King Musical Instruments
The company was founded as the H.N. White Company in 1893 by Henderson White, an engraver and instrument repairman. White designed a trombone for Thomas King, a local player. It became the company's first successful model when it was adopted by Al Pinard, then a famous trombone player. White later designed other brass instrument models, including cornets and baritones. In 1903, The H.N. White company hired Foster A. Reynolds, a talented brass instrument maker at the J.W. York & Sons company. He worked with White to further develop instruments. H. N. White sought to expand its offerings to woodwinds starting in 1908, importing Evette & Schaeffer saxophones manufactured by the Buffet Crampon Company of France. After the Evette & Schaeffer import rights were lost to Carl Fischer of New York in 1910, White started importing saxophones from the V. Kohlert Company, then located in the Czech province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The onset of the First World War interrupted the trade of the Czech instruments, so White sought a domestic supplier in the Cleveland Musical Instrument Company in 1916. Many of the earliest saxophones supplied by Cleveland Musical Instruments were made for military bands as the United States entered World War I. H. N. White built a plant to manufacture orchestral woodwinds in 1917. The "Cleveland" and "American Standard" brand names were used for cheaper instruments marketed to schools and marching bands, while the "King" brand was reserved for professional grade instruments. In 1925, H.N. White acquired the Cleveland Musical Instrument Company.
In 1935 Foster Reynolds left his position as General Manager of the H.N. White Company, and founded the rival F.A. Reynolds company. Reynolds would later design the extremely successful "Ambassador" line of brasswind instruments for F. E. Olds. The H.N. White Company began producing stringed instruments in 1935.
Henderson White died in 1940. His brother, Hugh E. White, acted as president, and his widow, Edna White, took over as president in 1941. During World War II, the company received government contracts to assemble radar units and fuses. Edna's daughter, Cathryn White Ludwig, married William F. Ludwig, Jr of the drum-percussion company W.F.L. Drum Company. Cathryn was named the Vice-President of H.N. White in 1945, making it one of the few companies in America headed by two women.
H. N. White produced three significant innovations to saxophones during the interwar years. King saxophones had brazed-on tonehole chimneys, which have significant advantages over both the soldered-on and drawn types used by other manufacturers. It was also a relatively high cost process. The King Saxello was a soprano saxophone with a downward curve near the mouthpiece and a bell curved 90 degrees from the body, for optimal playing position and acoustical qualities. The King Voll-True II of 1932 was the first saxophone to have both bell keys on the right side, a format eventually adopted by all manufacturers. In 1935 the instrument was renamed the Zephyr, and improvements to the keywork, mechanisms, bore design, and neck design continued to 1940. Sterling silver necks and bells became available. The Zephyr Special was introduced as a deluxe version in 1940, with a changed bore and mother of pearl inlay on all keytouches.
The King line's run of success continued after World War II, with highly desired lines of woodwind and brass instruments. Several famous musicians were featured playing King instruments, including Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Parker, and Harry James. The Zephyr Special was upgraded the Super 20 in 1945, featuring a distinctive underslung octave key mechanism. With improved left hand cluster mechanisms introduced around 1949, the Super 20 represented the zenith of H. N. White's achievements as a saxophone manufacturer. The visually and aurally striking horn was one of the most desired ever. However, new competition from Selmer (Paris), aided by the exchange rate between the French Franc and the US Dollar in the postwar era, put price pressure on the American manufacturers and H. N. White was no exception. Through the mid-1950s into the 60s, the imperative of cutting costs grew and features were dropped to simplify manufacture.
Starting in the early 1960s, King imported saxophones from Strasser-Marigeaux-Lemaire (SML) of France, to be sold as the "King Marigeaux," as the profitability and market niche of their domestically-produced saxophones became increasingly problematic. Some saxophones from Amati of Czechoslovakia, and Kohlert, then located in Germany, were imported to be sold as the "King Lemaire."
In 1965 the company was sold to Seeburg Corporation of Eastlake, Ohio and the name was changed to King Musical Instruments, reflecting the long absence of models produced under the "Cleveland" and "American Standard" brands. In 1968 Seeburg moved production to Eastlake and instituted a new round of cost-cutting that effectively ended the era of the Super 20 as a professional quality saxophone. During the early 1970s the Zephyr model saxophone was discontinued, followed by the Super 20 model in 1975. King continued to produce reputable student saxophones under the 613, and later, Cleveland, model names.
In 1972 Seeburg-King acquired the Benge company, which produced a distinctive line of trumpets in Los Angeles, CA, shortly thereafter moving production to Anaheim.
King emerged from the 1979 bankruptcy of Seeburg under the ownership of Seeburg's creditors. In 1983 King divested itself of its Anaheim operation, using the Benge name for trumpets of a different model produced in Eastlake. In 1985 King was sold to the Swedish venture capital firm Skåne Gripen, then in the following year became a division of the new parent company United Musical Instruments (UMI) when C.G. Conn was acquired. Ownership of UMI passed to Skåne Gripen partner Bernhard Muskantor in 1990. Muskantor's interest in King was not merely as a venture capitalist; he had family roots in the music business and respect for the company's past accomplishments. His ambitions for renewed glory were reflected in the King Super 21 development project that produced about a dozen prototypes for professional testing in 1995. A hard-headed view of production costs and the state of the market for high-end saxophones convinced UMI that the project was a no-go and production was cancelled. Steinway Musical Instruments acquired UMI in 2000. Since 2003, King brand brasswinds are manufactured under Conn-Selmer, Inc., a subsidiary of Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc. Production of the Benge line of brasswinds was discontinued in 2005, although Benge models continue to be manufactured in Anaheim and marketed under the brand Burbank.
- White, Mrs. H. N. (17 July 1997). "King Musical Instruments". The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Case Western Reserve University. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
- "The Henderson N. White Story". The H.N. White Company, LLC. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
- "Foster A. Reynolds". Contempora Corner. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
- "First Women of Brass : The Edna White Story". The H.N. White Company, LLC. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
- Bernhard Muskantor on the future of United Musical Instruments,The Music Trades, June 1990
- "About Conn-Selmer". Conn-Selmer, Inc. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
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