A History of the Martin Companies:
Ron Berndt, July 2015
In 1850, a young Johann Heinrich Martin (24 Feb. 1835 – 25 Nov. 1910), began an apprenticeship in brass instrument making with Christian Hemming in his home town of Dresden. During the five years of his apprenticeship, his brother, Gottfried Robert Martin (ca.1835-1900) would leave for the United States and in 1852 established a small brass instrument workshop at 1 Franklin Square in New York.
John Henry Martin (his anglicized name) joined his brother in New York in 1855 as the GR Martin firm relocated to 34 Forsyth Street. The firm moved again in 1858 to larger quarters at 59 Forsyth.
In 1864, GR Martin moved several blocks away to new quarters at 43 Greene Street in New York. The building still stands as pictured in 2012 below. Brother John Henry Martin left around this time to establish “The Martin Co.” in Chicago. Company stationary in 1912 indicated 1865 as the date at which the company was first "stablished".
In 1867, GR Martin then formed a partnership, located upstairs in the same building via the stairway door at 41 Greene Street. Martin & Slater was a partnership with English emmigre Moses Slater (1826-1889). During that same year, Slater also had a partnership, Gordon & Slater, with Stephen Gordon at the same location. Moses Slater was running his own operation, Slater Musical Instruments, first at 538 Broadway, starting in 1865, and then relocated to 706 Broadway in 1867. He shut this firm down at the end of 1868 along with the Gordon partnership.
In 1868, Boosey & Co. Bought the Distin Company and entered into the brasswind manufacturing market with the synergies that a well established music publisher and retailer could exploit. Their future partners, Hawkes & Son had incorporated in 1865. In 1869, Martin & Slater moved into new quarters at 221 Greene and focused on their singular business together. In England, after selling his company, Distin began a series of failed concert promotions.
In 1871, John Henry Martin’s Chicago Martin Company was wiped-out by the great Chicago fire.
The impact to the Martin family was severe. GR Martin had been building a large new facility, which Henry Distin, who was working in a pub in 1870 following his bankruptcy, would later call a “monster” at #31 Courtlandt street. His partnership with Slater moved to a nearby Courtlandt Street building at #36 (shown mid-frame at left below). #31 Courtlandt appeared briefly on horns labeled “Martin & Co.”. (Courtlandt St. from Church to Greenwich including #30-61 in 1875 with odd numbers on the left is shown at right.)
However, following the Chicago disaster, that name was replaced by a new partnership at #31 Courtlandt and the Slater partnership became Slater & Martin. Slater and Martin would continue through 1874 when Slater founded a new Slater Musical Instruments company at #42 Courtlandt that lasted at various addresses beyond his 1889 death until 1920.
Below is a cornet made by Martin & Co. at #31 Courtlandt in 1871 at the peak of the Martin Brothers’ business ventures.
In 1872, the two Martin brothers then converted Martin & Co. into a partnership with Henry August Pollman, who came from outside of the music industry. The firm of Martin, Pollman & Co. operated at #31 Courtlandt until 1879 and then as Martin Brothers until 1885. Formerly the site of a hotel, during the Martin years, the address was also home to a variety of businesses from pigeons & supplies to washing machines, an agro-supply warehouse & seed store, a bakery, and the Wakefield Earth Closet Company.
Eventually, #31 Courtlandt became retail space with mixed commercial use above on the periphery of New York’s “Radio Row” in the early 20th century. In 1965, the entire Radio Row district was siezed under eminent domain following suits that reached to the New York State Supreme Court, and demolished to build the Word Trade Center complex. #4 World Trade stood on the site of the Martin businesses and Courtlandt itself from 1975 until destroyed by the falling South Tower (#2 WTC) in 2001. The elements of the tower façade in the photo at right rest approximately on the site of #31 Courtlandt.
The new #4 World Trade sits on the #31 Courtlandt side of a pedestrian-only Courtlandt street now being built. Ironically, #31 Courtlandt was home to the agent for Charles Levitt Automatic Fire Escapes, a crank, rope and belt device for lowering people out of the windows of burning buildings, in 1871.
During the time of the Martin Brothers partnership, it appears that GR Martin also attempted to, rather dis-honestly, leverage the Martin name against the success of CF Martin & Co. in the guitar business as shown by the 1881 advertisement shown at left for G Robert Martin, “Manufacturer of the celebrated Martin’s Guitar”. These “fake Martins” have confused many collectors in the 21st century. (Note the 31 Courtlandt address)
Henry Distin augmented his pub income by touring extensively, and in 1876 was able to relocate to New York. His stated purpose was to superintend at Martin’s facility on Courtlandt. His arrival coincided with John Henry Martin going to work at the new Conn & Dupont Company (C.G. Conn after 1879) and moving his family to Elkhart. It is said Martin was the sixth Conn employee – Gus Buescher was #5.
