|The History of
the Pitch Pipe
80 Years and
Still On Pitch
by Grady Kerr - Barbershop Harmony
If you are a singer chances are good you own
red box labeled “The Master
chromatic pitch instrument - A-440 - 13 keys - a product of Wm. Kratt
Co - Made In The USA”
and inside is your little silver and black
disc shaped friend.
It's estimated the Kratt
Company has made
over 3 million of these pitch
pipes in the last 80 years. Have you ever
wondered where they came from and who made them? If so, here's
Jacob Kratt Sr. is the inventor and
mostly responsible for its impact with singers world-wide. He was
born September 22, 1892 in Trossingen / Baden-Württemberg, Germany
also known as “music town”. Trossingen was also the home of
Hohner, a very well known harmonica manufacturer, where Bill found work
at an early age. By age 18 he decided to come to America. The
year was 1910.
popular restaurant in Orange, New Jersey called “The Old Homestead”. She
agreed to be his sponsor so he boarded a steamship and headed for the
land of opportunity.
Aunt Christine can be described as fair but very strict and headstrong.
About three days after Bill arrived in America she insisted he start
paying her back for being his sponsor. She put him to work in her
restaurant as a dishwasher.
By A Legend
Three long days later it was clear
that young Kratt
washing dishes so she began looking for another job for him. The Old
Homestead was popular with the local businessmen so she started
around. She approached one of her regular patrons who interviewed
Bill and hired him as a machinist working a lathe. That local
business man was Thomas Edison.
a way to help and encourage young Kratt Tom Edison provided
him with his first set of tools. During Bill's time working for
the inventor at his Orange, New Jersey plant it wasn't uncommon for
Edison to come in with an idea, draw up that vision right there on the
spot and have Bill create it. He worked his way up through the
ranks and became a foreman. For the next six years he learned
much from Edison and gained a great deal of experience and inspiration.
In 1915 Kratt left Edison to work for a string manufacturer in New
Brunswick, NJ. They produced strings for guitars, banjos and
violins. It was here he met his future wife Emily Bennett.
Bill was always very interested in manufacturing, tooling and
production so in 1918 he took his experience and moved back to Germany
and started his first solo venture, The
National Harmonica Company located in his old home town of
In 1925, after many successful years
in Germany, he
returned to New
Jersey and soon married his longtime sweetheart Emily Bennett.
He began making music boxes and “plates” for musical toys. This
was the device that enabled them to make sounds such as “humming” or
the “tinkling” sound when used. He provided these plates for
several businesses including J. Chein
& Company, a major toy manufacturer. His plates appear in
thousands of toys world-wide.
Original location - 988 Johnston Place, Union, New Jersey
The original Wm. Kratt Company plant
(1925-2002) was located at 988
Johnston Place, Union, New Jersey. It was here he invented the pitch
pipe that we all know and love today. The first model was C to C in a
red cardboard box and looked very much like today's version.
Aside from the reeds inside being made of a slightly different metal,
the first one was about two-thirds smaller and only had 8 notes (the
white keys - C4 to C5).
Thanks to William Kratt’s association with
friend Harold Lindner, these
vastly in vogue. Harold and his brother Al were “supply jobbers”
(wholesalers) of school supplies. Kratt suggested they introduce these
pipes to school teachers to help them as they taught their kids to
sing. This caught on and soon Kratt was being flooded with
thousands of orders from around the country.
It was also about this time he discovered the need to
include ALL 13 notes; not only the white notes but also the sharps and
flats. The pipe was quickly redesigned and offered just as it is
to see other vintage
Kratt sales brochures, click here
There are six models of the pitch pipe. Singers know of
the popular F to F pipe (model Master Key 1) and
are aware of the C to C (model Master Key 2). The C to C is by
far the most popular. They also produce an Eb to Eb (MK3).
advertisement for their pitch
pipes first appeared in the Harmonizer
in 1949 and only cost $2.50.
The Wm. Kratt Company still
only company in America producing
these pitch instruments. They create several hundred thousand
pitch pipes each year and estimate sales of about three million over
the past 80 years.
Each pipe is literally hand-crafted and individually tuned
by workers, some of whom have been working for the Kratt Company over
Wm. Kratt also invented his own style of harmonica. It
was his #1 item
and sold in the millions distributed world-wide as well.
Kratt soon decided to invent a pipe to help tune stringed instruments.
He manufactured the new pipe in three models (Super, Synchrotone 1,
Synchrotone 2). They were used for violin, Spanish guitar,
ukulele, banjo and bass fiddles and were VERY popular.
By 1935 business was booming. His
tool shop employed 45 tool and
die makers and a stamping plant. He manufactured items for
several major companies such as Wright
Aeronautical, Sperry Gyroscopes, KDI, Picatinny Arsenal, Westinghouse,
General Motors and Day & Zimmerman.
By the war years, like most major plants, he converted much of his shop
for defense projects. But unlike some companies, he was able to
continue part of his original line due to a very special request.
The War Department allowed them a limited allotment of brass.
