The Mason & Hamlin Story

In 1854, two brilliant idealists, Henry Mason and Emmons Hamlin, founded the Mason & Hamlin Company in Boston, Massachusetts, the birthplace of American piano design and manufacturing. Although their backgrounds and interests were very different, the two men shared a common goal: to make the world’s finest musical instruments.

Henry Mason was a member of one of America’s oldest families—they were actually descendents of pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower. The Masons were renowned for their involvement in the arts. Henry Mason was a pianist and his brother, William, was one of America’s foremost classical pianists and composers.

Their father was the famous composer and educator Lowell Mason, a visionary who was the first to bring music into the public schools of America. He was also known throughout the world as a composer and publisher of hymns, and is often called the “father of American church music.” Henry Mason shared his father’s lifelong dedication to music.

Emmons Hamlin was not a musician, but instead a brilliant mechanic and inventor. While working at the melodeon factory of George A. Price and Company of Buffalo, Hamlin invented a way to voice organ reeds, so that they could imitate the sound of a clarinet, violin or other musical instruments.

Hamlin developed his discovery to perfection, and in 1854, he and Henry Mason formed their company for the purpose of manufacturing a new musical instrument that they called the “organ harmonium.”

Although the company was started with very little capital, the two owners were determined to make only the very best instruments, even if there were very few produced. Fortunately, the combination of limited production and great attention to detail paid off, and the company and its products were instantly successful and in great demand. Arthur Loesser summed up their success in his book, Men,Women and Pianos, A Social History: “Mason & Hamlin…soon became and remained the foremost in the field.”

From the organ harmonium, the company graduated to the American Cabinet Organ, a product that would earn Mason & Hamlin 1st prize at the Paris Exhibition of 1867. The fact that a small American company won the top prize over its much larger, more established European competitors astounded the music world. The fact that they continued to win year after year was even more astounding. It wasn’t long before Mason & Hamlin had established a worldwide reputation for excellence.

In 1881, the company decided to branch out into making pianos. Following traditions established in making its organs, Mason & Hamlin built its pianos with the very finest materials---slowly and meticulously, with great attention to even the smallest detail. Wisely, it also hired brilliant designers. Among them was Richard W. Gertz, a genius who contributed many innovations to the piano industry, including the Duplex Scale, screw stringer and the Tension Resonator, a remarkable device that was designed to maintain the crown of the soundboard for the life of a piano.

With Mason & Hamlin’s innovations, use of only the finest materials and expert craftsmanship, its pianos were the world’s costliest to produce and widely accepted as the world’s finest.