The WurliTzer Piano Company

The WurliTzer Piano Company

By James Grebe

            The Wurlitzer name is one of the most recognizable names in the music industry.  Today, though just a name on Baldwin produced pianos, but yesterday, a name to be reckoned with as far as sheer number of instrument sold.  Although the Wurlitzer family had very few original designs, they were unbeatable as far as recognizing future trends in the music trade.  Let us go back to the beginning, to the glory days of the magic of WurliTzer.          The Wurlitzer family of musical instrument makers began with Hans Adam Wurlitzer, a violin maker from Markneukirchen, Saxony between 1732 and 1795.  Since that beginning year every Wurlitzer son has been a musical instrument seller through Farny Wurlitzer of this century.  The history of the company in this country starts with Rudolph Wurlitzer landing in America at Cincinnati in 1854.  Rudolph established himself as a musical instrument importer in 1856.  From Alsace, a French family by the name of Farny also settled in the same city.  Their daughter, Leonie and Rudolph were married in 1868 and had 3 sons and 2 daughters.  In 1890, Howard, the oldest son, was admitted to the company as vice-president. In due time, the other 2 Wurlitzer son, Farny and Rudolph began working there also.          In 1903 it was decided to begin producing American made instruments rather than importing the same.  The Melville Clark Piano Company was bought after Clark had split with Story & Clark in the previous year.  The same year saw Wurlitzer pianos in production with Clark’s expertise in America.  The following year, player pianos started in production.  In 1906 the elder Rudolph retired with Farny taking over many important parts of the company.          Just a couple of years later, to try to copy the success they had with bringing Clark into the company they attempted to do the same thing with Robert Hope- Jones, whose unit orchestras were revolutionizing the pipe organ business.  Hope-Jones would not be stifled, even though owned and controlled by a company and was finally barred form his own factory and finally committed suicide being so depressed.  However, the unit orchestras, (Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organs became the standard of the industry before being subdued by the “talkies”.  They had previously absorbed the North Tonawonda Musical Instrument Company and also was in the band and orchestrion business.  The name Wurlitzer became a household word with, “Gee Dad, It’s a Wurlitzer” trademark. About 3000 Wurlitzer pipe organs were produced before production ceased in 1940.  Wurlitzer theatre pipe organs were installed in a number of St. Louis theatres like the Missouri, the Kings, the Woodland, Loews’s State, the Ambassador, and of course the Fox.  They also had Wurlitzer church pipe organs in Holy Name, Holy Rosary, and Bethany Lutheran. During the 1930’s Wurlitzer came out with the “Butterfly” grand piano, which was a small grand with the top, hinged in the middle and opened both ways like a butterfly’s wings. In the St. Louis area there was a 9’ Wurlitzer grand and a number of us piano tuners have tuned it and may well be one of only a couple actually built.  Wurlitzer had several exclusive features like the “calibrated element” which was an extension of the lower end of the treble bridge to have as many notes as possible towards the center of the soundboard.  Another feature was the “hexagonal soundboard” which extended the soundboard up further into the bass area of the smaller pin block in that area.  It was claimed to have added 11% surface area to the soundboard.  Wurlitzer went on and produced a wide area of products form radios, refrigerators and even home stereos and of cou9rse electronic organs and keyboard instruments.  During the late 1970’s they had moved their headquarters to a place that was a former school and at that time put together, ”The Mightiest Wurlitzer” which was built from a collection of their pipe organs into 1 large organ.  Shortly later things started to turn around and bad times followed.  They had come out with laminated soundboards in their lower priced pianos and with the collapse of the home organ market sales tumbled and the end was near.  They at one time had several piano factories and 1 piano action factory..          Things grew progressively worse and during the late 1980’s Baldwin bought them out and unheard of success and downfall story.  For a while, Baldwin kept things as they were but Baldwin had their own money problems.  A few short years later it was decided to close the Wurlitzer factories and move production to the Baldwin factory in Arkansas.  Now every once in a while Baldwin will introduce a model with the Wurlitzer name on it but for all practical purpose Wurlitzer is gone.

Please visit the other portions of my site to see the hand crated items I produce from my shop in Arnold, MO

As of 2008 Baldwin has ceased all production of Wurlitzer branded pianos.

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

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