With this they requested he CONTINUE to manufacture the Kratt
asked him to make them for the men overseas in an
effort to help build up morale. Hundreds of thousands were
distributed by the Red Cross. If you were in the war and you had a
harmonica, it was most likely a Kratt Harmonica. After being
manufactured for decades, it was discontinued but may be manufactured
again someday soon.
MRS. DWIGHT EISENHOWER
New York City
January 16, 1953
Dear Mr. Kratt:
I cannot tell you how delighted we all were to receive the harmonicas
blow-accordions! The little ones are simply thrilled as you can
and the pleasure and happiness your gifts brought to us is
indeed. The General is looking forward to a few free moments when
can enjoy your Kratt Chromatic. We are all deeply grateful for
thoughtful kindness, and we regard these remembrances as symbols of
friendship and good wishes.
I do hope you will forgive me for not writing long before this, but I
you understand how full, exciting and thrilling these days have been
With our deep appreciation and warm wishes!
just four days before husband
Dwight David Eisenhower was
Wife Emily Kratt was a very important
part of the
business helping with
time studies and perfecting the techniques needed to operate the
machines and training their employees throughout the years.
William Kratt and Emily had two children. Daughter Jean lives in Wisconsin and is not
involved in the business.
Kratt Jr. was very involved. Following his service in the Army
Ordinance Corp. he joined his father's company in 1954. Together
they created a NEW company and
called it The Plastic Injecto Company.
made musical toys under the “Arist-O-Kratt”
line such as plastic harmonicas. One of the most popular items
was the “Magic Music Box”.
The original site of the Plastic Injecto Company was
879 Rahway Ave. in Union, NJ where the site is now home to an
outpatient dialysis facility. In 1965 the Plastic Injecto Company
lock, stock and barrel to Auborn Rubber Company of Ohio who set up shop
in Deming, New Mexico.
In later years the Kratt family started a new custom molding business
and did various jobs. That business was also sold.
in September 22, 1892,
Kratt Sr. died in
November of 1983 at
the age of 91.
Emily Kratt died in September of 1973.
His son, Wm. Kratt Jr. successfully ran the business for many decades.
He is now 77
and has semi-retired to Vermont with his wife of 42 years, Linda. They have twin
daughters; Susan (37) an
executive for Pfizer and Christine
(37) a doctor and medical researcher.
Jr. and Linda also have two sons, Martin
(40) and Chris (36). They have
taken off in a different direction. You or your kids may have
heard of them before. Known as the Kratt
Brothers, Chris and Martin Kratt are famous and self proclaimed “Creature Adventurers” producing TV
shows and empowering kids to be creature heroes and helping animals.
They produce the “Be The Creature”
TV Show seen on the National Geographic channel in the US and on CBC TV
Canada. They also produced two shows that air on PBS: Kratt Creatures (a family animal
show) and the very popular Zoboomafoo.
The Kratt family manufactured the
pitch pipe for 76
until February 27, 2001 when they sold the business to the McNamera
Previously the McNamera’s were producing only the plastic parts for the
the company is run by John and his son and daughter, Robert and Jill.
keeping the tradition alive and manufacturing our beloved pitch pipe
other tuning devices (9 total). Today the Wm. Kratt Pitch Pipe Company
at 40 Lafayette Place,
Crew 2006 - 40
Lafayette Place, Kenilworth, New Jersey
who have seen our place here
describe it as “Santa’s Last Toy Shop” but these pipes are, of course,
not toys." explains Robert McNamera.
The Wm. Kratt Company does not sell to the public but supplies
American and Canadian distributors as well as the Barbershopper's Harmony Marketplace.
They do, unfortunately have some overseas
competition. There are
two companies creating lower quality pipes that look just like the
Kratt version. There are TEMPUS
pipes from China and the PYRAMID
pipes from Germany.
Both are below the quality of the original and described by some as
“throw-aways”. Add to the mix the new electronic pitch generators
today. This has created a negative impact on the sales of the Kratt
Pitch Pipes and causes concern regarding the future of
these quality pipes.
Robert McNamera explains,
“We're very proud of
the work we do here and consider this an America tradition - all
American made. It's still a family run business. We've been
making these the same way, one at a time as has been done for 80 years.
still using most of the original 1936 dies. We employ only 7
people and the workers here are the best at what they do, in fact, the
ONLY ones in America doing what they do.
This article is copyrighted and may not
be used without permission.
catalogues and sales brochures
From SPEBSQSA's Harmonizer
magazine showing why
founder O.C. Cash began the
of a box, he mistakenly ordered
a "box car" of pitch pipes
Garfield comic strip - Christmas
The History of the
80 Years and
Still On Pitch
researched and written by Barbershop
Harmony Society historian
of Dallas, Texas
Kerr has been a researcher, writer
and historian for
over 30 years.
Mr. William Kratt Jr.
Mr. Rob McNamera
Mrs. Jill Farewell
Mr. Chuck May
Mrs. Chris Frear
Mrs. Susan McLennan
Mrs. Sally Cunningham
article and website is NOT directly associated with the
Kratt Co and does not represent them in any way.
All opinions are that of the author.
This article is ©
Copyright by Straw
Hat Productions 2006
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