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Monday, July 22

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Q: I have a very old drum that was made by Lyon & Healy Co. The factory was on Randolph and Union Park, and the salesroom was on the corner of State and Monroe. Is it possible you could date this store and salesroom?

With the limited resources at my disposal, I cannot provide exact dates for the Lyon & Healy showroom at State and Monroe. I can make some estimates, however, and give some background on the company and Chicago's musical instrument manufacturing heritage.

Lyon & Healy was founded in 1864 by George W. Lyon and Patrick J. Healy. They came from Boston, where they had worked in the Oliver Ditson music store. Their new Chicago business was originally located on the corner of Clark and Washington, and they sold primarily sheet music.

Within the first six years, Lyon and Healy lost their business not once, but twice. The shop first burnt down in 1869, and then, just two years later, they lost the store again in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Undaunted by the losses, the business was rebuilt, like hundreds of other businesses after the Fire.

In fact, by the end of the 1870s, Chicago began to experience a sort of musical renaissance. The city quickly became one of the leading centers of musical instrument manufacturing in the country and, at the same time, saw a growth in the number of ensemble bands performing in the area. Bands and band music became so popular that the period between 1880 and 1920 is sometimes known as Chicago's "Golden Age of Bands." By 1890 the city was home to more than 80 professional bands and dozens of amateur musical ensembles.

Perhaps following this trend, Lyon & Healy turned to instrument manufacturing around 1885. They made pianos, guitars, mandolins, banjos, violins and, yes, even drums. In 1889, Lyon & Healy also became the first company in the United States to manufacture harps.

To answer the original question, Lyon & Healy probably moved to the showroom at State and Monroe around this time, as the company needed the larger space to display the instruments. The Chicago Public Library has an extensive collection of trade catalogs from early Chicago businesses, which includes several instrument catalogs from Lyon & Healy. The catalogs, which date from 1891, list the location of Lyon & Healy as State and Monroe.

As for drums, the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota has at least two Lyon & Healy drums featured in the museum's collections. One is a snare drum with a rosewood shell that was reportedly exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The second is a side drum with a maple shell dated 1906-1930.

Chicago reached the height of its instrument manufacturing success in the early twentieth century. By 1915 there were more than 40 companies manufacturing musical instruments in the city, and Chicago businesses were responsible for nearly half of all the pianos sold in the Unites States. Many of these companies had their showrooms in the South Loop on Wabash Avenue, giving the area the nickname "Music Row." Lyon & Healy was no exception. In 1916, the company moved into a new building at 243 S. Wabash Ave. The Lyon & Healy Building, as it came to be known, was designed by Benjamin Henry Marshall and Charles E. Fox, the same architectural duo responsible for Chicago's Blackstone Hotel and Theatre and the Drake Hotel.

By 1920, however, Chicago's Golden Age of Bands was coming to a close, and the success of Music Row was relatively short-lived. As early as 1955, DePaul University began buying buildings in Music Row to create its South Loop campus. The school first acquired the Kimball Building, named for the W.W. Kimball Company, once the largest piano and organ manufacturer in the world. The Lyon & Healy Building was bought by the university in 1981, symbolically marking the end of Music Row.

Lyon & Healy, however, still survives. Today Lyon & Healy Harps, Inc. has the distinction of being the oldest and one of the most respected harp manufacturers in the world. The harps are still made by hand and take between four and six months to complete. It is rumored that the first harp the company ever made, dating from 1889, is still on display in their current headquarters on Ogden Avenue in the West Loop.

Further Reading

Mazzola, Sandy. "Bands, Early and Golden Age." The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Roell, Craig R. "Musical Instrument Manufacturing." The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a real, live Chicago librarian. If you have topic ideas or questions you would like answered, send your suggestions to and it may be featured in a future column.

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