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History of the manufacturer  

Deagan, J.C., Chicago

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Name: Deagan, J.C., Chicago    (USA)  
Abbreviation: deagan
Products: Model types

John Calhoun Deagan (1853-1934) founded the Deagan company in Saint Louis in 1880 and moved the firm to Chicago early in the twentieth century. A professional clarinetist, Deagan was fascinated with the science of acoustics and the theory and practice of tuning (in 1910 he pushed, successfully, for the adoption of A=440 as the standard pitch for American orchestras).

Founded: 1880
Closed: 1958
Production: 1897 -
History of Deagan, Part 1 (1880-1916) John Calhoun Deagan was born November 6, 1851 in Hector, Tompkins County, New York. He was the son of Irish immigrants Michael and Mary Deagan. Shortly after his birth, the Deagan family moved to Syracuse, New York, and later to Youngstown, Ohio, when he was nearing five years old. The eldest of 10 siblings, J.C. Deagan went to public schools in Youngstown and attended Raines College. He was trained on clarinet and was nationally recognized as an outstanding concert clarinetist by the age of twenty. In 1871, he enlisted in the US Navy and was stationed on the USS Brooklyn. His ship was home ported in England, which allowed him to study music at the University of London. He attended a series of lectures by German physicist, Hermann von Helmholtz, whose principles of acoustics aroused Deagan's interest in the science of sound. By 1876, Deagan was discharged from the Navy and returned to Youngstown as a carriage painter. He found work as an orchestra leader at Niblo's Garden and at Tony Pastor's in New York. Soon after, he left Youngstown for St. Louis, Missouri, where he became established as a musician, teacher and music arranger. He served as the Orchestra Director at the Opera House in St. Louis and played in numerous theatre orchestras, bands and in open-air concerts. He soon became one of the highest paid musicians in America. John Calhoun Deagan's obsession with intonation would soon set him on a course from musician to manufacturer, innovator and internationally respected entrepreneur. In 1880, Deagan produced his first instrument, a scientifically designed and perfectly tuned glockenspiel. It all began, as the story tells, when a theatre orchestra, which Deagan performed with, introduced a glockenspiel for a unique tonal effect in performance. The present day glockenspiel was a crude instrument, virtually untuned. It was used as a toy for children to imitate, in miniature form, the large practice claviers used by carilloneuers in Europe's cathedrals. Although it had been in use since Mozart's time, it was regarded more as a sound effect than a musical instrument. The discordant sounds rasping from the bars offended Deagan's sensitive ears, so he offered to improve upon the instrument. He applied his intense study of the Helmholtz principles by filing and grinding the steel bars until the tuning was balanced across the scale range. He also integrated his knowledge of physics to design a method of attaching the bars to the support frame for greater sound projection. Within a few months, word spread throughout the music community about his achievement and J. C. Deagan was now spending as much time producing musical bells as he was fulfilling performance dates. Inadvertently, J. C. Deagan began his one-man operation on 1004 Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri. The year was 1880.
The Deagan Chicago factory building dates from around 1912, though the Deagan company has long sinced ceased to exist as a local, family-owned firm (Yamaha now owns the Deagan trademark) and Deagan instruments are no longer manufactured here.
The company found its new home at 358 North Dearborn Street and was in full operation by October 1, 1897. Still a cottage industry, the growing list of customers for the expanding line of instruments increased. In the spring of 1898, gas for heating and electric lights replaced coal and oil lamps. Deagan rented a safety vault in the Monadnock Building and later the following November rented a manufacturing machine shop space. The outfit then moved to 2419 Wabash Avenue. By mid 1899, J. C. Deagan had obtained numerous patents, copyrighted his first catalog and began regular advertising in entertainment publications in the U.S. and England. Prosperity blossomed and on May 1, 1900, the family moved into a new home at 459 State Street. The steady introduction of new products propelled J. C. Deagan Musical Bells into the 20th Century on a rising tide of success with a hallmark of unique instrument types, precision tuning and quality craftsmanship, along with many notable artists in the performing circuits using Deagan instruments. The new products were mostly novelty type instruments such as steel marimbaphones, aluminum chimes, tuned metal bamboos and cowbells, musical coins and musical rattles. The age of percussion instruments was dawning with vigor, along with the pressures and demands to expand operations. Chicago's mid north side was sparsely settled when J. C. Deagan Musical Bells occupied its newly built two-story factory building on May 1, 1904. It was located at 2157 North Clark Street at Grace Street, later readdressed as 3808. The company began hiring German, Polish and Swedish immigrant