Once upon a time, it seems every village, town, and city in America had a band. And often more than just one band. There were military bands, municipal bands, fraternal lodge bands, church bands, school bands, ladies bands, orphanage bands, and bands like this one - the factory band. Lined up in neat order on a workshop bench is the Kempsmith Band, the company band for the Kempsmith Mfg. Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Very similar to the brass band tradition in Britain, many industrial companies in the 19th and early 20th century started musical groups to foster employee teamwork and company pride. Some were associated with unions but most were used for the local promotion of the company name.
The company specialized in metal tooling machinery used by various industries, like the milling machine pictured here from a 1922 ad. Basically making very large and heavy things that could hurt you if you didn't follow the directions. In 1916 they had a payroll of 450 workers. The current company makes tool and die machinery for the paper product industry.
I could not find an actual reference citation for this band, but I did find an article from 1907 in the business section of the Bismark North Dakota Tribune.
With a title Doubling in Brass, it describes how many businesses were recruiting men with extra musical skills to augment their company bands.
"Here is an advertisement from a place up the state calling for machinists, lathe, bench, and planer hands, who must be musicians and play cornet, trombone or B bass.." it says.
Another Milwaukee machine manufacturer also maintained a company band, and their musicians played every Tuesday for the other employees. In the days before radio, when music was handcrafted and consumed slowly in moderation, a company band must have been a real source of worker pride. All the company activities like picnic socials, baseball games, holiday parades, all needed music and what better way to give back to the staff and community than to have a company band.
What kind of music did they play? And when did the powerful forces of canned recorded music force the demise of factory bands like this?
My contribution to Sepia Saturday
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