The Wurlizer Family History is a book that was commissioned by the Wurlitzer Family to document the dynamics of the family, their struggles, and their triumphs. 112 Pages
Early Years in America
After landing in America, young
Rudolph Wurlitzer found his first job, working for a Hoboken grocer. The hours
were long and the pay very little. Later in life, he had little to say about
those discouraging months as a grocer's boy.
This first encounter with the storied
America must have been bewildering and full of disillusionment. The crowded,
cobbled streets of Hoboken were a long, long way in every respect from the
green hills and familiar, more-easily-paced life of his native Schoeneck. There
were the customary troubles with the language. His use of English was the butt
of jokes and laughter on the part of the women who were the customers of the
grocer. Shortly, he moved on to Philadelphia.
But the City of Brotherly Love did not
live up to its name for young Rudolph Wurlitzer. He was just another lonely
youth in search of a job and a place in American life. For him, a job was of the utmost importance -- any
job of honest work. One day in his desperate search, he stopped a well-dressed
Philadelphian on the street with the intention of asking him if he knew where
he could find work. Before he could utter the question in his awkward speech,
the man to whom he had spoken cut him short.
"Young man," said the
Philadelphian severely, "it is quite evident that you are a foreigner new
to our ways. One of the first things you must learn in America is that we do
not permit begging here."
Crushed and humiliated by this
brusquely given advice -- the time came when he could smile at it -- the young
immigrant abandoned attempts to find work in Philadelphia. A friend told him
of greater opportunities in Cincinnati, and he made his way there. Cincinnati
at this time and for many years to come was the magnet which drew many
immigrants and most especially those of German birth.
Almost from the first, Cincinnati was hospitable to young Rudolph
Wurlitzer. He earned a living at first by peddling articles from door to door.
But this kind of thing would not long satisfy a youth of Rudolph's ambition.
Shortly he found a job as porter in a dry-goods establishment at a wage of
$4.00 per week. Since he could not pay room rent, buy food and save $1.00 a
week, he asked and received permission from his employer to make his bed in a packing
case and sleep on the property.
Constantly on the alert to improve his
position, he soon found employment with a Cincinnati banking house known as
Heidelbach and Seasongood at $8.00 per week plus the privilege, at first, of
sleeping in a loft over the banking offices. He could skimp on lodgings if
necessary, but he must eat well. And he must put aside twenty-five per cent of
his earnings. This, in a manner of speaking, comprised his sound budgetary
Heidelbach and Seasongood found the
young man honest and industrious. He learned American ways and the American
language faster than most boys from the old country. Moreover, he was resourceful,
and his employer advanced him steadily. No doubt this connection with the
banking house opened opportunities for him that he otherwise would have missed.
At any rate, it is clear that his fresh,
discerning eye saw opportunities that never entered the minds of most
native Americans. He had the touch. Almost from the first, there is evidence
that he possessed that invaluable touch, that unerring instinct for sensing
opportunities and seizing them with whatever means he had at hand and with all
of the ingenuity he could command.
It is impossible to determine a
century later exactly what happened in those early Cincinnati days. But there
are grounds for the belief that at the end of the first three years in America,
young Rudolph Wurlitzer had repaid his passage expenses to Uncle Wilhelm
Hochmuth and had accumulated a modest stake. There is no proof as to the exact
figure. Obviously, he could not have saved a great sum from any salary paid by
Heidelbach and Seasongood.
But there are fantastic tales of his
brief adventures in the purchase and export of native products -- the purchase
of ginseng dug in the Kentucky mountains and exported to the wealthy of China,
the purchase of mink, raccoon, and 'possum furs in the Ohio Valley and sold at
good profits in Antwerp and Amsterdam, and the acquisition of semi-precious
stones brought in from the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, and
shipped by young Rudolph Wurlitzer to the gem marts of Amsterdam. It could be.
Indeed, there must be some truth to the stories. Inevitably, some of these
transactions must have been balanced neatly on the thin edge of speculation,
perhaps too close to speculation to engage the permanent interest of young
Rudolph Wurlitzer who was essentially canny, hard-plugging, and thrifty.
Probably some of these ventures were made in association with others.
