Kohler & Campbell: King of the Industry

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A Perfect Match

Charles Kohler was only twenty years old in 1894, when he and John Calvin Campbell united forces to establish Kohler & Campbell Industries, Inc., in New York City. Though a young man, Kohler was considered a genius as a businessman and factory superintendent. His partner, J. C. Campbell, was a machinist skilled in working with both wood and iron, and he used these skills to improve the manufacturing of pianos and earn Kohler & Campbell their reputation for offering “the best value for the dollar.” These two men were a perfect match in business, and their company grew to become one of the all-time giants in the piano manufacturing industry.

Bought and Sold

Campbell died unexpectedly in 1908, and Charles Kohler took control of the company. The business continued to expand, as they absorbed less successful names, such as Autopiano (ca. 1920), Waldorf (mid-1920s), Behning (1926), and Newton (ca. 1930). During the pre-Depression era, the Standard Pneumatic Action Company, a subsidiary of Kohler & Campbell, manufactured an impressive 50,000 player piano actions, and more, per year. Kohler & Campbell grands were made by Brambach in Granite Falls, NC, and in 1954, all production was moved to Granite Falls.

For 100 years the company thrived in the United States as a supplier to major retailers across the country. However, they hit hard times in 1985 and suspended manufacturing. After negotiations, Sherman Clay bought the Kohler & Campbell name and contracted Samick USA to build Kohler grand pianos for retail stores. Later, Samick USA bought the name from Sherman Clay and expanded distribution to South Korea.

Kohler pianos are still being produced today, and the line has now been expanded to include digital pianos in both baby grand and upright cabinet styles. Once the king of the industry, Kohler is still a major presence. If you own a Kohler piano, or a Kohler & Campbell, you may be proud of its amazing history.

The One I Acquired

The Kohler & Campbell piano that was given to me was an upright grand, serial number 163634, which dates to 1902, meaning this piano was built when the company was only eight years old, and it was 113 years old when it joined the Encore! family. Unfortunately, it suffered much water damage while in storage, but I was able to use the keys and the action. I still have many pieces of the case, but have not tried to restore them. Soon I will.

A friend and fellow choir member gave me the piano, so I thought it would be appropriate to use pieces from this piano to make Christmas gifts for the choir members. And that’s exactly what I did. The choir director got a Conductor made of whippen and sticker assemblies (technically not from this piano), and each choir member received an ornament for their Christmas tree. They were able to choose from a hammer ornament or a diamond-shaped ornament cut from the soundboard. This piano had a most unusual action piece that I had never seen anywhere else. It was shaped like a bell (see photos), and I used it to decorate a second set of soundboard ornaments which we gave to the members of my daughter’s handbell choir.

All the ornaments were personalized on the back with the year and the name of the choir. I still love pulling mine out each year and hanging it on the tree, even though we’ve since moved to another state and sing in another choir. When I look at that ornament, I’m reminded of the friends whose voices used to blend with mine in praise to God. I see their faces, and I smile. That, my friends, is why I make art from these old pianos.

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Pierce, W. Robert. Pierce Piano Atlas. 12th Edition. Larry E. Ashley Publishing: Albuquerque, NM, 2008