention the autoharp. Unlike later autoharps, the shape of the instrument was symmetrical, and the felt-bearing bars moved horizontally against the strings instead of vertically.
It is not known if Zimmermann ever commercially produced any instruments of this early design. Karl August Gütter of Markneukirchen, Germany, built a model that he called a Volkszither, which most resembles the autoharp played today.
Gütter obtained a British patent for his instrument circa 1883–1884. Zimmermann, after returning from a visit to Germany, began production of the Gütter design in 1885 but with his own design patent number and catchy name. Gütter’s instrument design became very popular, and Zimmermann has often been mistaken as the inventor.
From its early beginnings in the 1900s, the Oscar Schmidt Company has offered an instrument with a voice representing individual freedom for American Folk Music. With a wide variety of models to choose from, Oscar Schmidt is truly the original and only complete source for the Autoharp®.