Archival Collection #004 - A. J. "Bill" Johnson
Archival Collection #004 - A. J. "Bill" Johnson

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Collection Tier:
Tier 2

Archival Collections ➔ Archival Collection #004 - A. J. "Bill" Johnson

Archival Collection #004 - A. J. "Bill" Johnson contains photographs from Alfred J. "Bill" Johnson. He worked for the York Band Instrument Company, and then formed his own business, Musical Instrument Exchange on Division Avenue, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It includes photos of the Furniture City Band, American Legion Band from Post No. 6 of Holland, Michigan, and Chas E. And Frank W. York. Moreover, there are photographs pertaining to band instruments and performers. This collection is a sub-group of the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s holdings that pertain to the York Band Instrument Company, which also includes photographs of the manufacturing of the instruments and musical instruments themselves. There are 0.35 cubic feet of photographs that span the time period of 1910-1914.

A full listing of the contents of this collection can be found in the Finding Aid that is attached to the media section of this catalog entry.
early 1910s
Gift Of Mrs. Jean and Robert G. Robertson Conklin

Robertson, Mrs. Jean and Conklin, Robert G.

A.J. Bill Johnson
Alfred J. (Bill) Johnson was a noted local musician and vice president of the former York Band Instrument Company in Grand Rapids.

Mr. Johnson began his musical career in 1891, playing a cornet given to him by the Press Newsboys Band. He started working for York in 1895 as a janitor and worked with way up through the ranks to become vice-president, a post he held until retirement in 1946.

Upon his retirement at 65, Mr. Johnson founded the Musical Instrument Exchange Co. in Grand Rapids, which repaired and appraised instruments, specializing in violins. He operated the business until his death in 1972.

A life member of Doric Lodge No. 342, F. & A.M., Mr. Johnson was also a member of the former Furniture City Band, the Holland American Legion Band, the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians, the Saladin Shrine and the Acoustical Society of America.

Source: Grand Rapids Press

York Band Instrument Company
The York Band Instrument Company was a musical instrument manufacturer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The York Band Instrument Co manufactured a full line of woodwind, string, percussion, and brass instruments which included trumpets, cornets, horns, trombones, helicons, baritone horns, sousaphones, and tubas. The brass instruments made before 1940 were known to have superior craftsmanship, ease of enunciation, intonation, and timbre, and were widely sought after by concert, brass, and military bands. Many brass York instruments are still presently used, possessing sound qualities that are still prized by brass musicians.[1] The United States Army's Quarter Master Corps and the United States Navy historically used York instruments and still maintain them in their possession.

James Warren York was a former army musician and played professionally in the Grand Rapids, Michigan theaters. He eventually decided to open his own instrument repair business and set up on the ground floor of a Monroe Avenue building in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1882. The early company originally started from a merger of two partnerships between "Smith and York" in 1883 and "York and Holton" in 1885. Together they were eventually reformed into the "J.W.York and Company". In 1887, Frank York, J.W. York's eldest son joined the business and it was named "York & Son". In 1898, Charles York, the youngest son joined the company which prompted him to again rename the business "York & Sons". The business went through various name changes ("J.W. York", "J.W. York and Sons", "J.W. York Band Instrument Co", "J.W. York Instrument Co.") before finally settling on "York Band Instrument Co". James Warren York By 1890, York was operating a successful instrument plant on Canal St. by importing instruments and producing a few original cornets and trombones. Newly designed instruments were added each year and in 1898, the company was manufacturing a complete line of cupped mouthpiece brass instruments. Frank Holton, Henry Martin Jr., Henry Martin Sr., and F.A. Reynolds, pioneers of band instrument manufacturing, were all once employed at the early York factories at 3,5, and 7 North Ionia Avenue in Grand Rapids. The factories were later relocated to the old Raniville Power building at the corner of Campau Ave and Lyon St. In 1908, a plant at 1600 South Division Avenue was built and lasted until it was closed in 1971. In 1913, rights were sold to original partners James and John Duffy and a stock company was formed. In 1916 J.W. York retired from the company. The company was officially changed to York Band Instrument Company in 1926 when the York family relinquished all control, although the "York Band Instrument Company" name was used in promotional publications starting in the early 1920s after J.W. had retired. The company had various subsidiaries and used the proprietary name "Grand Rapids Band Instrument Company" and "USA Line" for their mass-produced and lower priced student quality horns. Additionally, York produced various stencil horns under the names of "Hallmark", "Acme", "Wolverine", and "Pioneer".