Sunday, February 5, 2017

Origins of the F. E. Dodge Company

A small ad for the F. E. Dodge Company appearing on the back cover of the Dodge Drum School published in 1909 reads "a drum factory since 1868". It is a dubious claim coming from a man who was born in 1877. The ad goes on to state "over forty years of experience is back of the Dodge drums, tympani, orchestra bells, xylophones, and drummers' traps". How could this be true when the company namesake was only in his early thirties?

Frank Edward Dodge was born on July 10th, 1877 in Wenham, Massachusetts. His father Frank Dodge (who has no middle initial) was a native of Marblehead, MA and is listed in the 1880 United States Census as a janitor at Abbott Hall. Frank Edward's mother Maria A. Dodge, formerly Maria A. McCarthy, was originally from Bangor, ME, the daughter of Irish immigrants. By the mid 1890s the Dodge family, including a second son Harry Plummer Dodge born in 1883, had relocated to Boston where Frank Edward received his primary schooling at Boston's English High School graduating as a member of the fourth year class in 1896.

F. E. Dodge continued his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology enrolling in 1896 as a Mining Engineering major and would later complete studies in Mechanical Engineering and Chemistry. According to MIT's newspaper The Tech Dodge was in 1896 - 1897 a member of the Freshman Orchestra serving as the group's treasurer. An MIT Register of Former Students lists Frank E. Dodge as having been at the school from 1896 - 1898 and then again in the years 1900 and 1901.
The 1900 United States Census lists F. E. Dodge as a musician still living under his parents' roof at 163 West Canton Street in Boston's South End. The 1900 Boston Directory also lists him as a musician, not a student, suggesting that he had begun his career as a professional drummer by this time. Boston newspapers frequently include mentions of Frank E. Dodge as a featured xylophone soloist at the Boston Theater in 1901 and 1902. By 1903, city directories begin listing Dodge's work address simply as "Colonial Theatre", the newly opened grand theater at 106 Boylston Street opposite Boston Common.1901 Boston Theatre Ad listing Frank E. Dodge as Xylophone Soloist
Boston Theatre Ad from the Boston Post, October 20, 1901

1903 photo showing Boston's Colonial Theatre at far right.                 Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Looking again at the 1900 Census, the elder Frank Dodge's occupation is listed as "Mfg - Stitching & Plaiting" while the 1900 Boston Directory lists him as a manager working at 12 Winter Street. These pieces of information coupled together point to the Boston Stitching and Plaiting Company at 12 - 14 Winter Street in Boston. The president of this company was a man named John A. McCarthy whose home address was 163 West Canton Street, the same address as the Dodge family. This confirms a connection both personal and professional between the Dodge family, John A. McCarthy and his Company.

A very early F. E. Dodge orchestra drum bears a makers label listing an address of 12 - 14 Winter Street, the same location as the Boston Stitching and Plaiting Company. Also notable about the wording on the drum label is that it reads "F. E. DODGE MANUFACTURING DRUMMER", not F. E. Dodge Company. All of this raises the possibility that there may have been some correlation between the Boston Stitching & Plating Company and the very early years of Frank E. Dodge's drum making endeavors before the founding of the F. E. Dodge Company.

F. E. Dodge Orchestra Drum, ca. 1903F. E. Dodge Orchestra Drum, ca. 1903Early F. E. Dodge Drum Label, ca. 1903F. E. Dodge Drum Label, ca. 1903

Various business listings and advertisements place the Boston Stitching and Plaiting Company at 12 - 14 Winter Street from at least 1898 until 1903. By 1905 the company had moved to 28 Summer Street. The 1906 Boston Directory lists the elder Frank Dodge as working as a treasurer at this address. But by this time the younger Dodge's drum building venture was standing on it's own at 3 Appleton Street. Public Documents show that on December 22nd, 1903 the F. E. Dodge Co. became incorporated under the laws of Massachusetts with a capital of $50,000 to manufacture drums, traps, drum findings, professional xylophones, orchestra bells, and timpani.