Perhaps some of these deals did not
turn out too well -- not all of them would be likely to succeed. Perhaps his
conservative German heart made him shrink from this somewhat hazardous way of
making money. At any rate, it is certain that after three years in America
young Rudolph Wurlitzer had made a stake. Sooner or later, it was inevitable
that he would look around for a more stable way of making money, something he
knew more about and would be in a better position to control. Assuming this
line of thought, it was the most natural thing in the world for his mind to go
back to the subject of musical instruments.
Young Rudolph Wurlitzer himself did not
play any musical instrument. But he loved music, found the keenest enjoyment
in listening to it. He was brought up in a community that was the center of a considerable musical-instrument
business. Throughout the entire area, the people who lived on the land kept
profitably busy during the winter months by making violins and wood-wind
instruments, their crops keeping them occupied during the summers. In a
handcraft way, this production of musical instruments had become rather
specialized and well organized. The men of several families sometimes teamed up
to make musical instruments, each specializing on certain parts. Every
generation of the Wurlitzer family has been identified with making or dealing
in musical instruments in one way or another for 300 years.
From earliest boyhood, young Rudolph
Wurlitzer had heard stories about this musical instrument handcraft. He grew up
in the musical instrument business. He was born and raised in a community where
nearly every family contained one or more men who knew how to make violins or
other instruments. His father had built up a tidy business dealing in musical
instruments made in the homes of his Schoeneck neighbors and nearby farmers. He
himself had worked in this business.
Young Rudolph no doubt knew that two
of his ancestors, Johannes Wurlitzer, born 1628 and his son, Michael, were lute
makers. Michael's son, Hanuss Andreas, born in 1701, and his nephew, Hanuss
Adam Wurlitzer, were the first violin makers in the family. Johan Andreas, born
August 8, 1771, the father of Christian Gottfried Wurlitzer, Rudolph's father,
was a son of Hanuss Andreas, the younger, born 1732. One way or another, all of
them were involved in the production or sale of musical instruments.
Before the Iron Curtain closed, there
was a fine violin in the museum at Markneukirchen (a larger community in the
Schoeneck-Schilbach area), the work of Hanuss Adam Wurlitzer, a member of the
Violin Makers Guild. Haweis, an English violin expert, tells the story of
Hanuss Adam's entry into the august company of the Guild.
It seems that this man had worked at
the craft for some time and was very ambitious to become a Master Violinmaker.
His work had finally been approved by the Masters already in the Guild. According
to the tradition, the novitiate was obliged to give a dinner to the other
Master Violinmakers, a tremendous affair that would cost the young man at least
thirty gold florins, a large sum for the time and an amount which he did not
possess. In fact, he had but fifteen florins to his name. So he borrowed the
needed fifteen florins from the Head Master of the Guild, payable in one year,
but with the distinct understanding that if he married the Head Master's
daughter, the debt would be cancelled.
Haweis further reported that Hanuss
Adam paid his debt within the year and did not marry the Head Master's
daughter. A receipt, Haweis added, is in existence for payment of the fifteen
florins and on its
margin someone, perhaps Hanuss Adam Wurlitzer himself, wrote this laconic
report: "She was very homely".
This incident is not merely a matter
of story and legend. The essential facts were reported in the guild book of the
Violin Makers' Guild.
It shows him a member of the Guild from 1732 to 1748.
The church book of Markneukirchen
refers to Johann Adam Wurlitzer who is here described as a bass-violinmaker. He
came to the community a stranger and became a master of his craft in 1730. He
married the daughter of a violin maker in this community, a girl by the name of
Anna Regina; (her maiden surname is lost since some of the records were burned
and part of them rewritten from memory.) Johann Adam followed his wife in death
in about six months, passing from this earth at the age of fifty-eight years
and ten months on January 29, 1767, the father of five daughters and no sons.
The statements here made about the
Wurlitzers and the musical instrument business are largely confirmed by John H.
Fairfield, the eminent American authority on the subject in his book, Known
Violin Makers, published privately
in New York in 1942. Mr. Fairfield confirms the statement that Heinrich
Wurlitzer, the first directly traceable in the line, was a "swordsmith,
locksmith, and wrought-iron worker," but also claims that he was a lute
maker. (A lute, as made in the Sixteenth Century, was a stringed musical
instrument with a pear-shaped body somewhat similar to a mandolin and played by
plucking the strings with the fingers.)
