Frank Wisner (1909-1965) the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director, was responsible for Operation Mockingbird in the 1950s to spread propaganda through the media. He boasted that the CIA had propaganda plants in the media all around the globe. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” is a theatre organ that was introduced in 1910, and Wisner boasted that he “played” the media like a “Mighty Wurlitzer.”
It’s not known when Wisner first made the “Mighty Wurlitzer” comment, but it circulated in newspaper articles in 1974 and 1976. “The Mighty Wurlitzer” is still infrequently used for anyone who controls or “plays” the media for propaganda purposes, in a similar manner to the CIA’s Wisner.
The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, usually referred to as simply Wurlitzer, was an American company started in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1853 by German immigrant Rudolph Wurlitzer. The company originally imported stringed, woodwind and brass instruments from Germany for resale in the U.S. Wurlitzer enjoyed initial success largely due to defense contracts to provide musical instruments to the U.S. military. In 1880 the company began manufacturing pianos. Eventually the company relocated to North Tonawanda, New York and quickly expanded to make band organs, orchestrions, nickelodeons and pipe or theatre organs popular in theatres during the days of silent movies.
In the late 1800s, fairs were very popular and, as crowds grew and mechanical rides began to appear, a need for louder music was realized. The fairground organ was developed. Eugene DeKleist of North Tonawanda, NY was an early builder of such organs (also called “barrel organs") for use in carousels. Wurlitzer bought into DeKleist’s North Tonawanda Barrel Organ Factory in 1897. Eventually Wurlitzer bought out the entire operation (in 1909) and moved all Wurlitzer manufacturing operations from Ohio to New York. In 1909 the company began making innovative harps that were far more durable than European prototypes, and from 1924 to the 1930s eight acclaimed models were available. The ”Mighty Wurlitzer“ theatre organ was introduced in late 1910 and became Wurlitzer’s most famous product. Wurlitzer theatre organs are installed all over the world in a variety of theatres, museums, churches, and even private homes.
The Mighty Wurlitzer as metaphor
Senior CIA official Frank Wisner coined the term “Mighty Wurlitzer” to denote a propaganda campaign labeled Operation Mockingbird that could “play any tune” to the news media of his day.
The metaphor has evolved into a somewhat generalized way to refer to US propaganda overall. An example of this is a recent article posted on Crytome called “Sony Pictures Presents: the Propaganda Model The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On”.
Wikipedia: Frank Wisner
Frank Gardiner Wisner (June 23, 1909 – October 29, 1965) was head of Office of Strategic Services operations in southeastern Europe at the end of World War II, and the head of the Directorate of Plans of the Central Intelligence Agency during the 1950s.
In 1947, Wisner established Operation Mockingbird, a program to influence the domestic and foreign media. Around the same time he oversaw the creation of stay-behind networks all over Europe.
25 October 1974, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), “Politicians learned well the script written by CIA “ by Stuart Loory, pg. 5-B, col. 4:
The man recruited to lead this campaign was the late Frank G. Wisner, a wartime OSS official and Wall Street lawyer. Wisner, as CIA deputy director for plans, organized what he called “my mighty Wurlitzer.” It was a multikeyed instrument that bought and sold foreign politicians and political parties. It infiltrated the foreign press, labor unions, intellectual circles and the business world. it underwrote the cost of foreign publications and mounted smear campaigns, even in allied countries, against those who were unfriendly to the United States. It polluted foreign newspapers and broadcast outlets with “disninformation” designed to confuse or undermine the enemy.
OCLC WorldCat record
The CIA’s use of the press : a ‘mighty Wurlitzer’
Author: Stuart H Loory; Daniel Schorr
Publisher: New York, NY : Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, ©1974.
Edition/Format: Print book : English
27 July 1976, Xenia (OH) Daily Gazette, “CIA and the media” by Daniel Schorr, pg. 4, cols. 7-8:
Most of this goes back to the 1950s, when the CIA deputy director, Frank Wisner, cultivated news media executives and was reputed to have boasted of playing the press like a “mighty Wurlitzer.”
OCLC WorldCat record
Behold the mighty Wurlitzer : the history of the theatre pipe organ
Author: John W Landon
Publisher: Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1983.
Series: Contributions to the study of popular culture, no. 6.
Edition/Format: Print book : English
The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared:
The Early Years of the CIA
By Evan Thomas
New York, NY: TOuchstone
Wisner’s expression for his worldwide propaganda operation, the “Mighty Wurlitzer,” can be seen as a cheeky put-on or as an early symptom of Wisner’s mania. In his biography of RIchard Helms, author Thomas Powers writes: “Wisner’s boast was that he could sit down at his mighty Wurlitzer and play just about any time he liked, from eerie horror music (Moscow is planning a purge of the Western parties!!!) to light fantasias.” Wisner’s men were irreverent about the Mighty Wurlitzer; it didn’t occur to most of them that WIsner was perfectly serious.
OCLC WorldCat record
The mighty wurlitzer : how the CIA played America
Author: Hugh Wilford
Publisher: Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2008.
Edition/Format: eBook : Document : English
In 1967 the magazine Ramparts ran an exposé revealing that the Central Intelligence Agency had been secretly funding and managing a wide range of citizen front groups intended to counter communist influence around the world. In addition to embarrassing prominent individuals caught up, wittingly or unwittingly, in the secret superpower struggle for hearts and minds, the revelations of 1967 were one of the worst operational disasters in the history of American intelligence and presaged a series of public scandals from which the CIA’s reputation has arguably never recovered. CIA official Frank Wisner called the operation his “mighty Wurlitzer,” on which he could play any propaganda tune. In this illuminating book, Hugh Wilford provides the first comprehensive account of the clandestine relationship between the CIA and its front organizations. Using an unprecedented wealth of sources, he traces the rise and fall of America’s Cold War front network from its origins in the 1940s to its Third World expansion during the 1950s and ultimate collapse in the 1960s. Covering the intelligence officers who masterminded the CIA’s fronts as well as the involved citizen groups--émigrés, labor, intellectuals, artists, students, women, Catholics, African Americans, and journalists--Wilford provides a surprising analysis of Cold War society that contains valuable lessons for our own age of global conflict.
Journalism & the CIA: The Mighty Wurlitzer – Daniel Brandt
Posted on August 22, 2010 by admin
From NameBase NewsLine, No. 17, April-June 1997
OSS veteran Frank Wisner ran most of the early peacetime covert operations as head of the Office of Policy Coordination. Although funded by the CIA, OPC wasn’t integrated into the CIA’s Directorate of Plans until 1952, under OSS veteran Allen Dulles. Both Wisner and Dulles were enthusiastic about covert operations. By mid-1953 the department was operating with 7,200 personnel and 74 percent of the CIA’s total budget.
Wisner created the first “information superhighway.” But this was the age of vacuum tubes, not computers, so he called it his “Mighty Wurlitzer.”
@RealJohnnyZ @awebbiz @rcarr57
NewsMax is part of the Conservative Media Complex. The Mighty Wurlitzer playing pied piper.
10:21 PM - 21 Jan 2016
Robert A. Stansbury
During Cold War heyday of CIA [media manipulation] it was called ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer’. It’s now a cheap $99 Casio w/canned drums… #msnbc
12:12 PM - 23 Aug 2016
New York City • Media/Newspapers/Magazines/Internet • Monday, October 10, 2016 • Permalink