American Harmonicas: The Kratt Co.

by Jp Pagán

SPAH member and Bernie Bray Award winner Rob Paparozzi hipped me to this on his Facebook page: a video clip from this episode of the show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, showing how a harmonica is made:

As Rob pointed out, this is—or was—a truly American harmonica company: the Wm. Kratt Co. Nowadays, the company only makes pitch pipes, but they used to make harmonicas. In fact, William M. Kratt Sr., the company founder, was born in Trossingen, the famous home of Hohner harmonicas, where Kratt worked as a young man. Born in 1892, he came to America in 1910 to live with his aunt in New Jersey. In short order, Kratt found a job with a local business man: Thomas Edison. After six years working with Edison, Kratt went to work for a string manufacturer in New Brunswick that made strings for guitars, banjos and violins. In 1918, he returned to Germany, to his home town of Trossingen, and started a harmonica company there.

After what was apparently a successful run, he returned to the States and started the Wm. Kratt Co. in Union, New Jersey, where the above clip was filmed. Though Kratt's major invention was the pitch pipe, he also came up with his own harmonica design, including a chromatic model. The harmonicas were so popular, it seems the company was allowed a special allotment of brass so that they could continue to make their harmonicas through the war.

Over time, the company—and the Kratt family—grew. Under a new company, the Plastic Injecto Company, the Kratt family even made plastic harmonicas.

You can find out more about the Kratt family—(did you know William's grandsons are the hosts of the awesome kids' show Wild Kratts?)—and their harmonica history (including a copy of a letter from Mamie Eisenhower and some great photos) from this page, where much of the above information was obtained.