Henderson N. White was born in Romeo, Michigan, on July 16, 1873. As a young child Henderson was captivated by how things work and making improvements. He made his first musical instrument at age thirteen, a Cuban cigar box violin which is still around today.
Starting in the Detroit shop of O. F. Berdan, Henderson N. White dreamed a dream of truer, finer band instruments. His repair work and daily contact with musicians taught him the weaknesses of the instruments then used. And his musician's instinct could not be content with their imperfections.
Setting himself to the task of making that dream come true, Mr. White soon gained more that a local reputation. Learning always from band masters who visited that little shop in Detroit; studying in every spare moment; and experimenting always; it wasn't long before other cities heard about him.
When McMillin's Music Store of Cleveland needed a competent man to take charge of their repair work they turned to this young student.
But the dream urged Mr. White on. After five years with McMillin he branched out into a partnership with C. H. Berg. During this time the company sold imported instruments
and ran a very effective repair shop. The shop was located on 13 woodland Ave and was very small. In 1893 Mr. White became sole owner of the business and then the realization of the dream was close at hand.
For in 1894 the first "King" trombone came from Mr. White's tiny workshop. But it wasn't "just another trombone." Building into it all that he had learned, blending knowledge with the love of accomplishment, that first trombone was a revelation to the musical world. And with help from Mr. Thomas King, a local trombone player who helped Mr. White perfect his invention. What developed was radically different from the then prevailing models in bell, bore and mouthpipe, the "King" Trombone was acclaimed by band men everywhere. The first famous musician to play this new trombone was Al Pinard, who did his best to get others to try a "The King". From 1894 to 1908 each trombone slide was actually made by H. N. White. Band Players loved the King trombone because the slide was finer and smoother and lighter in action than any other. With this success Mr. white soon ran out of space, and moved the operation to 1870 East 9th Street, in the Erie Building in 1897.
Mr. Hugh E. White, brother of H. N. White came to the company in 1903 to organize a credit department for the efficient handling of accounts, and later moved into the Vice President's position (leaving in 1940ís). The H. N. White Company was one of the first to extensively advertise and offer credit purchase plans. Then in 1904 F. A. Reynolds became Superintendent of the factory floor.
goals for his company were to constantly strive to build better instruments
with the highest quality, and build each instrument acoustically correct.
Starting in 1909 Mr. White made the "Department of Acoustical Research"
and purchased (what is thought of as) the worlds largest set of tuning bells.
Every instrument in production would spend time being developed, and looking
for the smallest of improvements. Mr. White never started production on any
instrument unless the new design was a vast improvement in both tone and quality.
Mr. White's goals for his company were to constantly strive to build better instruments with the highest quality, and build each instrument acoustically correct. Starting in 1909 Mr. White made the "Department of Acoustical Research" and purchased (what is thought of as) the worlds largest set of tuning bells. Every instrument in production would spend time being developed, and looking for the smallest of improvements. Mr. White never started production on any instrument unless the new design was a vast improvement in both tone and quality.
Also, 1909 Mr. White moved from the little workshop to 5225 superior Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio with 38,000 square feet of new work space. Once settled down, Mr. White started holding lunch time concerts two or three times a week to fine tune his craftsmen and instruments.
Some time in 1908 King began importing Evette & Schaeffer saxophones and selling them as a less expensive alternative to American made saxes. Then in 1910 Carl Fisher Instruments became sole distributor of Evette & Schaeffer saxophones and Mr. White was forced to look elsewhere. Mr. White chose to import V. Kohlert saxophones while he built up the King facilities to enter into his own production of saxophones. Finely around 1916 Mr. White began producing his own saxophones and by 1925 he introduced a new series of horns eight (C soprano, straight and curved Bb sopranos, Bb saxello, Eb alto, C melody, Bb tenor and Eb baritone) horns made in Cleveland. From 1917 to 1918 the entire production of saxophones was made for the government during World War I. Saxophones produced during the War are engraved with U. S. or some other type of engraving which tells which branch of the military it went to. (U. S. N. =Navy, U. S. M. C.=U. S. Army Quartermaster Corps) These saxophones featured many new improvements by King associate Mr. Henry Dreves. The most interesting of these improvements was the introduction of the King "Saxello" in the early 1920's. The saxello was a curved neck and a bell tipped at a right angle on a straight soprano.
