Category History

The marble run that makes music – Information - History: The origin of Xyloba

By Samuel Langmeier, June 2012

A long time ago, I came across a marble run in a toy shop in Zurich. Upon bouncing from the last track, the marble would roll over three chimes. This was my inspiration for the musical marble run.

In 1969, after the birth of our third child, I began working on this idea. It was important that the marbles should cleanly strike the chimes, the plates should be interchangeable and it must be possible to vary the intervals of the individual tones. These conditions led to many questions: How can we determine the correct length and slope of the ramps? How much space would the marbles need to strike the chimes and subsequently bounce off? How can we ensure that the marbles are guided properly?

Thus, after many experiments, we came up with the first melody and construction game. I made the building components from individual glued parts and the chimes were mounted vertically. This musical marble run was protected by Swiss patent no. 555,192 in 1973. Having patent protection was the prerequisite for being able to present the game in 1975 at the 4th International Exhibition for Inventions in Geneva.


The musical run was an immediate success and was awarded the bronze medal.
In the following years, I developed a mould that would help simplify the production process: I no longer needed to glue the components. Instead, I drilled the cavities from a compact piece of wood. I was able to significantly improve the sound quality by coming up with a modification that is seen in today's models: by horizontally inserting the chimes on an independent mounting block. This was the prototype for the musical marble runs that are commercially available today.

Owing to a tremendous professional workload – I am a cellist for the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich and often tour through Europe, the US, Japan and China, and I am also a chamber musician and composer – I simply did not find the time to look for a manufacturer for my marble run.

Years later, Weizenkorn perfected the product, in particular through the brilliant implementation of bucket teeth as mounts for the chimes. This fortunate association with Weizenkorn was subsequently also beneficial for the global distribution of the Xyloba musical marble run.

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