In tracing the exact origins of the F. E. Dodge Company, it is important to note that no such business is listed in Boston Directories until 1905. In the years immediately leading up to this point Frank E. Dodge is listed as a musician but the F. E. Dodge Company is nowhere to be found. The December 1903 incorporation, as announced in the Music Trade Review in January of 1904, is the earliest documented account of the F. E. Dodge Company. If Frank E. Dodge had founded his drum company in 1903, he would have been just 26 years old.

Capital investment aside, a man as young as Dodge would have needed help starting a new drum manufacturing business and he may have found it in William J. Blair of Boston's Blair & Baldwin, drum makers since 1892. The missing link between Blair and Dodge and their respective drum companies is provided in Christine Merrick Ayars' Contributions to the Art of Music in America by the Music Industries of Boston 1640 - 1936 (New York: H.W. Wilson, 1937):

"William J. Blair was a drummer in the Civil War and a maker of good drums. Baldwin was a fine workman also. He resigned to manufacture bicycle wood rims and wheels. Later he worked for John C. Haynes & Co. where he was known as "Grandsire Baldwin". When Mr. Baldwin resigned about 1905, F. E. Dodge bought out Mr. Blair who worked first for Mr. Dodge and then for Nokes & Nicolai until his death."

Ayars' statement about Grandsire Baldwin resigning in 1905 cannot be correct seeing that Nahum "Grandsire" Baldwin died in 1896, but her reporting about Blair checks out. Military records show William J. Blair was born in Monticello, New York in 1846. He later resided in Syracuse working as a blacksmith when in January of 1864 he joined Company H of New York's 16th Heavy Artillery Regiment as a musician. Much later in his life, Blair is listed in the 1908 and 1909 Boston Directories as a drummaker at 3 Appleton Street confirming that he did in fact stay on board with the F. E. Dodge Company after Dodge bought out Blair & Baldwin.

If William J. Blair had been building drums since the late 1860s, then by 1908 he would have had about 40 years worth of experience in the business. And that may well have been the reason that Frank E. Dodge could claim that "over forty years of experience is back of the Dodge drums." It certainly wasn't that the F. E. Dodge Company had been around for four decades.

For more on F. E. Dodge and the other early 20th century drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit

W. Lee Vinson can be contacted any time by email at

Sunday, January 1, 2017

F. E. Dodge Field Drum ca. 1904 - 1907

At approximately 110 years old, this F. E. Dodge field drum shows its age. Cosmetic flaws aside, it is still a wonderful example of an early rod tension drum from Boston's most prominent drum maker at the turn of the twentieth century. Measuring in at a robust 10" deep by 16" across, this is a large instrument closer in size to the wartime regimental drums which preceded it than the much shallower orchestra drums which were becoming widely favored for popular music styles. This was after all a 'street drum' intended to be played while standing or marching with a military style band or drum corps.

The tension rods and even more so the claws used tension the heads are rather forward thinking for the first decade of the 1900s. For that matter, the use of metal hardware at all suggests that this was a professional level model as rope tension drums were more affordable. The single ply maple shell with solid maple reinforcing rings is constructed as well as any other instrument of the day. But Dodge's innovative hoop claws are the most ingenious feature here. Long before modern drum lug casings housed fully swiveling nuts to accommodate tuning rods, Dodge's claws represented an early attempt to help let the tensioning hardware fit into place without the possibility of any binding, warping, or stripping.

Lee's F. E. Dodge Field Drum ca. 1904 - 1907F. E. Dodge Drum Label ca. 1904 - 1907

The shell interior is painted black, a characteristic of some, but not all Dodge drums. A large circular paper label is visible inside of the drum. Note the inclusion of the "Inc." lettering which likely means that this drum was produced after the company's incorporation on December 22, 1903 and before it was legally dissolved in 1907. Curiously, the label is positioned upside down, another peculiarity common to many F. E. Dodge drums.

The snare mechanism is rather basic by modern standards but was in fact a small step forward in functionality relative to the traditional snare strainer in that it allowed the snares to be tightened using a knurled knob easily reached from the top of the drum and without the possibility of the snares becoming twisted. A simple leather snare butt, cut in Dodge's distinctive jagged fashion, holds the snares in place against the opposite counterhoop.

