S. Nathaniel Adams

Documenting history as well as my experiences with repairing and restoring vintage guitars.

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   History Stromberg-Voisinet was formed in late 1921 by Henry "Kay" Kuhrmeyer, Charles G. Stromberg, and Frank C. Voisinet after ...

  

History

Stromberg-Voisinet was formed in late 1921 by Henry "Kay" Kuhrmeyer, Charles G. Stromberg, and Frank C. Voisinet after they purchased the manufacturing company of Andrew Groehsl. Not to be confused with the archtop production of Elmer Stromberg... Their initial headquarters were at 3406 Greenview Avenue in Chicago [3]. By the end of 1922 they had moved to the second floor of 312 Union Park Court [1]. They signed an initial lease at the location for 5 years at a price of $12,000. By 1929 their location was listed as 316 Union Park Court and I suspect they were renting the entire building at that point. 

Charles G. Stromberg

Charles Gustave/Gustaf Stromberg was born in Sweden on April 8th, 1873. He immigrated to the United States in 1889 and was married in 1897. In the 1910 census, Charles was a machinist at a musical instrument manufacturer [7]. By WWI he was a draftsman at Western Electric and lived at 3939 Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago [8]. At the 1930 census he listed his occupation as a salesman of musical instruments [9]. He died in 1960 and was listed as an "instrument maker" [10] 

Frank C. Voisinet

Frank Charles Voisinet was born 1876 in Versailes, Ohio to French immigrants. Evidently, Frank was a man with multiple vested interests. By 1920 he was the president of a "milling company" and by 1930 he was the president of a "pottery company" [11][12]. In 1926 he was part of a new investing firm [13]. He died in 1937 at the age of 61 [4].

Henry "Kay" Kuhrmeyer

Henry Kuhrmeyer was born May 26th, 1894 in St. Paul, Minnesota to German parents. By 1920, he was in New York having served on the USS Yankton [15]. He remained in the music industry for most of his life. He died March 18th, 1956 [14]

Timeline

  • 1921 - Andrew Groehsl sells his manufacturing firm to Kuhrmeyer, Stromberg, and Voisinet
  • 1922 - Stromberg-Voisinet moves their factory to 312-316 Union Park Court
    • The first Stromberg-Voisinet catalog is released [17]
      • It offers 15 mandolin and 10 guitar "styles"
      • Stromberg Patent Heads are featured on every model
      • The back of the headstocks are embossed with a fancy design
      • All their instruments are kept in stock except bowlback mandolins which are built to order
  • 1923 - Announcement of a "lyre-shaped" mandolin which features tuning machines of their own make [16]
  • 1929 - A soundboard-mounted contact pickup, developed by Kuhrmeyer, is released exclusively through Milton G. Wolf at 816 Kimball Hall in Chicago [18]
  • 1930 - Henry Kuhrmeyer patents the adjustable neck design that would help define his later "Kay Kraft" instruments
  • 1931 - The "Aero Uke" is released

Image Credit: Music Trade Review

  • July 1931 - Stromberg-Voisinet ceases to exist and the company is renamed Kay Musical Instrument Company with Henry "Kay" Kuhrmeyer as the president [19].

Stromberg Patent Heads

In 1921, Charles Stromberg patented tuning machines that were recessed within the headstock of the instrument. These were seen as a design and aesthetic improvement by the company.

Stromberg Tuners on a Bruno-branded guitar
Image Credit: Facebook - Jim Cunningham

Finding the Factory

Union Park Court no longer exists and finding the previous street name isn't quite a simple Google search away. Thanks to the Chicago Historic Society, Library of Congress, and various historic architecture websites I managed to start to piece together our modern maps with the maps at the time Stromberg-Voisinet was formed. 

(North is oriented to the right)
Image Credit: David Rumsey Map Collection - Blanchards 1906 Map


Union Park Court ceased to be by at earliest 1937 and became North Laflin Street while it's parallel St. John became North Justine Street [5][6]. Union Park Ct. covered two to three blocks of industrial buildings and so I had to locate which building would've housed the factory. The street numbers are inconsistent so I wasn't going to take them at face value but instead try to determine where this factory would've sat. Most old city maps don't show individual building numbers and will sometimes have note block numbers but that wasn't the case here.