In a 1940 “History”, the Martin Company would later claim that Henry Martin (confusing 5 year old son with father John) had walked to Elkhart from Chicago following the great fire to work for Conn. This story ignored the 5 years between the fire and founding of Conn & Dupont. The company, formed by John’s sons and probably repeating tall tales from the shop, also ignored uncle GR Martin completely.
In 1878, Henry Distin left the Martins and began building instruments in his name. This was a partnership with F.W. Busch at 285-355 Bowery in New York (now 79 East 4th Street) and the instruments were labeled “Henry Distin Maker”. The partnership lasted only two years.
1879 saw the departure of HA Pollman from the Martin partnership, and the 31 Courtlandt Street firm became Martin Brothers. Pollman began a new firm selling instruments under his own name at an address in the second block East of Church Street, on which side Courtlandt is named Maiden Lane. Below is a circa 1880 August Pollman cornet.
Distin switched partners to Moses Slater at #42 Courtlandt 1880-1881, building horns such as the below.
In 1882 Henri Distin relocated to Pennsylvania, working for JW Pepper with his son William, and then for a year in the partnership Distin & Pincus before incorporating in 1885 as Henri Distin Manufacturing.
In 1885, following the closure of Martin Brothers, both John & Robert Martin went to work as tradesmen at the Michigan Musical Manufacturing Company in Detroit. John returned to Elkhart and employement at CG Conn the following year while Robert remained with what became the Detroit Cornet Company until 1887.
The Martin companies had two ways of marking instruments. The first was to engrave the bell near the rim. The second was to affix a shield plate in the old Austro-Hungarian tradition. The font seems to be the same regardless. However, it becomes more interesting when one considers that the same shields were in use by other, unrelated firms. Most likely, the engraving was all done by a Manhatten Jeweler. Also very interesting is that the shield used on the 1871 cornet, when Martin had a presence in Chicago, appears on a Julius Bauer stencil of what the National Music Museum describes as an 1870s Martin Brothers horn (which would be before Martin brothers, either MP&C or Martin & Co.). That same cornet is marked elsewhere “GM Timbrell”, leading the National Music Museum to speculate Timbrell was the engraver. Also worthy of some note is that the Later Elkhart Martin Band Instrument Company would use a shield logo.
In 1904, the sons of John Henry Martin, who had worked with him at Conn until he was forced by a stroke to retire in 1902, established the JH Martin Band Instrument Company. In 1905 it was reorganized into the Martin Band Instrument Company. Control of the Martin firm in its first years was split between Henry Charles Martin, Robert J. Martin, Charles E. Martin and Frederick Martin.
The company was bought-out in 1912 by a young employee of just 4 years, Francis Compton. Compton was born in June 1885 on his grandfather Ezekiel’s 1833 pioneer Elkhart farm, and began at Martin as a bookkeeper. He brought in WJ Gronert (b. Dec. 30, 1851), who had been a British military musician starting at the age of 14 under the false name Tommy Atkins, emigrated to the United States, and joined the American Army where he was part of the 17th infantry division, which arrived a day late to reinforce General Custer at the Little Big Horn. He worked for Conn as General Manager from 1881 until 1911, being there for both the 1883 and 1910 fires that obliterated the Conn factories. He is credited with starting to stabilize Martin in 1916 after he joined and merged his Elkhart Musical Instrument Company, founded in 1911, into the company. Gronert died in 1919. The company was then bought by O.P. Basset in 1920. Though he relinquished control, Henry C. Martin remained President of until 1922.
Below is a 1911 Martin Band Instrument Company Standard Long Model cornet. This is a second generation version, and came into production some time before 1911. The first generation, which was very similar except for placement of braces and related alignment of the wrap, appears to have been in production earlier along with a design somewhat visually like the Conn Connquerer. In the promotional flyer “Trumpet Tones, Vol. 1 No. 1” in 1912, Martin claims that the design below, best known as the Conn Perfected Wonder, was invented by Henry C. Martin and documented in drawings in 1902. In 1903, residing in Grand Rapids and possibly working at York, HC Martin did patent a stop rod.
