Cousins Moog

Two geniuses of the 20th century: William “Bill” Moog and Robert “Bob” Moog.  They weren’t brothers, but they were closely related.  [Bill did have a brother Robert, but the Robert of fame — one of today’s two protagonists — was Bill’s first cousin, once removed]. [1]

Despite their Dutch looking and sounding surname (“Moog” rhymes with “rogue”, not the “goog” in Google) they were of German ancestry.

Their most recent common ancestors were Georg Conrad Becker Moog and his wife, Anna Cathrina Lather, both from the small agricultural community of Winkbach, near Marburg, Hesse, in the Lahn Valley.  Today this is only about a one-hour drive north from Frankfurt.  (This is, coincidentally, quite near my mother’s family ancestral home – another wee hamlet only 20 twisty countryside miles away: Niederasphe.)

Georg was the only child of Jacob Moog and Juliane Becker, also from that region of Hesse.  I don’t know how long the family had been there but judging from records of my family’s past they were probably there for centuries.

Like many other families, the young Moog couple emigrated to the United States in the early 1870s.  It’s difficult to ascertain why with only internet searches.  Here I will pull from my own family history lore and some knowledge of Germany history.

Also coincidentally, at about that time, one branch of my father’s family came to the US, from the wine country east of Stuttgart, along the Rems valley.  Why? We can guess. Three dozen or so sovereign German states were becoming rather forcibly merged with Prussia under Hohenzollern rule; these became a single muscular militant state. Two wars at that time, one with Austria (1868) and one with France (1870-1), were fought as part of von Bismarck’s plan to unify Germany. So, my ancestors sought to avoid impressment and instead pursue a pacifist path, which led them to America. Perhaps the Moogs did too. [Another contributing reason could be Europe’s failed liberal revolutions of 1848; my mother’s ancestors, from Hesse, came to the US in the early 1850s].

Nonetheless, the young Moog couple, going by Annie and George, settled in New York.  [the 1880 census shows them coming from Prussia, not Germany, and George with no occupation].  After deciphering  census workers’ scrawling, I found they settled in lower Manhattan, near the corner of Hester and Essex, one block from both Grand and East Broadway. The neighborhood had a majority of residents with German ancestry; they bore names like Schutt, Opperman, Schroeder, Strobel, Kaiser.  I guess they felt somewhat at home here.

The L-line ran down Essex, just a few yards away, probably horse drawn at first, as cable cars didn’t arrive in NYC until 1883.  Transportation around lower Manhattan would have been somewhat convenient.

Jobs held by neighborhood residents included streetcar conductor, fish and oyster bar worker, plasterer, wood carver, carpenter, cigar packer, paper box maker, porter, mason … very few white collar jobs here. Salt of the earth.

Much of the neighborhood consisted of properties that would be condemned and razed in the early ‘90s; then, over a decade later – in 1903 — the city found the funds to do something with the land: it became Seward Park.

By 1900 the family had moved to a boarding house at 221 E 87th St.  The elder Mr. Moog had died, in 1896, age 46. Sadly, most 1890 census records were lost in a fire in the US Commerce building in 1921, including New York’s, so we lose the thread for a while. This was, and is, a huge tragedy for historians and archivists, as 1890 lies within an era of massive immigration from abroad, and migration within the country.  So, I can’t find if George ever found steady work.

George and Anna had three children, all born in Manhattan: (1) Anna Maria Elisabetha Moog b. 1875; (2) George Alfred Moog b. 1878; and (3) William Conrad Becker Moog, b 1885.

The third child, William Conrad Becker, had a son in 1915.  William (Bill) C. Moog.  We will return to the elder son, George Alfred, later.

Partial Moog Family Tree


America as the great melting pot has always been something of a fairy tale. Upon arrival and attempting to settle into their new homeland many immigrants were shunned and often treated with contempt; in such unfriendliness they naturally stuck together within their own ethnic enclaves – which likely exacerbated their treatment.  Usually, a passage of a few generations was required before they found their footing, and their own ways, within America’s complex social, education, and economic systems.

First-generation American William Conrad Becker Moog and his wife, Minnie Moog (nee: Raabe), had three children.  The eldest was William (Bill) C Moog, Jr, b 1915.

Bill, born across the river from New York, in Jersey City, NJ, studied Mechanical Engineering just down the road at Rutgers University.  He made his way into and upward in the growing aircraft industry, working as an engineer for Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, just outside Buffalo.  There, in 1948, he invented the electro-hydraulic servo valve. Common in control systems now, the device – and the field of control mechanisms that it spawned – completely revolutionized automated control of complex systems.  In fact, it helped create that very field of electrical signal-based controls engineering.