It was in 1917 that a separate small building was erected beside the main plant for development of a line of woodwind instruments. By the 1920's King woodwinds, along with King brasses and horns, took their places in the finest orchestras.
During this time frame the King work force grew to over two hundred men. Mr. White never "hired" workers, they had to be skilled artist-craftsmen who had a love for fine work. This allowed Mr. White to offer almost endless list of options (six finishes) ranging simple highly polished brass to artist special gold hand burnished. King also made it own cases for each instrument it manufactured and for other producers.
Some time during the middle to late 20's Mr. White became the first instrument maker to introduce sterling silver bells on King instruments. Mr. White thought that the silver bells of trombones offered better tone and tone carries farther with less vibrations.† The "Silver Tone" bell was then introduced and carried throughout the King line up. Today, King "Silver Sonic" and "Silver Tone" bells are sought over for their great tone and wonderful engravings.
The 1920's also
saw the introduction of the King French Horn. With it's marvelous tone, this
was the first American made French Horn to break down the tradition and prejudice
for foreign makes. The King French Horn was an immediate sales success.
Below, is a picture of Mr. White (far right) watching his skilled artist-craftsmen
assemble his "new" French horn.
The King French Horn was an immediate sales success.
Below, is a picture of Mr. White (far right) watching his skilled artist-craftsmen assemble his "new" French horn.
In 1925 Mr. White bought the Cleveland Musical Instrument Company. The Cleveland Musical Instrument Company was formed in February of 1919 and was known for their Cleveland Trumpet. The Company was successful for awhile and at one time employed fifteen people. But as frequently happens with new companies, overhead and expenses were too great for the volume of business they could command. For two years The H. N. White Company made instruments for Cleveland to help fill back orders. Mr. White saw the Cleveland brand as the perfect fit to cover the growing school band market which demanded high quality instruments at a low price. The Cleveland brand, along with American Standard were marketed to marching bands and schools. Both were about 40% less in price than a "King."
Mr. H. N. White was by all accounts a workaholic, but he did enjoy card games, fishing, and going to the the Cleveland symphony. On March 17, 1932 Mr. White Married a third time to Edna Richert a then department store gown buyer. The two of them had a love of music and theater. Edna had a child from a previous marriage named Cathryn and Mr. White quickly adopted the precocious eleven year old. (As a side note, Dr. Frank Simon would visit from Cincinnati and stay with Mr. and Mrs. White and during this time he taught Cathryn how to swim). Cathryn played Clarinet (a King Silver bell) and each summer she was sent to band camp at Cedar Point. During the 1936 Summer a picture was taken of the entire band (with Cathryn) and H. N. White could not resist the opportunity to put his Daughter in White Way News Number Nine. Because Mrs. White was a working girl, Henderson put her in charge of the White Apartments. The White Apartments had fallen on hard times and Mrs. White quickly cleaned them up and turned them around. For many years the two of them would drive to work together, first stopping at the White Apartments to drop off Edna, then Mr. White would continue to the plant.
Through the depression years to the beginning of World War II, The H. N. White Company moved steadily forward with its planned program of making a wider variety of musical instruments. In 1934 King stringed instruments were introduced with the big Bass Viol. This was followed in 1936 with the King Cello. In 1938 Mr. White created the silver-lined clarinet and finished developing the Trombonium. The Trombonium was a valve trombone designed to be used in school bands and orchestras. Also in 1934, The H. N. White Company became the first musical instrument manufacture to offer group life insurance to all of its 152 craftsmen. The policy was of the contributing type with the premium payments being paid by both employer and employees.(1)
In 1936 F.A. Reynolds left King to start his own short-lived company. Early Reynolds instruments closely resemble King instruments with few if any improvements over the original design. In the late forties Mr. Reynolds sold his company and eventually Reynolds was owned by Norlin.
Then in March 26, 1940 at the age of 65 Mr. H. N. White died suddenly. During his remarkable career as a designer and manufacturer of musical instruments, Henderson White redesigned twenty eight instruments. Mr. White made a huge impact on the manufacturing of musical instruments, because of his passion for high quality perfect sounding instruments.
Following Mr. White's death, Hugh E. White took over as President of the company while the heirs worked out who was in control. Mrs. Edna White, and her daughter Miss Cathryn White together controlled two-thirds of the stock in The H. N. White Company. Then in the middle of 1941, Mrs. Edna White took control of the company as President just as World War Two started.
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