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Wurlitzer Family HistoryWurlitzer Family History

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
The Family Background
Early Years in America
How the Wurlitzer Business Began
Background of the Farnys
The Farnys in the New World
The Farnys in Cincinnati
The marriage of Rudolph and Leonie
The extraordinary Henry Farny
The Second Generation
The Young Men Enter the Business
Wurlitzer's Recent Years
The Wurlitzer Stores
The Wurlitzer Dealers
Wurlitzer in the Wars
Marching on with Innovation
Another Word for Music 

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 thinking.

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 Schuetz.

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 class.

                It is 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 by dealers.

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 acquired.

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 have."

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."

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