Mr. Fairfield also states in his book
that John George Wurlitzer, a collateral descendant of Heinrich, but not in the
Rudolph Wurlitzer line, was born in 1726 and also followed the craft of violin
making. Reference is also made to another member of the family, Frederick
Wurlitzer, as a child musical prodigy who toured Europe in concert
presentations and became the court pianist to Frederick the Great of Prussia at
the age of sixteen.
It must be remembered that both
Markneukirchen and Schoeneck, neighboring villages (but nine miles apart) with
which the Wurlitzer family was identified for so many generations, were musical
communities. Since the Seventeenth Century, they have been identified with the
craft production of musical instruments, notably violins.
Even at the present time,
Markneukirchen annually holds what its citizens call "Music Days,"
really music festivals. In the Music Days of 1952, the little city celebrated
the 275th anniversary of the founding of the Violin Guild, the oldest and most
significant in Germany. In 1953, Markneukirchen celebrated its centennial of
the founding of the municipal orchestra.
The great craftsmen, Reichel, Hopf,
Hamm, and Ficker did their work in Markneukirchen. There were fine violin
makers in the little community in the days of Johan Sebastian Bach and Heinrich
Bohemian exiles, a backwash of the
Reformation, found refuge in this Markneukirchen corner of Vogtland. They were
responsible for developing the craft of violin making. Eight families settled
there. (Markneukirchen began as a settlement in the Twelfth Century, became a
city about 1350.) Twelve master violin makers were recognized by the Guild in
1677, and the Master Book of 1677, written on beautiful parchment, is regarded
as the most significant document in the history of violin production.
The economic progress of these
craftsmen was slow but solid. Records of tax collectors of the Seventeenth
Century show that all of them owned the houses they lived in. It was from this
center of violin making that they organized the display and sale of their
musical instruments through fairs, markets, and cultural centers. It was here
in the forests of upper Vogtland that they found the proper woods -- pine and
maple -- for making their instruments. Later, they sought choice woods that
grew in the Alps, Bavaria, and the Carpathians.
From about 1700, the musical instrument
makers prospered. The Markneukirchen craftsmen branched out into the production
of percussion instruments and woodwinds as well as stringed instruments in
addition to violins, producing practically everything that an orchestra might
need. By 1820, more than 300 persons, not including wives and children, were
occupied in this area in making all kinds of musical instruments. Their violins
and other instruments were finding owners all over the world.
The middle class was rising. The feudal
sovereigns had artistic inclinations and were patronizing the arts. There was
an increasing demand for violins and other musical instruments among the
chanters, town musicians, orchestras, and in the palaces of those in the ruling
recorded that one, Heinrich Goetz, of Markneukirchen was a violin
merchant in 1681, perhaps the first. He carried his wares in a cart and
sold Markneukirchen violins at fairs and markets. He was an early member of the
musical instrument dealer fraternity of whom Rudolph Wurlitzer and other
members of the Wurlitzer family were by no means the least. The Leipzig and
Frankfort exhibition catalogs of 1800 listed the names of at least a dozen
Markneukirchen violin and other musical instrument makers -- their wares being shown and sold
Down through the years, the draftsmen
and dealers in Markneu-kirchen were leaders in musical innovations. They
organized a "Sunday School" for theoretical and practical instruction
in music in 1834. The trades' union in this field was organized in 1872, the instrument-building
school in 1878, the Trade Museum in 1884, and the Exhibition of Trade and
Industry in 1897.
The economic and political commotions
of the last fifty years nearly wrecked the Markneukirchen instrument-making
industry. Indeed, it went into a total eclipse in the Hitler regime. But a considerable
change for the better took place in 1945 with the organization of the
"Confederation of Markneukirchen Instrument Builders." Down through
the generations, the citizenry of Markneukirchen, especially the craftsmen and
dealers in musical instruments, have cherished their priceless inheritance and
have sought to improve their craft through techniques, science and art.
