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The harmonium was invented in Paris in the 1840s by Alexandre Debain, though there was concurrent development of similar instruments.
Harmoniums reached the height of their popularity in the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were especially popular in small churches and chapels where a pipe organ would be too large or too expensive.
Harmoniums generally weigh less than similarly-sized pianos and are not as easily damaged in transport, thus they were also popular throughout the colonies of the European powers in this period not only because it was easier to ship the instrument out to where it was needed, but it was also easier to transport overland in areas where good-quality roads and railways may have been non-existent.
At the peak of the instruments' Western popularity around 1900, a wide variety of styles of harmoniums were being produced. These ranged from simple models with plain cases and only 4 or 5 stops (if any at all), up to large instruments with ornate cases, up to a dozen stops and other mechanisms such as couplers.