Fire Insurance Maps

In comes the Sanborn Map Company which spent nearly 50 years creating a detailed map of every block in Chicago. They passed through Union Park Court in 1916 so I wouldn't get to see what the factory looked like during S-V's time. Thankfully the Chicago Public Library has compiled an index of the Sanborn Map volumes and what streets they encompassed. Volume 6, published in 1916, covered the areas north of Madison Street between Halsted Street and Western Avenue.

Lot bordered by Carroll avenue to the North and Fulton to the South
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Vol. 6, 1916 
Image Credit: Library of Congress

Zoomed version of the above screenshot

We can see '312' and '316' on the right hand side of the building which denotes the street number. This is the Stromberg-Voisinet factory five years before the company began. After locating a key to Sanborn maps, I could then determine what the building was. 'All 6' meant the building had 6 floors and 'A.S' in a circle meant the building had an automatic sprinkler system. The building did have electric power as well as a brick enclosed elevator in the south west corner. 

1938 Aerial Survey of the block
316 Union Park Ct is the tall building casting a shadow over it's neighbor
Image Credit: Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois


The Factory

Lucky us, 316 Union Park Court actually translates into the modern world as 316 N Laflin Street and the original building is still standing. It was renovated in the past 15 years.

S-V Factory Pre-Renovation - 2006
Image Credit: Cook County Treasurer

Stromberg-Voisinet Factory - Present Day
Image Credit: LoopNet.com

A drone pilot recorded a video in 2018 of the renovated structure



Sources

[1] https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Economist/ykZOAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=stromberg+voisinet&pg=PA804&printsec=frontcover
[2] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1931-90-3/40/
[3] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1922-74-10/31/
[4] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2MK-XFWR
[5] http://chsmedia.org/househistory/nameChanges/start.pdf
[6] https://collections.lib.uwm.edu/digital/collection/agdm/id/22822/rec/123
[7] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9RVX-ZQ2?i=2&cc=1727033&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AMKZX-YYL
[8] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-G14J-SBN?i=1540&cc=1968530&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3A744H-B3T2
[9] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRH7-D3R?i=40&cc=1810731&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AXSP5-R1Q
[10] https://www.familysearch.org/tree/sources/viewedit/3ST2-4QK?context
[11] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9R63-3N9?i=29&cc=1488411&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AMJQY-225
[12] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GR4Z-FBZ?i=6&cc=1810731&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AXSP2-5D3
[13] https://www.newspapers.com/image/354937074/?terms=frank%20c%20voisinet&match=1
[14] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QPTN-MHVV
[15] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:SP8Y-QCX
[16] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1923-76-5/26/
[17] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1922-75-15/34/
[18] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1929-88-21/57/
[19] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1931-90-7/34/

  Advertisement from The Music Trades c.1928 About The Lyric Music House in Manila on the Philippine Islands produced ukuleles constructed f...

 

Advertisement from The Music Trades c.1928

About

The Lyric Music House in Manila on the Philippine Islands produced ukuleles constructed from coconuts. According to the obituary of his brother, Arthur Melvin Uggen was the owner of the Lyric Music House [2].

Arthur Uggen was born April 30, 1889 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Erick and Dena Uggen. An accomplished musician, he worked both in retail and has a performing artist. By age 21 he was a piano salesman and by 1917 he had moved out to Washington to sell pianos at the Lawrence Music House [5]. Its unclear to me what motivated Arthur to uproot his family and move to the Philippines but I suspect his experience in the music industry gave him the confidence to embrace the growing ukulele trend. The Lyric Music House was formed in 1921 [3].

I am unable to determine where they were initially located but by 1928 they were located in The Pérez Samanillo Building which was the largest building in Manila at the time. They had left the building by the mid 1930s and Berg's Department Store took over [4].

The Lyric Music House in the Pérez Samanillo Building
Date Unknown
Image Credit: Pinterest - Batang Blumentritt

The fate of the company is unclear but by the 1940 Census, Arthur was living in Juneau, Alaska. He died in 1951 [5]. There is another Lyric Music House that was operating in Australia in the 1950s, I'm not sure whether they were connected.

