In Elkhart, Indiana, Charles Gerard Conn was the patriarch of musical instrument manufacturing. C.G. Conn invented a brass mouthpiece with a rubber rim in 1873 after a brawl at a pub resulted in a split lip. Conn transformed an old sewing machine into a lathe and started a business making mouthpieces. Dupont, a French instrument builder, began fixing instruments in Conn's shop in 1875. Conn believed he could create his own guitar after seeing him work for a few days. Colonel Conn would build the first American cornet the following year.
Conn expanded its business in 1879 and began producing other instruments. C.G. Conn was elected Mayor of Elkhart, Indiana in 1880, after the people became captivated with him. In 1883, a factory fire prompted him to retire during his second term. The plant was rebuilt to be larger and more efficient, and manufacturing resumed. By 1893, his instruments had won the greatest accolades at the Chicago World's Columbia Exposition.
The Colonel was a sucker for quirky and unusual instruments. In 1907, he constructed an immensaphone, the world's largest horn, measuring 12 feet in diameter and 35 feet in length. Conn went on to manufacture the first American-made saxophone and the first sousaphone, both to John Philip Sousa's specifications.
Conn retired in 1915, and Carl Greenleaf bought the company. C.G. Conn Ltd. was the new name for the company. Carl Greenleaf founded the National School Band Movement during this time period. Greenleaf founded the inaugural National Band Contest in Chicago in 1923, as well as the Conn National School of Music in the same city. He backed the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan, in 1928.
Until World War II, the company thrived. The factory was retooled in 1942 to produce compasses, altimeters, and other war-related products. Many of Conn's merchants turned to lesser instrument makers who were allowed to produce instruments on a limited basis during this time. Conn had a difficult time recovering its position as the leading band instrument manufacturer after the war.
The Greenleaf family sold their company to Crowell-Collier MacMillan, a publishing house, in 1969. Conn instruments were made in two locations: Nogales, Arizona, and Abilene, Texas. The Selmer Company bought Conn's Elkhart manufacturing, located at 500 Industrial Parkway, in 1970.
C.G. Conn Ltd was later merged with Slingerland Drum Company, Artley, Scherl & Roth, and a number of other musical instrument manufacturers and distributors in the 1980s to establish United Musical Instruments (UMI). UMI amalgamated with the Selmer Company in 2002 to become Conn-Selmer, Inc., and then with G. Leblanc Corporation in 2004.
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