Kohler & Campbell Piano History
Founded in 1896 as a partnership between Charles Kohler and J. C. Campbell, in less than 20 years Kohler and Campbell became one of the world’s leading manufacturers of upright and grand pianos, player pianos and automatic reproducing actions.
Campbell was a machinist who invented several wood and iron making machines and later took up piano making. John Campbell has been credited with pioneering many manufacturing techniques that instantly created more value for the dollar in Kohler & Campbell pianos. This was and is the cornerstone of Kohler & Campbell pianos…the best value for the dollar.
At the age of 20, Charles Kohler embarked on a piano-making career. Considered a genius as a factory organizer and businessman, he was the perfect complement to Campbell.
Together they built one of America’s largest piano companies. As a testament to the quality, it is said that some of their largest customers were piano manufacturers of note that carried Kohler & Campbell pianos in their retail establishments.
First factory was in a small loft building on 14th Street in N.Y.C. After the company was established only a few years the business expanded to such a degree that it moved to much larger quarters, occupying an entire building built for it at 50th Street and Eleventh Avenue, and continuing to expand into adjoining and nearby buildings until it occupied over one million feet of floor space. After Mr. Campbell’s unexpected death in 1908, Charles Kohler became sole owner. Under his direction, Kohler & Campbell popularized the player piano in America, making available to the public for the first time the music of the world’s leading artists through Welte-Mignon reproducing action.
Position of Kohler & Campbell in the piano industry is well illustrated by the distinguished piano companies either founded or acquired by it during its 84 years of operation. Among those companies are Hazelton Brothers, Francis Bacon Piano Company, Behning Piano Company, Milton Piano Company, Behr Brothers, Brambach Piano Company, Davenport and Treacy Company, Kroeger Piano Company, Waldorf Piano Company and Bjur Brothers. Nearly every major piano manufacturer purchased player actions from the Auto Pneumatic Action Company and The Standard Pneumatic Action Company, manufacturing subsidiaries of Kohler & Campbell during the days of the player piano. Their combined production exceeded 50,000 player actions per year.
Through acquisition of Francis Bacon Piano Company, Kohler & Campbell traces its heritage back to 1789, date of founding of the first piano company in America by John Jacob Astor. However, progressive leadership and modern production techniques have always been outstanding attributes of the company. The late Julius A. White originally joined the company in 1921 and thereafter became successively president and chairman. Under his direction, a number of separate operations stemming from various acquisitions were consolidated under one roof. Following World War II, the company moved its operations from the 50th Street location to the Bronx in a larger, more modern building. In 1954 the entire manufacturing facility was moved to Granite Falls, North Carolina. The reasons for this were to make possible a single-story straight-line production method, to locate in a major furniture manufacturing area among resident skilled woodcraftsmen and to be closer to sources of supply of raw materials.
In 1956, presidency of the company passed on to a third generation when Charles Kohler White, grandson of the founder, assumed the position. After his untimely death in 1957, Charles L. Clayton was elected president. In 1978 Clayton also became chairman. Other officers are Ronald J. Achor, executive vice-president; Gaylord M. Hufstader, vice-president/marketing; Dr. Rita W. Matthews, secretary.
The Kohler & Campbell name was first sold in 1985 to California firm, Sherman Clay, and eventually sold to the Samick Music Corp., who continue to manufacture these pianos today in South Korea and Indonesia.
Piano Executive Plunges 13 Floors To His Death
Chicago (AP) Wednesday, September 25, 1957 — A North Carolina piano manufacturer plunged to his death yesterday from a 13th floor window of the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue. He was Charles Kohler White, 32 years old, of Hildebran, N.C. He was president of Kohler-Campbell Inc., piano manufacturers of Granite Falls, N.C, and was at Chicago for an industry convention. He registered at the hotel on September 22, 1957. Identification of the nude body that landed on an inside court roof at the fourth-floor level was made from a wedding ring bearing White’s initials and those of his wife. Police reached the father, Julius, at Blowing Rock, N.C, and said he is satisfied from the description given by the police that the victim is his son. The father said Charles was in good health and spirits when he left home. The Charles Whites have two children. The death was reported by Fred Schafer, a scout for the Chicago White Sox, who heard a thud outside his fifth-floor room. He looked out the window and saw White’s body. The window of White’s room No. 135 was wide open.
(Wednesday, September 25, 1957 The Indianapolis Star – Page 12)
Kline Locher – One Time Kohler & Campbell Piano National Sales Manager
Kline Locher Oral History
“Kline Locher was one of the good old veteran piano salesmen who travelled the great one-lane highways of America before the advent of the blessed two lane interstates. Kline worked for a number of piano companies during his long career and in all, covered most of the United States as his territory. In 2004, in honor of his career in the business and his dedication to the history of piano salesmen, Kline was given the National Piano Travelers Association’s Life Time Achievement Award.” – National Association of Music Merchants NAMM
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Kohler & Campbell Craftsman Style Upright Piano
Valued at $17,000 after total restoration