Small pre-war American Firms click for more

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As the first wave of Ukulele popularity grew, so a number of new companies jumped on the bandwagon. Some were Manufacturers with a history of making other instruments, some were Distributors, (or Jobbers as they were called at the time) who decided there was profit in having their own brands to market. Often now though there is very little information on what they made or sold.

Liberty Musical Instrument Co.

Formed in 1926 in Chicago, IL from the joining of two Boston firms, Nokes & Nicolai (who had in 1920 brought the Banjo maker F.E. Cole), and Joseph Pacheco, (Pacheco & Kleim), with the Liberty Rawhide Company, a major Chicago supplier of banjo and drum heads from 1920. Contemporary articles state that Liberty had purchased the "stock and good will" of the other two companies, and moved the stock in trade and equipment to new quarters in Chicago; each man was to have responsibility for his own end of the business, while John W. Placko, president of Liberty, was to supervise the manufacture of the drum and banjos heads. Within a year the new company had failed and was sold at auction, in August, 1927; since the factory and most of the machinery were new, there was great competition for the assets, which were finally purchased by Slingerland While it was in business though, it produced some expensive but high quality Banjos and Banjoleles branded Liberty or Premier (the premier cost $75 when new and the average wages was, just over $30 a month). Prior to joining this enterprise Pacheco, though more well know for selling Vega made Tenor Banjos, did produce a 14" scale Banjolele, I'm not aware of the other two firms involved making or selling any Ukuleles or Banjoleles though. However after Slingerland took over, it did continue to sell, (presumably unsold stock), the Premier with the name May Bell added. All the ones I have seen though had an inlaid flower pattern on the resonator and a scale length that puts them just into the Ukulele Tenor size.
There have been a number of other Liberty Banjos over the years, its a popular name but they had nothing to do with this company.

Louis Viohl & Sons

Albert Louis Viohl emigrated to U.S. in the 1860's and started the Empire workshop in Flushing, Queens in 1883 where he made various stringed musical instruments including Guitars with the Empire State Label. Both of his sons joined the family business and in 1902 Louis Jnr took over running it. Under Louis jnr a number of Ukuleles were made though I don't think these were branded Empire State, (though I know Mandolins were as well as Guitars). I'm not sure how big the firm was, (I know the other son was called August), or exactly what happened to it though it doesn't appear to have survived into the 1940's.

William C. Stahl

He started his music career as a Banjo performer, composer and teacher in the early the 1890's, and after doing this for a few years, in 1899 he was offered the leadership of a large orchestra and teaching studio in Milwaukee. From this base he branched out into doing his own publishing and instrument manufacture. In the guise of Instrument Manufacturer he claimed to have invented the Tenor Banjo, and in 1903 “The Crescendo” was able to report “Wm. Stahl had been so behind with orders for his mandolins, guitars and banjos that he had been running his plant night and day all through the summer and is still behind with orders” This would certainly account for him outsourcing production to others but it is uncertain now that any instruments were ever actually made by Stahls company in Milwaukee? He famously had Guitars and Mandolins built by Larson Brothers, under the Stahl name and most of the Banjo instrument bearing his name look very much like they were actually made by Lange; certainly this is the case for the Banjoleles that have his name on the perch pole. I have never seen or heard mention of a wooden Stahl Ukulele so he may only have branded Banjoleles, (along with the Guitars and Mandolins). He died in 1940 but had given up branding Instruments long before then.

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