In trumpets, Martin first built the Martin “Renowned”. A unique example of this from around 1914 is below. This horn has the standard “high pitch tubes” installed with a “low pitch tubes” accessory, which sold separately in the catalog, alongside. This A/Bb quick-change rotary slide is unique for a Martin.
The 1912 Renowned Catalog image is below.
The next trumpets began with a “Standard” model followed by the Superlative model. The key feature of the Superlative trumpet and matching cornet was a tunable receiver similar to that used by HN White 1900-1915. Below is a Martin Superlative with its tunable receiver. The tube union in the leadpipe is not a patch, it is original to the design of the horn splicing the sleeve for the receiver with the actual leadipe.
Below is a 1917 example of another Martin trumpet with #2 finish, the Martin Symphony. This model has been mis-identified as a Superlative on multiple websites.
The horns were a conglomeration of the ideas of others. They used the perpendicular second valve slide & valve length of early Conns, the square-cornered dual-radius “tuning slide” of period Holtons, a lock ring retained slide for A/Bb quick-change like Boston, Vega and King, a tunable leadpipe from Harry Jay’s Columbia or White’s Kings on one and Esbach front HP and LP tuning slides with a rear Bb/A mirroring Holton on the other. Arguably, these were their first horns designed by committee.
Conn 2nd slide & valves, Esbach Slides, Holton dual-radius, Columbia tuning leadpipe, Boston lock ring
In 1922, the Frank Holton Company released the second generation of their Revelation trumpet. This model changed to reversed construction, and included a novel stop-rod for setting the slide to A, but was otherwise the same as the first generation. The 1924 patent for the stop-rod is what this generation is often identified by. In 1925, a .422 bore, small bell variant known as the Jazz Hound and a .473 bore known as the Cannon were added. In 1928, the Llewellyn model was added.
That same year at Martin, OP Basset, Fred Holtz and James State incorporated the Indiana Band Instrument Company to sell low-priced instruments made at the Martin plant and using older Martin designs.
When the Holton Cannon was introduced, Renold Schilke was a featured “child prodigy” (he was actually in his mid-teens) performing with the Holton Elkhorn Band. During this time, he learned the skills of a machinist, gun smith and brass instrument craftsman apprenticing to the workers at the Holton plant. When the Llewellyn was added, Schilke was in Belgium studying the science of brass instrument acoustics. Upon his return, Schilke began applying a scientific approach to the refinement of trumpet design, particularly in the area of leadpipe taper and positioning elements of construction that introduce turbulence away from the most critical nodal points acoustically.
This then leads to the popular myth, that the Committee was designed by a workgroup of all of the great designers of the day. Viewed rationally, one may easily recognize that these designers were competitors and would have had no motivation to improve the design of Martin’s product. Their input, rather, was as it had been with the first Martin trumpets that included elements from leading makers, a matter of reverse-engineering the competition. In truth, Schilke was the only designer on the actual team.
According to a December 1940 advertisement in Ovation magazine, the members of the actual Committee were: Fred Berman, Otto Kurt Schmeisser, Jimmy Neilson, Dana Garrett, Renold Schilke, Charlie Spivak and possibly others.
Advertisement scan provided by Chris Dankler
Schilke, who played Holton Revelations, was known to say that he felt like a committee of one. He also refered to the original Committee as “my horn”. The leadpipe and bell taper make a uniquely responsive and in-tune instrument, but the basic design of the Committee is rooted in that of a Holton Revelation.
By 1923, Martin added the term “Handcraft” to the bell art on all of their instruments, and “Dansant Model” based on the Symphony but with a back-swept second valve slide late in that year or 1924. The Handcraft branding was meant to turn their financial inability to mechanize to the degree of other firms, such as Conn’s massive factory, into a marketing advantage. The Dansant Models were intended to appeal to the rapidly growing dance hall market. Below is a 1927 Martin Handcraft Dansant, which was first called the Martin Symphony Dansant Model.
In the late 1920s and 1930s, Martin built a horn intended to appeal to the trendiest of the dance hall segment, a peashooter called the Martin Handcraft Troubador. Martin had identified the dance hall market as a primary target in 1923 or 1924 when they added the term “Dansant Model” to the bells of a modified version of the Symphony. A 1931 Troubador is below.
By 1927, Martin introduced another line, the New Master cornet and trumpet. By 1928, H.N. White introduced the King Commander cornet (pictured below), which bore a striking resemblance to the Martin New Master Cornet.
