Piano Manufacturing in Saginaw
By the early 1890s, the forests that had supplied Saginaw’s lumbering boom had been depleted. The community was losing jobs and its population. The source of the community’s prosperity had vanished.
While the trees were gone, there were tremendous resources to direct towards new industries – financial capital earned during the lumbering boom, a skilled labor force, factory buildings and a transportation infrastructure. The community’s leaders were committed to reinventing Saginaw as a manufacturing center.
Companies from other cities were enticed to relocate to Saginaw, new businesses were started and established firms developed new product lines. Within a few years, an incredible range of products were developed and produced in Saginaw. Although it would take more than a decade, the community was reborn a manufacturing center.
Piano manufacturing was never a dominant industry in Saginaw; however, it provided an important link between Saginaw’s success as a supplier of lumber and its reinvention as an automotive manufacturing center.
By the early 20th century, an unpright piano was a common focal point of the parlor and the family's entertainment. Demonstrated by the number of piano teachers listed in the 1910 city directory, learning to play the piano was an important part of a student's education. With its presence in a parlor, a piano announced the success and cultural aspirations of a family.
Brewer-Pryor Piano Company
First listed in the 1901 Saginaw City Directory, the Brewer-Pryor Company was connected to the Erd Piano and Harp Company by its president, Will A. Brewer. Brewer was the president of both companies. Will Brewer and his family had been successful in both lumbering and real estate and he was able to bring substantial resources to the firm. The Brewer-Pryor factory was located at Hess and Macauley. Later it was relocated. In 1900 the Saginaw Evening News reported that “Prosperity has come with a rush to this institution and it is not likely that such capable business men as these in this firm will neglect to improve upon the opportunity.” The last year the firm is listed in the Saginaw City Directory is 1908. After that point it was listed as being in Binghamton, New York and ceased operations in the teens.
Erd Piano Company
Frank Erd was a gifted musician and owned a music store on East Genesee. John Erd, his brother, was talented with machinery. In 1893, their combined skills enabled them to open Saginaw’s first piano factory. The first documentation of the factory appears in an advertisement in the days after the fire of May 20, 1893 – people were encouraged to bring their damaged pianos to the Erd Factory for repairs. In October the newspaper headline proclaimed “The Erd Piano – Saginaw’s First Victory” and reported on the first sale of an Erd Piano.
The company thrived and moved to a factory located at Tilden [Water Street] and East Genesee. Frank Erd died in 1896 and by 1901 the company no longer appears in the Saginaw City Directories. The Harp manufacturing portion of the business survived and was relocated to Chicago. About 1910, an unsuccessful attempt was made to bring this portion of the business back to Saginaw. The Erd Piano and Harp Company was an important link to other Saginaw industries.
Will Brewer, a president of the Erd Piano and Harp Company, formed another piano company, the Brewer-Pryor Company. John Erd started a thriving marine and kerosene engine company.
Germain Piano Company
The exhibition of the first Germain piano was reported in the 1897 Saginaw Evening News with the comment that “The value of such an institution to the commercial interest of the city is better appreciated when one considers that more than two-thirds of the cost of piano is paid to workingmen for labor performed in its construction.”
Started by Edward Germain, the Germain Piano Company was the largest and most important of Saginaw’s piano factories. Germain arrived in Saginaw in the 1860s. He started his own business in 1874. Manufacturing a wide array of products – wood pulleys, box shooks (large prefabricated crates), doors, blinds and numerous other products, he developed a highly successful business. By 1893 he had constructed a new facility located near E. Genesee between Holland and Remington. He employed 400 men. On May 20, 1893 the plant was destroyed by fire. The loss was $325,000 with only $31,000 of insurance. Almost immediately he started to rebuild. It was in this new plant that the Germain Piano Company was born. By the early part of the 20th century, the successful firm was selling pianos throughout the country and had showrooms in Detroit and Toledo. In Saginaw, Edward Germain had a former Unitarian Church on the corner of Millard and South Washington converted into the Germain Temple of Music, a combination showroom and recital hall with space for music studios.
The firm prospered until the late teens. After that point, the Germain family started a new business and constructed a new factory that specialized in the manufacturer of piano backs for other companies.