Although Cornell Labs (now Calspan) patented the invention, they couldn’t find anyone to make the servovalves.  Moog stepped up and started a fledgling organization. Moog began building servo devices in his garage.  Moog and his team soon fielded orders from other large companies, like Bendix and Boeing.

An older Bill Moog, evidently after a haircut

Moog started a company and secured the Labs’ rights to manufacture servos of many types. For decades he ran the company. Bill was a free spirit:  No keeping track of hours, loose dress codes, and a free-wheeling creative atmosphere where employees are trusted to do a good job. Maximum informality in staff relations was encouraged. This, before Google and Twitter.  Bill eventually wore his hair down to his shoulders.  All went over well, and the company grew successful and famous over the decades.

Control of aircraft was just the beginning of what was possible.  Servos didn’t have to just control hydraulic actuators; they can control motors using signal feedback with electrical current – of all sizes and sort.

Most engineers in the aeronautical and aerospace industries know of Moog and his company’s designs and products in high-performance systems control of aircraft, satellites, space launch vehicles, missiles, etc.  Actuation control products, many by Moog, are found in numerous other fields too, especially robotics, from industry – machining, processing and assembly – to marine and agricultural hardware, and even medical devices.

Briefly, servos are devices that receive an electronic signal representing a physical quantity – usually position, speed or acceleration – process that signal, and generate a precise controlled action based on that signal.  Mostly, that action includes changing components’ position or speed, or applying torques and forces.

As the world evolved, so did servos to … well … serve the world. Although Moog Inc is not in all these fields, the servo concept that Bill Moog pioneered can be found in CD & Blu-ray disk players, automobiles (especially cruise control), many automatic doors, including elevator doors, and even some vacuum cleaners. [2]

Bill Moog is an icon in the field of engineering.  I suppose the servos would have eventually come along, but it’s hard to imagine how and when, and how the aircraft and aerospace industries would have advanced without his genius and drive.

Bill Moog’s dad had a brother, George Alfred Moog, mentioned earlier.  George Alfred had two children, one of whom was George Curt Moog.  Thus, George Curt Moog was Bill Moog’s first cousin.

George Curt Moog had one child, a son, Robert A. Moog, born in 1934, in Queens, NYC.  (There seems to be a shortage of names in the family: Bill Moog had a brother named Robert, as well as this first cousin, once-removed: Robert Moog)

Robert Moog grew up in Flushing, a neighborhood in Queens, known today for tennis rather than any famous residents (count Barbara Bush among the few).  His parents wanted him to get into music; he studied harp and piano while attending the Manhattan School of Music through elementary school.  He then went on to a technical high school, the Bronx High School of Science (an early sort of magnet school); one supposes this was in large part on account of his father’s career.   George was an engineer with ConEd (Consolidated Edison, the NY electric company) and also one of the first amateur radio operators. Papa Moog shared his knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, electronics with young “Bob.”  His budding music and electronic interests merged.  Robert soon got very interested in the theremin, a recent invention of Leon Theremin, a Russian scientist, a decade before.  [3]

The theremin, a seemingly miraculous device, both then and now, allows a musician to play an electronic instrument without even touching it; but rather by moving their body (mostly arms and hands) within an electric field that is connected to a sound generating device. With a skilled operator/musician it can appear to the untrained observer as if the person playing the theremin is waving their arms and hands around like an orchestra conductor, and from some remote spot, mysterious instruments are creating musical sounds.  [This is how many creepy movies create eerie sound effects; especially earliest scary films  … Kids’ level description here; very cool video here, you should really watch the 4 minute demo in the previous link.  Seriously].

By his mid-teens Bob had built his own such magical musical instrument.  It became his hobby. Bob and his dad started a small business building and selling theremins in the basement of their Brooklyn home.  Cool to be in business with your old man. In January 1954, still 19 years old, Bob’s article on how to construct a theremin at home was published in Radio and Television News.

Bob Moog, 1954, with his Model 351             Theremin

Bob went for simultaneous degrees in physics (at Queens College) and electrical engineering (at nearby Columbia), and then for a PhD in engineering physics at Cornell. While at Cornell he started a new company, his own, also to design, build and sell these strange electronic musical instruments.

Moog continued to experiment with electrical circuits, developing new ways to create musical sounds with electronics.  Although this had been done before, Moog’s was the first advanced studio usable hands-on electronic music generating device – a musical “instrument.” Eventually he made them rather compact and mobile. The synthesizer was born.

