BACKGROUND and INNOVATIONS
Harry A. Bower is perhaps best known as having authored The Harry A. Bower System (in three parts) for the Drums, Bells, Xylophone, Timpani, first published in 1911, and the Imperial Method for the Drum in 1898. Bower's methods were revolutionary at the time in that they treated the bells, xylophone, and timpani as equals alongside the snare drum. Previous drum methods focused almost exclusively on the military tradition of rudimental drumming with no attention paid to timpani or mallet percussion.
Bower was an active performer in Boston at the turn of the 20th Century. While he was a member of the Boston Symphony from 1904 through 1907, listed in programs as the cymbal player actually, his main engagements were of the vaudeville variety most notably with the Tremont Theater Orchestra. The music scene in Boston was thriving in the early 1900s and freelance work for a man of Bower's talents would have been easy to come by.
Bower was also a prolific inventor. He boasts no fewer than thirteen patents for ideas ranging from timpani tuning devices to control mechanisms for a vibraharp and from bass drum and cymbal beaters to a heating and illuminating attachment for gas burners. Bower apparently had an idea of how to improve just about everything, but especially the snare drum. Of Bowers patents, seven of them involve specifically the snare drum.
Drums from the early 1900s are generally unusual by modern standards in that nothing about the instrument had been standardized yet. The variety of instruments available from manufactures across the United States, mainly in the Northeast (George B. Stone, F. E. Dodge, etc.) and Midwest (Duplex, Leedy and then Ludwig & Ludwig), was impressive if not daunting. Drum makers were still experimenting with many aspects of the instruments function and construction including shell size, snare strainers and throw-offs, and methods of tensioning the heads. Even though separate tension lugs had been patented by Emil Boulanger of the Duplex Manufacturing Company in 1883, the concept was slow to catch on.
After selling his snare drum design and two other patents to Boston drum builder F. E. Dodge, Bower seems to have taken a break from patenting his inventions for the next decade or so. When he reappeared in the patent registry, however, he returned with a flurry of new ideas. Between 1916 and 1919 he applied for and was granted three new patents for snare drums. By 1919 he introduced to the market his crowning manufacturing achievement, the Bower Drum. His new drums were modestly billed as "the greatest drum of the age" and "a new creation. Invented and manufactured by the World's leading authority on drums and drumming, and the author and publisher of the Harry A. Bower System".
Bower's drums are fascinating instruments in many respects. They were both ahead of and behind their own time in terms of their design. The most recognizable feature of these drums is their oversized hoops that serve as both flesh hoops for the calf skin heads and counter hoops for providing tension to the heads. The concept behind this design was that by having an extended collar which reached far past the shells bearing edge, additional head resonance could be achieved. These were single tension drums however and despite having the convenience of tensioning both heads simultaneously, there was no way of tensioning the top and bottom heads independently.
The most forward thinking components of the Bower Drum were the shell design and the snare system. Many of the Bower drums produced employed shells made from an unusual Leatheroid composite material formed by chemically treating cellulose. In an age where other manufacturers offered only wooden and metal shells, this was a distinctly different option available only from Bower's drums. The snare system was also highly unique for its time in 1919. The best comparison is to the Rogers Dyna-Sonic snare drums from the 1960s where the snare wires remained tensioned from side to side on a mounted frame while the strainer controlled the tension against the heads as well as engaged and disengaged the snares from the drum. In Bower's words this eliminated the need for "the 'old fashioned' Snare Bed commonly used, thereby eliminating all snare difficulties and annoyances."
The most commonly seen Bower Drums were produced from approximately 1918 through the mid 1920s and were available at one point through George B. Stone & Son along with pre-tucked replacement heads. Most Bower drums have a paper label inside the shell with a handwritten serial number and date typically between about 1917 and 1925. Bower followed the rapidly evolving music and entertainment industry to Los Angeles around 1926 and his drum building endeavors appear to have ceased shortly thereafter.
It was in this era of experimentation and innovation that Harry Bower applied for his first patent pertaining to snare drum construction in 1903. The distinguishing feature of this patent was the snare throw-off which provided a "means for holding the snares on the drum-head in such manner that the said snares may be accurately adjusted, first, as to their pressure upon the head, and, second, as to their tension, so that the pressure may be increased or decreased independently of the tension and the tension may be increased or decreased independently of the adjustment of the snares toward and from the head". While simple in design, this was basically a snare throw-off which attempted to allow for separate tension of the snares both across the head and against the head. Keep in mind that this was fifteen years prior to Robert Danly's patented throw-off, better known as Ludwig's 'Pioneer' throw-off, and twenty-five years before Bill Ludwig's parallel 'Supersensitive' throw-off both of which would set the standard for decades to come.
