The Selmer Company, 1885 - 1927: Historical and Socio-Economic Factors That Influenced Its Development and Relocation from Paris to New York City to Elkhart, Indiana

By Manfredo, Joseph | Journal of Band Research, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview
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The Selmer Company, 1885 - 1927: Historical and Socio-Economic Factors That Influenced Its Development and Relocation from Paris to New York City to Elkhart, Indiana


Manfredo, Joseph, Journal of Band Research


The early history of the American music industry is a story of individuals and entrepreneurship. The vision of men such as Charles Gerard Conn, Kurt Gemeinhardt and William F. Ludwig was responsible for the development of instrument manufacturing into a successful enterprise. These pioneers, whose companies bore their names, made a commitment to the music industry through a personal investment. Their initial success made it possible for other entrepreneurs to invest in the instrument manufacturing business and formulate their own companies.

One such company that would become a significant instrument manufacturer was the H. and A. Selmer Company. Formed in 1885 in Paris, France, it was originally conceived as a clarinet reed making and instrument repair shop for French musicians. It quickly developed into a significant European manufacturer and distributor of wind instruments, and through the establishment of an American headquarters it would later impact the music industry of the United States.

Selmer U. S. A. was established in New York City in 1909. With a population of nearly five million1, it was the cultural and economic center of the United States. With a considerable number of symphony and theatre orchestras, as well as numerous town bands, the Selmer Company became successful by serving the abundant quantity of professional and amateur musicians throughout the greater New York region. Despite its success, Selmer U. S. A. moved its headquarters in 1927 to the small Midwest city of Elkhart, Indiana. Located 1 10 miles east of Chicago, Elkhart had a city population of approximately 33,000 at that time.2 The decision to move the company from a metropolitan center to a significantly smaller location was a dramatic one that was unexpected by the music industry. Despite losing the advantages of the New York market, Selmer became more successful in its new location. Due to the surprising nature of its relocation and the unpredicted results, this writer believes the story of H. & A. Selmer is not only interesting, but historically significant and worthy of investigation.

In this article, historical information will be presented on the Selmer Company, from its beginnings in Paris, France, expansion to the United States via New York City, and finally to its permanent location in Elkhart, Indiana. In addition, socio-economic factors that influenced these historical events will be examined and discussed.

The Selmer Family

Henri and Alexandre Selmer, who were sons of Frederic Selmer, a highly regarded clarinetist who studied with Klose at the Paris Conservatory, established the H. & A. Selmer Company. Similarly, Henri (1858 - 1941) also studied at the Paris Conservatory, and would become the solo clarinetist for the Garde Républicaine Band and the Paris Grand Opera. In 1885, Henri ended his career as a professional clarinetist and established in Paris a reed factory for clarinets and other wind instruments.3 Due to the initial success, he expanded the company's product line through the manufacturing of clarinets. In 191 1 he built an additional factory in Gaillon, a Parisian suburb, which was used for production until World War I. He moved the company in 1919 from Gaillon to Mantes-la- ville, "where he constructed some modern buildings . . . since the needs for space became more demanding . . . not only did he produce all of the wind instruments, he produced all the components for these instruments including reeds and mouthpieces . . ." 4

His younger brother Alexandre (1864 - 1953) played in French army bands as a teenager. He later studied at the Paris Conservatory, being acclaimed as one of the finest student musicians of his era. After his graduation from the Conservatory, he was engaged as solo clarinetist with the Symphony Orchestra of Monte Carlo, the Lamoureux Symphony of Paris, as well as with the Opera Comique.5 His career as a professional clarinetist, however, would dramatically change in the summer of 1898.

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