Oscar Schmidt

New Jersey Oscar Schmidt Soprano Ukulele
Oscar Schmidt Soprano
Some photos courtesy of Legendary Ukuleles.com
The Oscar Schmidt Company was founded in 1871 in New Jersey by brothers Oscar and Otto Schmidt. The company was incorporated in 1911 and in 1920 they had 3 factories in the US and 4 in Europe making a number of instruments including Guitars, Mandolins, Banjos and Ukuleles. The products were generally aimed at the low end of the market at the time and often used cheaper woods like Birch, Maple and Cherry; they did use Mahogany and Koa, and make some quality models too. They produced under a number of brand names, like La Scala, Stella and Sovereign, (another branding I have read about but not seen is Florida Tiples?), not just Oscar Schmidt, and they also produced a lot of OEM instruments for others, like Bruno and Stadlmair to brand.

In the teens and early 1920s they were one of the firm that made Ukuleles that pretended to actually come from Hawaii, (and the Hawaiian makers had to register the Tabu mark to protect against), they were not very good in their subterfuge though as they famously managed to spell Hawaiian wrong in the sound hole labels putting Genuine Hawaian Koa Wood on them! They also joined in the production of non traditional more Mandolin-esque Ukuleles in the late 1920's too, with the Bando-Uke and the Uke-A-Lute. Another oddity If theirs that I have read about but not seen is the production of a Banjo Tiple.

Oscar Schmidt died in 1929 while visiting his factory in Czechoslovakia, one month before the Wall St. crash and these two mishaps combined to put the whole operation on a downward path. The company went bankrupt in the late 30's, (possibly 1939), and the factory was brought by the United Guitar Company. The brand names were acquired separately by Harmony and Harmony certainly used the Stella brand on Guitars and Banjos, (including Banjoleles), but I don't think they ever used the other names. Harmony itself went under in 1975 and the Oscar Schmidt name was possibly owned for a while by Ovation before being acquired by USM in the early 2000's. From the time of acquisition USM have been using the name to brand their range of Ukuleles but I talk about these on the USM page.

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