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History of Frank Holton & Co.
There are many variations of this story, but here is the best timeline we've been able to piece together about the Frank Holton & Co. instrument manufacturing company.
Timeline / Key Events
Reference 1; source: Music Trades Database,
G. Leblanc Company
Holton began his company in 1896 in Chicago, after numerous engagements as a trombonist in many leading performing groups. As a former member of Sousa's great band, and an associate and friend of trombonist Arthur Pryor and cornetist Herbert L. Clarke, Holton enjoyed wide renown. At forty year's of age, Frank Holton created his own recipe for trombone slide oil. He soon took on the sale of used band instruments. H. A. Vander Cook (who later started the Vander Cook School of Music) stated that, "The present factory is the result of his perseverance and his making one good tone at a time, which method he applied to overcome the obstacles as they arose before him. Holton's contacts and friendships made in his professional musician days served him well during these years. Many of his friends in the theatre and dance band circuits had made their way to top symphony jobs, bringing their Holton instruments to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other highly respected orchestras.
One interesting note is that the first trumpet player with the Boston Symphony, Vincent Bach, used and endorsed the Holton trumpet at that time. In 1917, Holton had completed tooling for a complete line of saxophones, in order to meet with the saxophone craze that was just beginning. His factory, though, was at capacity and needed to grow. One of his early customers and friend suggested that Holton combine his love of Wisconsin farms with his work and set up a new factory in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. The citizens of Elkhorn built him a factory of over 35,000 square feet and, while bringing in or training a workforce proved difficult, the first profits for the Wisconsin-based company showed themselves in 1920. The organization of school bands and the promise of ?a playing band within twelve weeks, brought Holton good sales results, but this growth in student instrument demand was not a good fit for the higher-priced professional instruments that Holton was producing. The company introduced lower-priced outsourced instruments under such names as Pertin and Beaufort until it could introduce its own ?Collegiate? line in the early 1930's. Mr. Holton retired at age 82 and sold his controlling shares to longtime associate, William Kull. Frank Holton died on April 16, 1942. Kull remained the CEO until his death in 1944, but the Frank Holton Company was essentially run by the sales manager, Elliott Kehl, a long-time Holton employee. Kehl found war work to keep the factory open during a time when all brass was directed to the war effort. Over the next several years, Kehl was allowed to purchase a majority share in the company as he led a program of re-engineering and improving the line of instruments. Kehl also revived work with key artists, including Phillip Farkas, first horn player of the Chicago Symphony. In 1956, the Holton Farkas model French horn was introduced to great acclaim. That same year, new tooling for saxophones brought Holton into the modern saxophone world.
In 1962, the decision to sell the Frank Holton Company to the G. Leblanc Corporation was made. G. Leblanc brought its strength in woodwind instruments together with Holton brass expertise, creating a much more formidable competitor in the band instrument industry. Through the remainder of the century, Holton continued to produce student and professional brass instruments. Its work with international star Maynard Ferguson and his "Superbone" continued Frank Holton's commitment to working with the finest artists. Development with key educators such as Chicago's Ethel Merker keeps Holton French horn development moving even beyond what Phillip Farkas has envisioned. Efforts to help young people progress included the introduction of a child-size single horn. In 2005, the company introduced the new Holton Collegiate line of low brass instruments. Like its predecessor in the 1930's, this high-quality, lower-priced instrument line provides the ideal combination of performance and value for school music programs. The second century of Holton continues to be written, however, the purchase of Leblanc and Holton by Steinway Musical Instruments bodes well for the company. Working with key artists, serving amateur musicians, and developing exciting new opportunities were key to Frank Holton's vision. Now as part of Steinway Musical Instruments and its band and orchestra division, Conn-Selmer, Inc., Holton instruments continue to excite the musical mind and provide today's musicians with the finest instruments on which to experience the joy of music."
Reference 2; source: Music Trades Database, G. Leblanc Company
"Holton was acquired by Leblanc in 1964, but the story behind this
pioneering brassmaker began in 1898 in Chicago. The original company
consisted of one small room and a modest assortment of tools. The
real capital of the venture, however, lay not in these humble
surroundings but in the enthusiasm, perseverance, and skill of Frank
Holton, a man of many musical and technical accomplishments. Holton,
who had been first trombonist in John Philip Sousa's band, sought to
perfect the band music he loved and played so well. He wanted
instruments that would meet his own rigid standards, and that desire
led him to manufacture his own. His efforts were quickly rewarded.
The best players came to play Holton instruments, and the best
craftsmen came to work for Frank Holton. This led to expansion in a
new plant in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, where the fame and fortune of the
Holton name have continued to grow.
Reference 3; source: G. Leblanc
Reference 4; source: Wisconsin
Historical Society website
Reference 5; source: Wisconsin
Historical Society website
Reference 6; source: John Philip
Sousa official website
Reference 7; source: Lars Kilmer York
Serial Number List
Welcome to the HoltonLoyalist.com
Founded in Chicago when Frank Holton opened a small instrument shop in 1898, The Frank Holton & Co. grew to one of the most influential instrument manufacturers in the first half of the twentieth century in the US. Today, the Holton brand of instruments are still manufactured in Elkhorn, WI where Frank Holton moved the company in the Spring of 1918.
This Holton Loyalist site is dedicated to those horns, and the continuing history of Holton instruments.
We hope you enjoy this site, and look forward to your contributions of photos, catalogs, and other Holton related item to be shared with others. Please use our Contact Us link above.
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current manufacturer of Holton instruments; the
Conn Selmer Company.
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