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The Martin Story
In 1833, Christian Frederick Martin, Sr., a former apprentice of noted Vienna guitar craftsman Johann Stauffer, moved his nascent guitar-making company from Germany to America, setting up a small shop on Hudson Street in New York. Business chugged along for five years amid the hustle and bustle of the Lower West Side, and in 1838, Martin and his wife relocated to the tranquil rolling hills of Pennsylvania, purchasing an eight-acre tract just outside Nazareth. A Tradition of Master Craftsmanship Early Martins were completely hand-crafted guitars, but by the 1850s, the company enjoyed sufficient sales to warrant a factory. In 1859, the company moved production from the Martin homestead to their new North Street plant in Nazareth - a location that is still in use today. By then, several proprietary, tone-enhancing features had become standard, such as the X-bracing system for guitar tops - which is still used today for all steel-string Martins. When C. F. Martin, Sr. passed away in 1873, he bequeathed to his family and the world a masterly guitar-making tradition. Frank Henry at the Helm Christian Frederick, Jr. ran Martin for only 15 years until his untimely death in 1888, when his 22-year-old son, Frank Henry, took the helm. Young Frank's first challenge was the serious distribution issues the company was facing at the time. Under his bold leadership, Martin terminated its distribution agreement with Zoebisch & Sons and assumed distribution of its own products, with the company placing ads in local newspapers and Frank himself making sales calls to music dealers throughout New York State and New England. The massive influx of Italian immigrants in the 1890s greatly boosted the market for a particular instrument of Italian origin - the mandolin. So Martin started making mandolins alongside guitars, and quickly ramped up production to meet the demand.Enter the Dreadnought
Launched in 1906, Britain's HMS Dreadnought was the first all-big-gun battleship, and the first to use steam-turbine propulsion. Larger, faster, quieter, and more deadly than any warship that had come before, it ushered in the modern era of naval warfare. In 1916, Martin christened their new large-bodied acoustic guitars named after the groundbreaking naval vessel. Martin's dreadnoughts were sold under the brand name Oliver Ditson & Co. (the East Coast music dealer whose general manager had a hand in the design) until Ditson went out of business in the late 1920s.Roaring '20s, Depressed '30s
In the 1920s, ukuleles became very popular and Martin is estimated to have produced almost twice as many ukuleles as guitars. Business was booming - until the Great Depression struck in 1929. Instead of increased sales, survival was the directive, with the company halfheartedly branching out into areas such as violin parts and wood jewelry. Two lasting guitar innovations did come out of this dark period, however. Martin invented the 14-fret neck and refined the dreadnought concept, defining the instrument as we know it today. Traditionally, guitar necks had joined the body at the 12th fret; the 14-fret neck, developed in late 1929, increased the guitar's range and versatility.Post-war Prosperity, and a New Factory
Frank Henry Martin passed away in 1948, and Christian Frederick III assumed his father's position as president. Post-WWII prosperity and a growing American fascination with folk music and guitars created demand that outstripped Martin's production capacity. By the early 1960s, Martin customers were looking at backorders of up to three years. The new Sycamore Street plant solved these problems, and by 1970, when Frank Herbert took the reins from his father, Martin was embarking upon a period of acquisition that included Fibes Drums and Vega Banjo Works - which were subsequently spun off, and the Darco String Company, which remains an integral part of the company to this day.Today's Martin
Christian Frederick Martin IV apprenticed at the company for several years before joining full-time in 1978. Chris was appointed CEO and Chairman of the Board in 1986, tasked with leading Martin into the new millennium. Under his leadership, the popular Backpacker travel guitar was introduced, and Martin's limited-edition series was expanded with signature models of important artists such as Eric Clapton and Gene Autry. Participation in MTV's 1996 successful Unplugged program upped the visibility of the company. And Martin's X Series guitars took a fresh look at the way the guitar is constructed. The company set forth its ecological policy in 1990, and remains an industry leader in the use of alternative wood species, chosen for their sonic qualities and sustainability. At Martin, the innovations keep coming.
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