MARTIN's History

Last Updated: Mar 12th, 2012


The third company to appear in Elkhart was not the creation of a new company but rather a reappearance of an old company. We now turn to the history of the Martin musical instrument-making family.

John Henry Martin was born in Dresden, Saxony 24 February 1835. While young, he apprenticed as a horn maker and in 1855 he immigrated to this country settling first in New York City and then in 1865 removing to Chicago where he set up the original Martin company. There may have been a business in Chicago which made and repaired violins which predated Martin's operation, but as best as we understand Martin's company was the first in Chicago and certainly the first of its kind.

Martin lost everything in the fire of 1871. It was in 1876 that Martin learned of Corm's new company in Elkhart. John Henry and his sons Henry, William E., Frederick, Moritz, Charles E., Robert J., and Ernest C. Martin walked to Elkhart. The senior Martin was the sixth employee to work for Conn. All of his sons would eventually be employed with the new Martin company either as officers or skilled workers.

John Henry Martin was regularly employed by Conn until he suffered the first of eight strokes in about the year 1902. His employment was sporadic after that date, and most of his remaining eight years of life were spent as an invalid. He died 25 November 1910.

Henry Charles Martin was born in New York City 12 January 1866. From about 1890 he worked for Conn as his father had, but about 1905 he began to produce a few band instruments at his residence. He quit working for Conn by 1910 when his father's company was fully re-established. Henry was its first president, brothers Robert J., Charles E. and Frederick were vice-president, secretary and treasurer respectively.

According to Martin family traditions the brothers fought over the disposition of the business until the only way out of the animosity amongst the family members was to sell. This happened in 1912 when Francis E. Compton took over the greatest share of the company. He was vice-president and general manager from 1912 to 1917. Henry Martin remained president of the company until after 1917. A few of his brothers remained as well. In 1922 Henry left the company and was then working for Buescher. It is known from a letter dated 1923 that Henry Martin was in the process of retooling for yet a third Martin-owned company. But in 1924 he suffered the first of three strokes. He was forced to resign from Buescher, and he died 8 November 1927.

As with Buescher, Martin made brass instruments and saxophones. From 1912 onwards, the Martin company experienced a number of owners and presidents. Then in 1961 Paul E. Richards made a sweet deal with Martin and Blessing to create from them the Richards Music Corporation. This arrangement fell apart in 1964, and the rights to Martin were bought by Wurlitzer. The old factory was essentially Wurlitzer's division in Elkhart. Then in 1971 the rights of Martin were bought by Leblanc, and the old factory was closed. Leblanc then began marketing saxophones with the Martin trademark and continued to do so in collaboration with Yanagisawa in the 1990s.