craftsman to increase production to meet rising demands. Among the newly hired was a young German lad from Wisconsin, Henry J. Schluter whose alert, curious and hardworking nature caught the eye of the observant J. C. Deagan. Deagan moved Schluter from maintenance and assigned him as his apprentice to learn tuning. Schluter mastered tuning principles at his workstation by day and during off hours digested the extensive Helmholtz volume on acoustics On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music (1862) under J. C Deagan's guidance. Schluter excelled in the craft and was named Head Tuner just a few years later. J. Claude, J.C. Deagan's son, who had been brought into the business to work and master the function of the factory departments, was now 20 and was made General Plant Manager. In 1908 he married his secretary, Ella Smith. With J. Claude supervising the factory and Sophia, Ella and a bookkeeper handling office routines, John C. Deagan began to find time to accept invitations to lecture on acoustics at universities. He began what would become a personal, worldwide campaign to establish A=440 as the international standard for musical pitch. With the rising demand for new types of percussion instruments from the concert bands, symphony orchestras and the burgeoning vaudeville market, steady growth and profitability allowed J.C. Deagan to entertain the idea of a larger manufacturing space to facilitate development and production. In 1911, J. C. Deagan acquired ownership of a new five-story elevator building with a clock tower under construction at Berteau and East Ravenwood Avenue in what was the printing and typesetting district of Chicago. Soon advertisements stated Deagan to be the largest musical instrument factory in the world. Equipped with an 8,000 square foot machine shop, a 5,000 square foot wood shop with its own wood-curing kilns, a polishing, buffing and plating department, modern spray finishing facility and more than 30,000 square feet reserved for assembly operations, material storage, engineering and design offices, and shipping and receiving, the company was now capable of enormous growth and greater world recognition.
From 1912-1914 scores of new model instruments were designed and manufactured. This era introduced flat top orchestra bells, parsifal and roundtop bells, the 870 and 872 model xylophones, marimbaphones, chimes for pipe organs, orchestras, hall clocks, altars and home use, and electric instruments and an even larger array of novelty instruments in tuned scale ranges. The marking Nagaed was introduced to identify premium Honduran rosewood and a second wood, Klyposerus, a Caribbean cocobolo wood, was used for its exceptional brilliance and extreme durability. Deagan also persuaded the American Federation of Musicians, at its annual convention, to adopt A=440 as the standard universal pitch for orchestras and bands settling a question which had long agitated musical circles. At the request of the U.S. Bureau of Standards, Deagan supplied a set of tuning forks for radio research and other purposes, giving accurate pitch intervals from 100 to 2,000 vibrations per second. Deagan precision tuning forks and tuning bars were now established as the tuning standard of the world. J. C. Deagan, through his frequent and far-ranging lecture and consulting activities, earned the reputation as the world's greatest acoustician and highest authority in matters pertaining to pitch. Between 1914-1916, the company reached its maximum level in diversity of products. The Deagan master catalog, 1 1/4" thick, listed more than a thousand separate catalog numbers of manufactured products, covering over 600 distinct items. Forty percent of the item numbers were alternates to distinguish between low-pitch and high-pitch tuning. The catalog included 63 separate models of orchestra bells differing in bar size, steel, scale range, and case styles; 80 different xylophones from 2 to 4 1/2 octave scale ranges, various bar widths in a choice of two woods, and floor racks in a variety of designs; 50 individual models of marimbaphones, marimba-xylophones, and nabimbas scaling up to five octaves; 60 separate models of Cathedral Chimes for both orchestra and organ use offering four tube diameters, choice of racks and mountings; electrically-played instruments, including the single bar Una-phone and dual bar octa-phone in 12 to 56 note scale ranges which were sounded by vibrating electric-action mallets from a piano-type keyboard; and hundreds of entries covering unique novelty percussion instruments, accessories and tuning devices, and 24 individual tuning forks in 4 pitches. Scores of patents were obtained on new instrument designs and mechanical features to protect the Deagan innovations from other enterprises beginning to enter the mallet percussion field. April 14, 1916, J. C. Deagan Musical Bells incorporated, marking an era of progress and prosperity. Officers of the corporation were John Calhoun Deagan, President, J. Claude Deagan, Vice President and Ella L. Deagan, Secretary. They would head up the team that set the company into full bloom in the ensuing decade. Written by Shannon Wood Source: The Chronology of the J. C. Deagan Company, Hal Trommer Appeared in the January 2004 Malletshop Quarterly Issue

This manufacturer was suggested by Hank Kaczmarski.


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