F. E. Dodge Snare StrainerF. E. Dodge Snare Butt

While a 10" x 16" model isn't specifically listed, the drum matches very well with those advertised in the 1907 Dodge catalog. A final indication that the drum featured here was constructed no later than about 1908, the Dodge Drum School published in 1909 includes illustrations of a Dodge drum featuring an updated claw design which would go on to be commonly used on Dodge drums until 1912 and by their successors Nokes & Nicolai until 1926.

Do you have an percussion instrument made by the F. E. Dodge Company? I would love to see it! Send Lee an email anytime at And for more on the early 20th century drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit

Thursday, December 1, 2016

ca. 1936 George B. Stone & Son White Marine Pearl Master-Model Drum

One drum could never tell the complete story of a company whose life spanned decades, but the drum featured here could write its own chapter on both what could have been, and what had become of Boston's George B. Stone & Son by the late 1930s. Clearly, the potential existed for Stone & Son to have remained a respected manufacturer of professional level drums. The craftsmanship is proof of this. Yet rather than evolve with the times, George Lawrence Stone had chosen his company's fate. Having never fully modernized its production capabilities or instrument designs, Stone & Son was being left in the dust.

Very little had changed about the Geo. B. Stone & Son Master-Model drums since they were first introduced in 1922. Through the 1920s and into the 1930s, the industry had completely passed Stone by. While Leedy, Ludwig, and Slingerland had all moved to double post tube lugs, metal counterhoops, and state of the art snare mechanisms, Stone continued to use an impractical tuning system, wooden counterhoops, and a snare throw-off patented in 1909.

What is so stunning about this mid-late 1930s Master-Model aside from the brilliant chrome plated hardware and white marine pearl wrap, is just how well the whole instrument is constructed. There is absolutely nothing shoddy about the execution, nothing lacking in the way of quality workmanship to hint at Stone's long fading prowess as a drum builder.

Lee's mid - late 1930s WMP Stone Master-Model Drum

Smaller details about the drum do indicate that the end was near for Stone. The label fixed to the inside of the shell is actually a repair label. Faintly ink-stamped across the top of the label is the word "Manufactured". This is a clear sign that Stone was no longer producing a high volume of drums and that their priorities had shifted towards repair and maintenance of existing instruments. That a repair label rather than a manufacturers label was used on such a high end drum as this one speaks volumes about how late in the life of Geo. B. Stone & Son this drum was produced.

Stone did apparently have a few Master-Model badges left sitting around the shop, albeit the silver variety as opposed to the typical bronze badges with a recessed blackened background. The silver version applied here was typically reserved for special drums such as pearl wrapped models and the rare all-metal Master-Models.

Late 1930s George B. Stone & Son Drum Label

Late 1930s George B. Stone & Son Drum Label

Geo. B. Stone Master-Model Drum Badge

George B. Stone & Son Master-Model Drum Badge

There are a few interesting differences between this example and earlier Master-Model drums. The most dramatic is the use of ten 'lugs' per side (20 total) as opposed to twelve (24 total). Anything other than a twenty-four lug Master-Model is almost unheard of, the notable exception being the aforementioned all-metal Master-Models which employed metal counterhoops and only eight lugs per side.

Another subtle but profound difference here is the use of washers which lack the usual "STONE & SON / BOSTON MASS" stamping. This suggests that Stone's builders had run out of stamped washers and did not expect to churn out enough more Master-Models to warrant having another batch of washers made up with the Stone imprint.

Stone Master-Model Nuts and Washers ca. mid 1920s - mid 1930s

Stone Master-Model Nuts and Washers ca. mid 1920s - mid 1930s

Stone Master-Model Nuts and Washers ca. late 1930s

Stone Master-Model Nuts and Washers ca. late 1930s

Small signs of Stone keeping up with the times are evident in the use of chrome plating, and with the factory installation of a Leedy tone control. Ludwig and Leedy, both owned by Conn at this time, had begun installing tone controls on snare drums beginning in the early-mid 1930s.