Finances

They were involved in legal case concerning taxes in 1935 which gives us some rare information about their operation including their gross sales for the years of 1930 and 1931 [1]. The Philippine Coinage Act of 1903 set the value of the Philippine Peso to exactly half of a US Dollar in from 1903 until 1946 which allows us to approximate their sales in USD 

Gross Sales:

1930: ₱296,653.61 = $148,326.805 (1930) = $2,476,276.12 (2022)

1931: ₱381,283.12 = $190,641.56 (1931) = $3,182,709.47 (2022)


Sources

[1] https://www.chanrobles.com/scdecisions/jurisprudence1935/sep1935/gr_42236_1935.php
[2] https://www.mnopedia.org/person/uggen-elmer-george-1891-1949
[3] "Elizalde Model Employer", Published by Employees and Workers of Elizalde & Co., Inc., Manila, Philippines, 1936 p.13 
[4] http://www.lougopal.com/manila/?p=2231
[5] https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/61734713/person/36075862177/facts


  1905 - Mandolin by Lyon and Healy In 1905, the Benjamin Temple of Music in Kalamzoo, Michigan was displaying a the largest mandolin ever b...

 

1905 - Mandolin by Lyon and Healy

In 1905, the Benjamin Temple of Music in Kalamzoo, Michigan was displaying a the largest mandolin ever built which happened to be a Washburn. It was also noted to have been displayed at the Lousiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis.

No photos of the instrument appear to survive 

Image Credit: [3]

1921 - Bass Drum by Leedy Mfg Co

Built for Paul S. Emrick, director of the Purdue University Military Band, the largest drum was 45 inches wide and 7 feet 3 inches in diameter. It was claimed that the shell was large enough for a tall man to walk through it upright. It was headed with bull hides from Kingan & Co and a special carriage had to be built to move it through the parade. [6]

Image Credit: [6]


1925 - Banjo by Roy Kearn

The largest banjo was completed in 1925 and built by San Jose resident Roy Kearn and spanned over ten feet long (beating the previous record by almost 3 feet). It was constructed with a head taken from a 32" bass drum. It was described as having eight inch long pegs that taper to an inch in diameter at their smallest point and strung with piano wire. It also required a whole hand to pluck a string [1][2]. 

It was displayed (and likely commissioned) by the California retailer Sherman, Clay, & Co.
The 10 foot banjo in 1925
Image Credit: [1]


1933 - Guitar by Bert M. Anderson

Portland, Oregon resident Bert M. Anderson claimed to have built the largest guitar which was twenty-seven and a half inches wide.

No pictures survive
Image Credit: [5]


1975 - Acoustic Guitar by The Harmony Company

Mr Rogers next to the Harmony Sovereign
Image Credit: Archive.org and PBS - Mr Rogers ep 1421

Harmony Bicentennial Model
Located at Ripleys in San Antonio, Texas

1977 - Electric Guitar by Ken Lindemere and Joseph Sallay

This guitar was built by two Vancouver men, weighed 400 pounds, and was constructed in brass. It measured nine feet seven inches long by three feet six inches wide.

Ken and Joseph posed next to their guitar
Image Credit: [4]


Sources

[1] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1925-81-24/104/
[2] https://presto.arcade-museum.com/PRESTO-1925-2041/21/
[3] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1905-40-25/63/
[4] https://www.newspapers.com/image/481508107/?terms=largest%20guitar%20built&match=1
[5] https://www.newspapers.com/image/220758048/?terms=largest%20guitar%20built&match=1
[6] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1921-73-9/42/









  I was fortunate enough to come across a tattered, barn fresh, faux-leather bag that had clearly been the home of a mouse family. Despite t...

 


I was fortunate enough to come across a tattered, barn fresh, faux-leather bag that had clearly been the home of a mouse family. Despite the rough appearance, I immediately knew that this collection of odd pieces was actually a craftsman's bag of specialized tools. It is a wonderfully complete toolkit for the process of "graining" wood. 

Graining is how the frugal craftsman or homeowner could turn a plain board into something resembling a much higher quality timber. Its unclear who the craftsman was or how extensive his work really was but the combination of homemade and commercially available tools demonstrate that he took it seriously. The tattered newspaper remains from the Sioux City Journal were dated 1932 and the tools came from a seller in Spencer, Iowa.