The innovative technology common to these horns was the placement of the A/Bb rotary quick-change valve. Such valves had been in use installed in tuning slides or mid-leadpipe for at least 75 years, but they added resistance and affected the tone by creating another region of turbulence in the raceway. Each interruption to the smooth bore profile caused turbulence, which in turn sapped energy and distorted the sound wave fronts. Each turbulent zone required a distance afterward before becoming laminar again. The advantage of this placement is that the zone becomes combined with the valve body thereby reducing the percentage of the overall length subjected to turbulent flow.
A 1927 Martin New Master cornet is below.
The bell of this otherwise lacquered brass cornet is not silver plated, it is made of German Silver (cupro-nickel) and lacquered as well. Below is a Martin New Master trumpet, also from 1927, which has the same feature, although its lacquer on the bell has yellowed badly in places and its pinkie hook has been lost. When new, these horns would have visually resembled the King Silvertone series, but without the high material cost of White’s solid sterling silver bells.
Sometime in the early 1930s, Martin added the Imperial line to the standard, and discontinued the Superlative cornet and trumpet. Originally, the Martin Handcraft Imperial trumpet foreshadowed the coming Committee with open reversed construction.
World War II disrupted all band instrument manufacturing in the United States. To keep customer attention, the companies continued marketing, heralding their war works and hinting at advancements and incentives that would await the customer upon their liberation from government service. Some examples of Martin advertising are on the following pages.
After WWII, a brace was added to the Imperial along with a unique fully reversed slide, creating an alternative to the Committee. A 1957 example of a Martin Imperial is below.
In 1942, Martin was one of the few in the band instrument business not converted to war material production. The company folded Indiana into Martin as a model name, and continued producing a stripped-down, non-reversed, unbraced trumpet as the Indiana model. The Handcraft brandname added to all Martins starting around World War One as a celebration of the small firm’s inability to afford the mechanization of its larger rivals, disappears at this time from both sales materials and bell art.
In 1948, Fred Holtz retired as President, having served in that role since 1931. Holtz was a former circus musician. He began at Martin as Sales Manager in 1920, and achieved the first large distribution agreement for Martin instruments through Wurlitzer’s network while in that role. His son Fritz served as a shop supervisor at Holton for many years, and his grandson has worked to disseminate photographs from this time in the company online.
In 1960 or early 1961, a new holding company, Richard Music Corporation acquired the Scherl & Roth company, with which came the Reynolds brand. Additional components of RMC included the E.K. Blessing Company, and the Martin Band Instrument Company by 1962. The merger was short lived however as the debt incurred to acquire so many companies was unsupportable with the shrinking sales of even leveraged existing product. RMC folded in 1963.
The bankruptcy of Richards Music Corporation resulted in the transfer of the Reynolds name to CMI Holdings - though the company was more interested in its holding in the brewing business, than it was in once again being in the band instrument business. The Blessing family regained the E.K. Blessing Company. CG Conn acquired Scherl & Roth while Wurlitzer acquired Martin.
Wurlitzer reworked the trumpet product line-up, introducing the Martin Magna as a heavily modernized traditional trumpet in place of the Imperial. The design was that of the Imperial, including the unique slide, but added a third slide throw, first slide trigger and rose brass bell. The Imperial name was then assigned to a vastly different intermediate trumpet. The Committee design remained fundamentally unchanged from its Holton Llewellyn / Schilke roots.
One of the new and contemporary names Wurlitzer added to the product line was the Galaxy. This was an intermediate horn, targeting horns such as the Holton Galaxy of the same period. A 1969 Martin Galaxy is below. It has been modified with Amado spit keys.
In 1971 Wurlitzer, which had stenciled and occasionally built brass instruments almost since it’s founding, and which had only recently purchased the Martin Band Instrument Company out of the bankruptcy of RMC, elected to retire from band instrument manufacturing, selling Martin to Leblanc USA. This had an impact on Holton, Leblanc’s first brass manufacturing acquisition, in that Martin was seen as the premium brand by comparison. All Leblanc research and development in brasswinds was consolidated at the Martin plant in Elkhart, cementing the conversion of Holton to an imitator of other’s designs, but the cost of mergers and acquisitions also had a detrimental effect on Martin. The Leblanc T-3500 series Committees that replaced the original design were considered by some, as Renold Schilke is purported to have told Leblanc/Martin designer of the new model Larry Ramirez, “messed up”.
