The Harmony Company was founded in 1892 by Wilhelm Schultz, (a former employee of Lyon & Healy) In 1916, it was bought by Sears, Roebuck and Co., which wanted to corner the Ukulele market, (Sears had first included Ukuleles in its 1914 catalogue), and went on to become the largest producer of stringed instruments in the US, selling some 250,000 pieces in 1923 and 500,000 in 1930, including all kinds of Guitars, Banjos, and Mandolins.
My Stencil Canoe
In the late 1930s the firm bought the brand names from the bankrupt Oscar Schmidt Co.—La Scala, Stella, and Sovereign—and was marketing not only Harmony products, but also using the Sears names, Playtime, Silvertone and Supertone, plus a variety of trade names, such as Monterey, Vogue, Valencia, Vagabond and Wings. There were also endorses like Johnny Marvin, and Roy Smeck, (I have also seen John Grey have Roy Smeck endorsed Banjoleles), plus there was also a lot of largely unbranded instruments sold through the Sears Roebuck catalogue and a lot of business with some of the big US distributors like P'IMCo, Metropolitan Music Co, and even some UK distributors like Beare & Son
The company hit a post war peak in 1964-1965, selling 350,000 instruments, but low-end foreign competition led to the company’s demise 10 years later. Between 1945 and 1975, Harmony had mass produced about ten million guitars, but finally even though in 1954 they had taken over Regal, their biggest rival up to that point, they were no longer competitive with the Far East. It should also be noted that some of the final Harmony products, particularly the lower end ones, were produced in the Far East rather than Chicago.
Sears Roebuck continued on after the demise of Harmony and are still going today. For a while after the Harmony factory had gone they had Japanese or Taiwanese import Ukuleles branded Harmony and later just Sears Roebuck For certainly the 80's on they no longer branded instruments and just sold other peoples in their catalogue but in 2015 with the resurgence in interest of the old brand names on electric Guitars and the resurgence of Ukuleles in general they reintroduced the Slvertone name again for use on low end Chinese made instruments; Guitars and Soprano Ukuleles
In 1926 there was a special session by the National Association of Musical Instrument and Accessories Manufacturers at their annual convention and this is how it was reported
Important move at Buffalo Convention
BUFFALO, N. Y., October 4.—
At their meeting held here last week, the members of the National Association of Musical Instrument and Accessories Manufacturers, after due deliberation, adopted a standard string length for ukuleles, that is, the distance from nut to bolt in accordance with the recommendation of the special committee on ukulele standardization, of which W. 1. Kirk is chairman and Messrs. Kordick and Walter Schmidt are the other members. These standards are: String length from thirteen inches to thirteen and three-quarter inches to be known as standard size ukuleles; string length from thirteen and three-quarter inches to fourteen and one-half inches to be known as concert size ukuleles, and string, length from fourteen and one-half inches to fifteen and three-quarter inches to be known as tenor size ukuleles. All ukuleles which fall in the above classes must have at least twelve frets. The use of the curved or flat back and the naming of the kind of wood used are left to the discretion of the manufacturers.
Harmony seems to have particularly liked these conclusions because for the next 10 years they were inclined to put a label on all of their major brands of Ukulele, usually in the sound hole or on the back of the headstock, stating the instrument was "Standard Approved". This is also why it is hard to gauge the scale length of instruments from this period by name.
Other Harmony labels can help date the Ukulele too, I'm not sure of the exact date of change but as a general rule before WWII they had a Gold decal label and after they had a Green one. Another after the war sign is the use of plastic fretboards. Harmony, I believe came up with this idea in the 50's on the back of the rise of the plastic Ukulele, (which they to tried to cash in on, with their Modern Bali Range). The other thing that started at this time and was copied in the far east was the distinctive "Sharks Tooth" tuners
Another innovation they were proud of in the late 20's was an aeroplane shaped bridge they called the "Aero bridge" and claimed it protected guitars against the soundboard sagging at the bridge? It was more likely just a gimmick though during the period of pioneering aviation along with their wings range of Ukuleles, (also on a lot of the Johnny Marvins).