At the turn of the 20th century, Boston, Massachusetts was the drum building capital of the world. Nowhere else in America did there exist a city so densely packed with music and musical instrument manufacturers in the early 1900s. Leedy of Indianapolis was the largest and most complete percussion company of the day, and other smaller companies such as Duplex of St. Louis were driving innovative forces for sure, but the sheer number of instrument builders in Boston was unparalleled.
Boston, and greater New England, had been a center for drum building going back to the days of the Revolutionary War. By the mid 1800s makers such as Elias Howe (Boston Drum Manufactory), Ira J. and Asa Warren White (White Brothers), Ira E. White (son of Ira J. White), Charles C. Clapp, and John C. Haynes were producing drums during the Civil War. Haynes would remain active as the musical instrument manufacturing branch of the Oliver Ditson Company until the early 1900s.
Thompson & Odell, known more as a retailer and distributor than as a manufacturer, was also on the scene in the late 19th century selling both relabeled instruments, and drums which were built in house by J. B. Treat amongst others. Blair & Baldwin was founded in 1892 and was perhaps the earliest of the modern Boston makers to focus solely on drums. The F. E. Dodge Company, incorporated in 1903, was the most innovative of the local drum companies at the dawn of the 20th century.
In 1890 George Burt Stone began his business in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He soon moved the company into Boston proper where George B. Stone & Son would grow into Boston's largest and most prominent percussion instrument manufacturer and retailer. Nokes & Nicolai, who succeeded F. E. Dodge in 1912 and operated until 1926, also offered a full line of drums, keyboard instruments, timpani, and sound effects but existed somewhat in the shadow of Stone which was the more prolific firm of the two.
Two smaller Boston based makers are also noteworthy for their drum building innovations. Swedish immigrant Charles A. Stromberg was a cabinet maker turned musical instrument maker and was working for the Thompson & Odell Company by the 1890s. Stromberg and his son Elmer would go on to be known best for big-body archtop guitars of the 1940s and 1950s but built a great number of banjos and a few hundred drums between 1905 and the the 1930s. Harry A. Bower, a one time member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and author of two early influential percussion method books, was granted no fewer than twelve patents pertaining to drums and other percussion instruments. Most of Bower's drums proved ultimately to be more conceptual than practical, but they are nonetheless a testament to the spirit of innovation amongst the Boston drum builders at that time.
This website, which is admittedly snare drum centric, is the culmination of many years of collecting and researching these old drums and the companies who made them. The information contained here could not have been amassed without the help of many other drummers and collectors, too many to mention.
About the author:
W. Lee Vinson is a classically trained percussionist holding a bachelors degree in music performance from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. From 2007 - 2011, he was a percussionist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and from 2000 - 2004 was a member of the United States Navy Band in Washington, DC. He has also performed with the orchestras of Toronto, Detroit, Houston, Atlanta, Colorado, Kansas City, and Rochester, and served on the applied music faculty of the Eastman School of Music, Boston University, and the University of Kansas. He currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee and serves as Adjunct Associate Professor of Percussion at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music.
An avid vintage and antique snare drum collector and historian, Lee has contributed articles to Not So Modern Drummer Magazine and Percussive Notes. His personal snare drum collection currently numbers greater than eighty instruments, more than sixty-five of which were manufactured in Boston dating from the 1860s through the 1930s.
As always, if you have an instrument by one of the early Boston drum builders, Lee would love to hear from you! Contact Lee here.