David Allmendinger founded Ann Arbor Organ Works in 1872 at his home at the northwest corner of Washington and First Streets in Anne Arbor, Michigan. The four-story building is still there today.
Allmendinger specialized in making Reed organs. At one time, the reed organ was more popular than the piano in rural areas because it was cheaper, did not require as much tuning as a piano, and was much lighter. Additionally, the reed organ was a desirable alternative to the expensive pipe organ that many churches simply couldn’t afford.
Reed organs use a small piece of brass about a half inch wide and one to five inches long mounted on blocks of wood. The pedals are attached to the bellows and are operated with the feet while playing. The air created by the bellows is sucked between the reeds, similar to a harmonica.
In the 1860s, with the invention of steam power, mass production and lower prices became possible. Most cities with a population of more than 25,000 probably had an organ factory.
David Allmendinger learned his trade from his future father-in-law Gottlieb Gaertner, a master organ builder from Ludwigsburg, Germany. Gottlieb worked at the Walker Pipe Organ Works and came to the United States in 1867 due to war and cholera in Germany. She moved to Anne Arbor because her sisters had moved there before.
Now starting over with limited funds, Gottlieb begins making reed organs in his garage. He made each piece by hand using only basic wood and metal working tools.
In 1871, Gottlieb grew the business and had 5 employees, one of whom was David Allmendinger.
Gottlieb decides to leave Anne Arbor and becomes a consultant / superintendent for other organ builders in Columbus, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania.
David purchases the Gottliebs team and starts the Ann Arbor Organ Works.
He later marries Gottliebs’ daughter.
By 1888, in order to meet the demand, Allmendinger incorporated and raised $ 50,000 by selling shares (that’s about $ 1.3 million today). The company name also changed to The Ann Arbor Organ and Piano Company.
In 1910, although the population of Anne Arbor was only 15,000, the company manufactured 5,000 reed organs and 600 pianos a year and employed 120 people.
With the growing popularity of the phonograph, along with the start of World War I, Allmendinger decided to sell the company in 1915.
The company was bought by James C. Henderson, who carried on with the name, but resigned only four years later, in 1919.