Music of all sorts could be generated from a single electronic device.  Relatively simple at first, by the mid-‘60s his synthesizers could produce the waveforms, overtones, attack (rise) and decay (drop) in power levels and “feel” of many instruments.  By now, I suspect, it is every instrument. By the mid ‘60s the exploding music industry, drenched in pop and iconoclast culture, caught on to the endless possibilities of sounds in Moog’s electronic synthesizers. And the exotic ways it could make music sound. With computers integrated — first analog, and soon digital — there was no bounds to the complexity and sophistication of music that could be played. [4]

It seems likely that Mickey Dolenz of Monkees’ fame was the first to use a synthesizer (although a primitive one by today’s standards) in popular music in the mid ‘60s. Many groups soon followed, including The Beatles, The Doors and The Byrds. Some famous tunes with great synthesizer riffs include: Final Countdown; Light my Fire; Smile Like you mean it; the opening to Van Halen’s Jump; Eurythmics Sweet Dreams.

Many home “pianos”, even very economical ones, are simple electronic keyboards pre-programmed with a wide variety of instrument sounds and “moods” available — from organs to violins, and from tinny like a child’s toy to an orchestra in a concert hall.  They are synthesizers.


Bob Moog revolutionized music.  Bill Moog revolutionized control engineering.  Both have earned awards, wide praise and recognition.  And money. [4] Their names and accomplishments are still revered in the engineering and music fields today.    Robert passed in 2005, age 71.  Bill, passed in 1997, age 82.  Both left a legacy, a Moog legacy, the kind of legacy that rhymes with “rogue”, not ” goog.”


Joe Girard © 2023

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[1] As a rule, a story line can have only one single protagonist.  However, in an ensemble of more than one separate “story”, each can have its own protagonist.  Rules, rules, rules.

[2] Some “high tech” vacuums have servos.  One type senses the speed of the brush roller, then lowers or raises the roller accordingly.  Another type senses the speed (forward or backward) and gives the wheels a little boost to help the user move the vacuum cleaner over the carpet.

[2] Theremin is worthy of his own detailed essay.

[3] to this date there is still contention over which makes the better “synth”, analog or digital.  Both have pros and cons, and their respective camps can be very adamant about their position.

[4] Bill Moog filed for personal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1992.  This is probably attributable to a divorce, health issues (a stroke and recovery), his management style, philanthropy, and losing then re-gaining control of Moog Inc.  [the company was not affected by the bankruptcy]
Bob Moog ran Moog Music until 1971, when he sold it; remaining an employee until 1977, when he founded a new company.  Moog Music went bankrupt about 10 years later; the name and all rights, include trademark, were returned to Moog.  His new company and Moog Music then merged, and do business as Moog Music.

Author’s notes:

  • These Moogs were contemporaries, but just barely; Bill was about a full generation+ older than Bob: 19 years. One would think that they not only knew of each other, but met often (“… hobnob with my brother wizards”), especially since they were both from the New York City area. However, I could find no evidence that they ever met, let alone communicated or acknowledged one another. [Wizard’s full departure scene and speech here]
  • Watch and hear Somewhere over the Rainbow played on a theremin.


Quick Text Family Tree

Jacob Moog (b 1830, Marburg, Hesse, d 1898)  – Juliane Becker (b 1830, Marburg, d. 1869 Marburg)

  • George Conrad Becker Moog (b 1849/1850, Hesse Germany, d. 1896 Brooklyn)- Anna Cathrina Lather (b 1852 Marburg, d 1936, Brooklyn)
    • Anna Maria Elisabetha Moog (b 1875, NY state)
    • George Alfred Moog (b 1878, NY)
      • Florence (b 1915, USA)
      • George C Moog (b 1904, NY) – Shirley Jacobs
        • Robert Arthur Moog (b 1934 – 2005)
      • William Conrad Becker Moog (b 1885, Manhattan, NY)
        • William Curt Moog, Jr (b 1915)
        • Robert Leonard Moog (1917-1998)
        • Arthur Edward Moog (1918-2002
        • Elsie Anna Moog


1880 Census page (LDS, free acc’ts available):

Family tree info:

Bob Moog autobio notes: – Moog

4 thoughts on “Cousins”

  1. Bryan

    Hi Joe,
    FYI – I think it was William C Moog who inverted and patented the Moog ski Binding as well.
    Mid late 1970’s

  2. Regina

    Hi Joe,
    The name “Moog“ is not uncommon in our area. There are at least three families by that name in Landau.

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