It should also be noted that wrapped examples of Stone Master-Model drums are quite scarce. Most Master-Models featured a black lacquer finish. Next most common is a natural maple finish. A "Pyralin Master-Model" was offered as early as 1928, but the number of existing wrapped drums suggests that they were produced only in small numbers, likely on a custom order basis. These were expensive drums after all. A 1932 price list offered the Pyralin Master-Model for $50 which equates to more than $800 today.

As is typical for Stone, the four digit serial number is both imprinted inside of the shell and ink-stamped onto the label. A serial number in the 9600 range places this drum around 1936. A three digit Master-Model number is also stamped inside of the shell in a smaller font. The number, 820, is extremely high, the highest among more than four dozen other recorded examples again confirming just how late this drum was produced.

Stone Serial Number

George B. Stone & Son Serial Number

Stone Master-Model Number

Stone Master-Model Number

Most earlier Stone drums including Master-Models would have been outfitted with individual strands of snappy wire, wire wound silk, or natural gut. This being a drum from the late 1930s, the James Snappy Wires installed on the drum at present may well be original. New calfskin heads bring this drum back right back to 1936, just before Stone & Son was done for good.

Do you have a Stone Master-Model? I would love to hear about it! Shoot Lee an email at And for more on George B. Stone & Son and all of the early 20th century drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Make Stromberg Great Again

To understand how far this drum has come, one has to see what it looked like before the restoration campaign was undertaken. Cobwebs, dead bugs, dust on top of dirt, and almost enough missing parts to prevent the whole thing from coming together. In other words, real change was needed to bring back this drum back from the brink.

In a triumph of determination over frustration, patience and hard work prevailed. Not that this will ever be a serviceable instrument for any modern performance application, but a glint of the past has been preserved. And that alone should give hope to future generations of drummers, drum collectors, those interested in the instruments of Charles A. Stromberg, and anyone passionate about antique musical instruments.

Do you have a drum made by Charles A. Stromberg? I want to hear from you! Feel free to drop Lee an email anytime at And for more on the early 20th century snare drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts please visit

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

ca. 1907 F. E. Dodge Orchestra Drum

Amongst a trio of recently acquired early 1900s F. E Dodge drums is this splendid orchestra model, circa 1904 - 1907. Complete down to the original "Satin Finished Water-proof Snares", this drum is a wonderfully well preserved example of turn of the century drum building ingenuity and craftsmanship.

F. E. Dodge Orchestra Drum ca. 1907

The 1907 Dodge Drums Catalog lists the Orchestra Drum in two sizes. The 3" x 14" drum seen here joins a 4" x 15" already in the collection.

The single-ply maple shell and hoops are both characteristic of Dodge with the shell featuring shallow reinforcing rings and a polished rosewood grommet. A small circular makers label is affixed to the inside of the shell. Note the inclusion of the "Inc." lettering which likely means that this drum was produced after the company's 1904 incorporation.

1907 Dodge Drums Catalog
F. E. Dodge Drum Label
F. E. Dodge Co. drum label

Distinctive to many Dodge drums from the first decade of the 1900s is the use of an early style of swivel nut to accommodate the tuning rods. Though the nuts only swivel in one direction, they still represent an advancement beyond traditional collar hooks. Dodge's "Direct Snare Strainer" with its square shaped shank allowed for tensioning of the snares via an adjustment knob mounted to the top hoop.

F. E. Dodge Drum Catalogphoto:
F. E. Dodge Direct Snare StrainerF. E. Dodge Direct Snare Strainer

A simple leather anchor holds the snare wires in place against bottom hoop opposite from the strainer. Note the jagged edges of this leather piece, an unusual little cosmetic touch seen on many early Dodge drums.

Though the wooden shell and hoops show their age, the nickel plating is in excellent condition, a testament to the quality of the materials and processes used by Dodge. Period correct calfskin heads put this drum in historically accurate condition for display. A photo of the original owner gives us a glimpse of the drum in action roughly a century ago.

F. E. Dodge Snare ButtF. E. Dodge Snare Butt
Dodge Drums with their Original Owners

Do you have a drum by F. E. Dodge? I'd would love to hear about it! Send Lee an email at

And for more on F. E. Dodge and the other early 20th century drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit