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The Moog Files

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From bullied “brain” to bankruptcy to a career comeback, the life and times of Robert Moog.

Inventor and electronic music pioneer Robert Moog (rhymes with "vogue") was born May 23, 1934. We're celebrating his birthday with 34 facts about his life, legacy, and famous synthesizers.

1. Robert Arthur Moog was born in New York City and grew up in Queens.

2. As a self-described “brain,” he was often the victim of bullies.

3. His father dabbled in home electronics, while his mother gave Moog piano lessons in hopes that he would grow up to be a concert pianist.

4. At age 14, Moog built his first theremin with help from a hobby magazine.

5. He attended the Bronx High School of Science, whose alumni include seven Nobel Prize-winning physicists, the most of any secondary school in the U.S. Other notable alumni include columnist William Safire, writers E.L. Doctorow and Richard Price, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal.

6. While a graduate student at Cornell University, he designed a build-it-yourself theremin kit and sold more than 1,000 kits at $49.95 each.

7. His theremin side business delayed his formal education, and it took him eight years to get his Ph.D.

8. He started developing his synthesizer after meeting composer Herbert Deutsch, who expressed the need for less-complicated electronic instruments.

9. Despite the common misconception, Moog did not actually invent the synthesizer.

10. The first commercially available electronic synthesizer was produced by RCA. But these depended on vacuum tube technology, used magnetic tape, did not interface with a keyboard, and were so large they could take up an entire room.

11. Robert Moog debuted his first Moog modular synthesizer at the Audio Engineer Society conference in 1964.

12. Privately, he referred to the instrument as the “Abominatron.”

13. It was initially created not as a performance instrument (set-up was still too difficult) but a studio instrument to be used by composers.

14. The original Moog factory operated out of Trumansburg, New York.

15. Many early purchasers of the Moog were universities, including Albany State, the University of Indiana and the University of Wisconsin.

16. Early electronica musicians Paul Beaver and Ernie Krause were two of the first to adapt the Moog, buying the instrument in 1966.

17. They set up a booth at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival to demonstrate the instrument and generated a lot of interest among both fans and musicians.

18. Steady sessions gigs followed, with Beaver & Krause recording for The Byrds, The Doors and others.

19. Beaver and Krause’s initial efforts to introduce the Moog into Hollywood film soundtracks were rebuffed, but they would later record tracks for “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and “Performance.”

20. The Monkees’ album “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.” was one of the first to heavily feature the Moog (Mickey Dolenz owned one of the first 20 modular Moog synthesizers ever sold).

21. The single “Daily Nightly” from that album is generally credited as being the first pop song to feature the instrument.

22. Other early uses of the Moog include The Doors’ song “Strange Days.”

23. The instrument's big breakthrough came with the 1968 Walter (now Wendy) Carlos release “Switched-On Bach.” It became one of the highest selling classical records to that point in history and won three Grammy Awards.

24. Moog collaborated with Carlos in its recording, designing a custom 8-track recording device for the album. Moog also credited Carlos with helping improve his synthesizer modules.

25. Carlos would repeat the classical-music-meets-space-age-technology formula for his soundtrack work on Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” which featured compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven.

26. Keith Emerson, keyboardist for Emerson, Lake and Palmer was another artist credited with helping improve the instrument.

27. Emerson was the first to tour with the instrument, using a 10-foot-tall, 550-pound version onstage called “The Monster Moog.”

28. It often had to be covered in tinfoil to prevent it from picking up police radio signals.

29. As the 1960s ended, Moog faced growing competition from a variety of manufacturers whose economies of scale allowed them to offer cheaper synthesizers.

30. By 1971, Moog was bankrupt. He sold his business and Moog name rights to a venture capitalist and would produce no more new instruments for three decades.

31. Acts emerging after the 1960s and '70s to make extensive use of Moog synthesizers include Kraftwerk, Devo, The Cure, Stereolab, Nine Inch Nails, and Beck.

32. Robert Moog spent the early '90s as a research professor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

33. In 2002, he won back the rights to his name and started producing new instruments under the aegis of Moog Music. He worked there until his death in 2005.

34. Started in 2004, Moogfest is an annual concert festival now held in Asheville to raise money for the Bob Moog Foundation. Recent acts have included Massive Attack, Big Boi, Devo, MGMT, Sleigh Bells, and Panda Bear.