All this is by way of emphasis that
music, one way or another, has played a dominant role in the Wurlitzer family
for more than 300 years. Young Rudolph Wurlitzer would not have run true to
form, if he had not in some respect become associated with music and the music
business. It was fortunate that conditions were ideal in Cincinnati for him to
enter that field in the middle of the last century.
How the Wurlitzer Business Began
With thoughts of the
musical-instrument makers of his native Saxony haunting his memory and spurred
on by the extraordinary ambition and initiative which seems to have
characterized the man, young Rudolph Wurlitzer began to inquire into the state
of the musical instrument business in his adopted city. Though he himself did
not play any musical instrument, he could talk musical instruments with anyone.
Cincinnati business in those days,
1856, included a music house owned by a man named Johnson. His store was
located on the north side of Fourth Street, between Main and Walnut Streets in
the same building where Smith and Nixon later operated a piano store. Somehow, in
his restless but purposeful way, young Wurlitzer struck up an acquaintance with
a clerk in Johnson's store. He could see for himself in looking around the
place that Johnson was short of certain types of instruments, particularly
wood-winds, flutes, piccolos and clarinets.
Carefully guided conversation with the
talkative clerk brought out the fact that the wood-winds were very scarce,
indeed, hardly obtainable at the time. He went on to learn as much as he could
about the supply and demand of musical instruments in Cincinnati, noting
particularly all those in short supply. Satisfied that the clerk knew what he
was talking about, young Rudolph Wurlitzer in this year 1856 proceeded quickly
for the first time to get into the musical instrument business.
Young Wurlitzer decided to invest $700
of his hard-earned American money in trying to satisfy some of the demand in
the Cincinnati market. His mind hummed with memories of the work of the
craftsmen in his native country. There, he knew, he could lay hands on certain
musical instruments, badly needed in Cincinnati. So he promptly sent $700 to
his people in Saxony, perhaps to his father since no rancor existed between
them, with instructions to ship to him certain musical instruments to that
amount. For all practical considerations, this order was the beginning of The Rudolph
Wurlitzer Company, the relatively tiny beginning.
In a matter of months, this first order
of instruments arrived in Cincinnati, instruments made with loving,
conscientious care by his friends and relatives back in the country around
Schoeneck. In his painstaking, methodical way, young Rudolph Wurlitzer figured
his costs, including customs duty and freight, added a hundred per cent for profit, priced his instruments and took
samples around to show to Mr. Johnson.
His prospective customer examined the
samples with warm interest. He asked for and was given prices on the various
items. From that moment, his manner changed. There was a chill in the air, if
not downright antagonism. Argue as he would in his endeavor to sell the musical
instruments, young Rudolph Wurlitzer at first failed to make the slightest
impression on the seemingly hard-shelled Mr. Johnson.
Finally, under persistent pressure,
Rudolph was astonished to learn that Johnson was convinced that the instruments
were stolen, otherwise they would not be priced so low. He asserted with the
greatest conviction that it would be absolutely impossible for the young
salesman to sell the instruments at the prices asked if they had been honestly
Doing some quick thinking, young
Rudolph confessed that since this was his first attempt at the importation of
musical instruments, he might have made a mistake in figuring his costs.
"This is a personal venture of
mine," the young man explained to Mr. Johnson. "I am regularly
employed in the bank of Heidelbach and Seasongood and have been for some time.
Mr. Heidelbach knows about this matter, and I am going to ask him to come up
here and talk with you. I think he will vouch for me. He knows I own the
musical instruments and come by them honestly".
"Young man," said Johnson, "if
you actually bought these instruments, you would without doubt lose money
if you sold them at the prices you mention. It is possible you came by them
honestly, but I don't see how you could possibly offer these instruments at
these prices if you had acquired them honestly. Still, you look like an honest
young man. Go and refigure your costs. Come back and see me, and if you can
assure me that you actually own these instruments, I will purchase all you
Young Rudolph Wurlitzer did refigure
his costs and, with the able and friendly assistance of Banker Heidelbach, he
succeeded in convincing Mr. Johnson that the instruments he offered had not
been involved in any illicit transactions. His explanation was that he had not
included enough to cover customs and transportation costs. He figured his costs
so well that he made $1,500 on his investment of $700.
"From that time," he often said in later years,
"my prices were really honest."