Martin then played a unique role in the Holton division’s future with the T-101 project. Jim Stella, the plant manager for Getzen’s Elkhorn plant in the 2010s, has recounted his participation in the design of the Holton T-101 and subsequent T-102, T-103 and T-105 (originally dubbed LT-101) trumpets. In 1981, at Leblanc’s Elkhart Martin Plant he disassembled an Elkhart Bach Stradivarius 37 that had been bought after play-testing to find the best in a local music store. Every detail of the horn was painstakingly measured and those dimensions formed the specifications for the T-101. Stella proudly recounts that the horn still played perfectly after he put it back together. The T-102 was then given a Bach 43 bell clone and the T-103 a Bach 72 bell clone. The T-105 was a Leblanc designed lightweight adaptation of the T-101.
Below is a circa 1990 Leblanc Holton T-101.
In 2003 Selmer merged into the Steinway Musical Properties group. This brought together Steinway & Sons, Armstrong, Benge, King, Conn, Scherl & Roth, Selmer, Buescher, Bundy, Vincent Bach, Ludwig, Musser, and in 2004, with the acquisition of Leblanc following founder Vito Pascucci’s 2003 death from kidney failure, also the Leblanc, Noblet, Vito, Frank Holton and Martin names all under the single umbrella of the renamed Steinway Musical Instruments. The company was structured into two divisions with Steinway and related keyboard businesses in the Steinway division, and the band instruments in the Conn-Selmer division.
In 2008, facing declining sales from Asian competition and ever fewer numbers of students taking up band instruments, Conn-Selmer halted production of and at the remaining facilities of Martin, Buescher, and Holton. The modified version of the Committee trumpet, was the last Martin branded product.
Ultimately, the history of the Martin companies is fogged by both time, and by the fanciful and under-inclusive histories published by the modern company in the first half of the 20th century. Myths created for marketing have permeated the trumpet world, regardless of their implausibility and obvious errors. The real story of two brothers that emigrated from Saxony and took part in the band movement from its earliest days as emergent popular music, until the corporate descendant of their off-springs’ enterprises succumbed to the same economic and socio-cultural transformations that decimated most of the rest of the band instrument industry over one and a half centuries later, has been largely forgotten.
Addenda: Martin Chicago – A theory of what JH Martin was really doing there
It is clear from fact-checking the stories of the Martin company, both those repeated among trumpet players and those actually published by the company, that a great deal of mis-information was spread at one time about the true past of the firm and family. Unfortunately, this leaves a vacuum of understanding where the early businesses are concerned.
JH Martin and GR Martin were brothers and partners in their business ventures, although JH Martin’s sons’ company chose to obscure that fact in later years. It seems that GR was the CEO and operations minded brother, while JH was focused more on technology and sales. This can be seen in JH Martin going to work for Conn, not when he was out of work due to a fire, but after 5 years in New York running a factory floor when Henri Distin arrived and made it possible for him to leave. When Distin moved on, JH Martin returned to where he was needed, presumably returning with an enhanced knowledge of what was going on elsewhere in the industry.
No one has seen a Chicago Martin instrument. It seems implausible that none would exist if there was ever a Chicago Martin manufacturing venture. It also seems odd that the Martins would expand to a distant city and then expand to one of the largest instrument workshops in the United States in New York before seeing any real output from Chicago. The story of a Martin Chicago factory is likely a myth.
Why then would JH Martin have relocated to Chicago and what was he doing there for 5 years?
To postulate an answer, one must consider what Chicago was in 1865. At that time, the convergence of rail lines and waterways positioned Chicago to beat-out St. Louis for the role of transportation and trans-shipment hub of North America. Any business looking to distribute to retail nation-wide would be well served to locate a warehouse and distribution facility there. With the rapid growth of Martin family instrument making in New York, culminating in the over 10,000 square foot Courtlandt facility, they had to secure sales channels beyond the storefronts of New York to handle their considerable production.
In later years, the Martins built horns for stencil by Julius Bauer. Bauer was a huge force in Chicago and had national distribution. It stands to reason that this relationship might well have been developed by JH Martin while there. The evidence is in the form of the Bauer Martin stencil in the NMM collection.
Finally, the devastating effect of the fire on the finances of the family, as evidenced in the reversal of the partnership with Slater and the seeking-out of a backer in August Pollman, indicates that some significant investment was lost. A warehouse building loaded with inventory from substantial Martin & Co. manufacturing capacity in New York, but with as yet under-developed distribution, and perhaps produced with borrowed capital, would have been a terrific loss to sustain.
This is merely supposition based on the economic environment of the day and the few known events, but is a more plausible explanation of what the Chicago Martin Company actually was than a factory.