Number Filed Patented Location Title
579735 10/22/1896 3/30/1897 Chelsea, MA Support for Drums
590182 10/22/1896 9/14/1897 Chelsea, MA Attachment for Playing Bass Drums and Cymbals
609656 1/4/1897 8/23/1898 Chelsea, MA Heating and Illuminating Attachment for Gas Burners
755610 10/24/1903 3/29/1904 Boston, MA Snare Drum
846391 10/22/1906 5/5/1907 Boston, MA Bass Drum and Cymbal Beater
874050 4/26/1905 12/17/1907 Boston, MA Tuning Device for Timpani
1236667 8/25/1916 8/14/1917 Boston, MA Snare Attachment for Drums
1252878 9/11/1915 1/8/1918 Boston, MA Drum
1326842 10/2/1919 12/30/1919 Boston, MA Drum
1346588 2/27/1919 7/13/1920 Boston, MA Practice Drum
1709165 12/27/1926 4/16/1929 Los Angeles, CA Snare Attachment
1722032 10/24/1927 7/23/1929 Hollywood, CA Drum
1902614 10/1/1931 3/21/1933 Los Angeles, CA Control Mechanism for Vibra Harps
The "Bower" Special Artists Orchestra Drum
An early rope tension drum by Harry A. Bower which likely dates to the very early 1900s.
C. G. Conn Snare Drum
This snare drum by C. G. Conn of Elkhart, Indiana dating from the 1910s utilizes a unique snare system patented by Harry Bower in 1904. The design represents one of the earliest attempts at a 'parallel' snare system which keeps the snare wires under tension both while the snares are engaged against the bottom head and when they are not.
Harry A. Bower Snare Drum
1917 - 1918
Bower stamped many of his drum parts with their respective patent dates. Based on this information and other existing dated examples, this drum can be placed at either late 1917 or very early 1918.
The shell construction on this drum, numbered 354, is virtually identical to drum number 577 (pictured below) with the exception of the tubular supports applied to the exterior of the shell on this model. Also notable is the makers mark stamped into the shell instead of a badge, and small differences in the snare mechanism from later models.
Harry A. Bower Snare Drum
ca. 1919 - 1920s
This is a highly unusual drum even by Bower's standards. Surrounding the shell is a tubular metal frame which suspends the hardware, heads, and snare system completely away from shell. While this example is incomplete and missing the snare throw-off, flesh hoops, and heads, it is a tribute to Bower's creativity if not a lack of practicality.
Despite a more primitive snare mounting system than those utilized by the other drums pictured here, the patent dates stamped on to the metal badge applied to the exterior of the shell dates this drum no earlier than 1919.
Harry A. Bower Practice Drum
ca. late 1920s
Bower received a patent for his "Practice Drum" on July 13th, 1920. This example dates from several years later once Bower had relocated from Boston to Los Angeles in the early - mid 1920s.
For more on the Bower Practice Drum, please visit: http://blog.bostondrumbuilders.com/2012/07/bower-practice-drum.html
Harry A. Bower Snare Drum
March 31, 1921
The shell on this Bower snare drum is a curious mix of a composite inner ply, a heavy steel middle ply, and a thin silver or nickel plated outer ply. While it lacks a badge like many other Bower drums, it bears a plate around the vent hole stamped with the Bower name and patent numbers and is tacked to the shell using small nails in a pattern reminiscent of Civil War rope drums from many decades before.
In an incredible coincidence this drum is numbered 576 and dated March 31, 1921 - one day earlier than the following example which is numbered 577 and dated April 1, 1921.
Harry A. Bower Snare Drum
April 1, 1921
Drum number 577 utilizes a shell design commonly seen on Bower drums. It is constructed from a dense but lightweight composite material and is then wrapped with a thin sheet of nickel. Examples wrapped in wooden veneer also exist.
Harry A. Bower Dowel-A-Phone
This unusual Bower mallet instrument resides in the collection of Los Angeles Percussion Rentals. Not unlike Bower's snare drums, this instrument looks to be unusual bordering on bizarre. Most if not all of Bower's instruments serve as little more than evolutionary oddities to us today, but apparently you can rent this one and play it.
Playing this "Dowelaphone" (or Dowel-A-Phone, or Dowel Xylophone) would appear to present some interesting challenges. The rounded over keys would make for awkward mallet ricochets, and the wooden slats placed between the accidentals could easily lead to disorientation when moving across the instrument.
Many of Bower's designs were patented as he was a prolific inventor, however, no patent can be found for this particular instrument.
photo: L. A. Percussion Rentals
Harry A. Bower Field Drum
December 15, 1924
The majority of Bower drums were produced in sizes most applicable for band and orchestra work. Field drum sizes and bass drums were much less common. This particular drum was produced in 1924 and is built on a one ply birds-eye maple shell with two pairs of reinforcing rings - one inside the shell and one on the outside.