Orchestrions were occasionally made by musical clock and organ workshops as early as the end of the 18th century.
Between 1845 and 1848 Welte's workshop in Vörenbach built an instrument for an unnamed purchaser in Odessa: it imitated all the orchestra's voices and contained in the order of 1100 pipes. Its pin rollers were capable of reproducing musical works of considerable complexity. It led to recognition up to the highest levels of aristocratic society. As a result, the company found itself making orchestrions not only for aristocrats in Germany, but also delivering instruments as far as St. Petersburg and Moscow.
An orchestrion featuring 39 pin rollers, 15 registers and 524 pipes, which took 33 months to complete, won a medal at the World Exhibition in London in 1862. Emil Welte accompanied the instrument to London, where he not only represented the interests of the Welte company, but also those of the entire Black Forest musical clock industry. This was the instrument that saw the designation 'orchestrion' finally register with the press, and illustrations of it were used in numerous reference books to represent this entire class of instrument.
Between the 1860s and 1880s the Welte Company produced a total of ten different types of large pin-roller based orchestrion.
In 1883 Emil Welte filed a patent in the USA covering the control of orchestrions by means of perforated strips of paper - the music roll - then other patents in 1889/1890 covering a refined process based on air supplied under pressure as well as under suction. The period between 1890 and the First World War found the Welte Company offering an extensive array of orchestrions. The smaller models were called 'cottage' orchestrions, although they could reach an imposing three metres in height; the larger instruments were known as 'concert' orchestrions.
Orchestrion is a term that broadly describes 'self-playing orchestra'-type instruments, where the music is 'pre-programmed' using one or more pin rollers or a perforated music roll.