As it relates to the purpose of my website, guitars and other musical instruments were also subject to faux finishes to replicate more expensive wood.

History

Graining is not a new practice as Nancy McClelland explained in her 1926 article "The Revival of Wood-Graining" in Volume 49 of House & Garden. She notes that the practice of simulating wood with paint gained popularity in 17th century England and by the 18th century was common practice to make rooms seem more welcoming. She also explains that the French Revolution led to a shortage of English oak which led to an even higher interest in the art of wood graining until it ceased to be popular later that century. At the time of her writing, imitation materials were en vogue as celluloid plastic had been introduced at the turn of the century and replica ivory, pearl, and shell were being fashioned into cheap, everyday items.

The art of graining would require knowledge of both contemporary art practices as well as familiarity with different species of wood and their grain. Miss McClelland tells a story of a Scotch painter who apprenticed as a boy in the art of graining. His training began with two doors; one mahogany and the other plain. He was tasked with painting the plain door to match the mahogany exactly. After completing the work the mahogany door was taken away and he was told to paint it again from memory. The process was repeated with other species until the grain, color, and peculiarities of each timber were well ingrained in the artist's mind [1].

A homemade wood grainer from Popular Mechanics c.1923
Image Source: Google Books

If you owned a subscription to a trade or home improvement periodical during the era, its likely you would've found resources on how to perform your own graining.

Irreplaceable Literature

"House-Painting, Carriage-Painting, and Graining" by John W. Masury (pub. 1881) is a probably the best resource I have found in terms of explaining tools and the various colors needed to mimic rosewoods, mahogany, oak, etc. It is completely free to read on Google Books and the information can be found on Page 113 or the beginning of Chapter XII.

"Cassell's House Decoration - A Practical Guide to Painters' and Decorators' Work" by Cassell and Co. (pub. 1913) is another great resource and includes more color combinations as well as photographs of various techniques to match all variety of oak, walnut, ash, birdseye maple, etc. It is also completely free on Google Books and begins on Page 222.

Interesting Patents

1898 - J. J. Callow - https://patents.google.com/patent/US605244A/en?oq=us+605244a
1908 - Charles T. Ridgely - https://patents.google.com/patent/US944821A/
1908 - Charles T. Ridgely - https://patents.google.com/patent/US930690A/
1913 - Thomas J Mcelhenie of the Ohio Varnish Co - https://patents.google.com/patent/US1121272A/
1914 - George C. Powers - https://patents.google.com/patent/US1123590A/

Gallery of Tools

A variety of steel toothed graining combs in different widths and tooth count

These two handmade combs are made of poplar with flexible plastic teeth

Cutting 'fingers' into leather scraps yield
 another cheap graining tool


These tools have leather faces with grooves cut into them
and twine to attach them to the wooden handle


This large rubber pad is clearly designed to mimic the medullary rays of quartersawn oak
Stamped "J J Callow PAT June 7 90 Cleveland Ohio"
US Patent: US605244A

Rubber rollers with a molded "bulls-eye" pattern

They have become deformed and hard with age but I suspect
they would've slid on a paint roller for covering large areas


An interesting 'interrupted' pattern here

Stamped "Ridgely PAT. June 5 00"
These half-round blocks have a rubber pattern nailed onto them
and two tapered holes on adjacent sides that each fit the wooden handle 
These tools have bent metal handles, rubber pads, and
were definitely commercially produced



Stamped "PAT. June 6 98"

This 'check' or 'over-combing' roller is made out of wood with a bent metal handle

This large pad is very similar to the most common grainers available today
You drag it through the paint and change the angle to form the grain lines

Sources

[1] https://www.google.com/books/edition/House_Garden/NSIgAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0








1890 Seeger and Guernsey's Cyclopaedia of the Manufactures and Products of the United States Source: Google Books 1899 Seeger and Guerns...

1890 Seeger and Guernsey's Cyclopaedia of the Manufactures and Products of the United States

Source: Google Books

1899 Seeger and Guernsey's Cyclopaedia of the Manufactures and Products of the United States

Source: Google Books