It was the first to sell Thomas Edison`s wax-cylinder records, Edison`s and Columbia Co’s Morning Glory Horn phonograph models and the first to promote Victor`s famous Victor Talking Machine Company dog listening to “His Master`s Voice.
The Chicago-based company, founded in 1864 by George W. Lyon and Patrick J. Healy, who moved from Boston to start a sheet music shop for music publisher Oliver Ditson. The company won recognition for another first in 1889–building the first American- made harp. Other instruments the company is known to have made include reed organs and pianos. Lyon & Healy evidently began manufacturing these instruments around 1876 in its factories in Chicago and nearby cities. George W. Lyon patented his cottage upright in 1878 and it was sold under the Lyon and Healy name.
Healy was interested in developing a harp better suited to the rigours of the American climate than the available European models. They succeeded in producing a harp notable for its strength, reliability of pitch, and freedom from unwanted vibration. Previously, most harps were imported to North America from France, England, Ireland, or Italy by smaller groups of craftsmen.
Lyon & Healy Factory at Randolph Street and Bryant Place, across from Union Park, circa 1900. This landmark building, flying the Lyon & Healy banner, was often referred to as the Union Park Factory. It was in use by Lyon and Healy until 1916.
In 1890, Lyon & Healy introduced the Style 23 Harp, still one of the most popular and recognizable designs in the world. It has 47 strings, highly decorative floral carving on the top of the column, base, and feet, and has a fleur de lis pattern at the bottom of the column. In many orchestras, patrons may see the harpist playing a gold version of this harp. It is 74 inches (190 cm) tall, and weighs about 37 kilograms (82 lb). Lyon & Healy produces one of the most ornate and elaborate harps in the world, the Louis XV, which includes carvings of leaves, flowers, scrolls, and shells along its neck and kneeblock, as well the soundboard edges.
A close-up of a Lyon & Healy harp (left) and Carlos Salzedo standing next to his art deco Salzedo model, which was designed by his friend, the artist Witold Gordon.
By the 1900s, Lyon & Healy was one of the largest music publishers in the world, and sold new and antique violins, pianos, and other instruments. However, In 1920s, Lyon & Healy sold its brass musical instrument manufacturing branch (see “New Langwill Index”). By the 1970s, L&H decided to concentrate solely on the creation and sale of harps.
In 1928, Lyon & Healy introduced one of the most unusual harps ever designed for mass production, the “Salzedo Model”, designed in collaboration with the harpist Carlos Salzedo. It is in the Art Deco style, incorporating bold red and white lines on the soundboard to create a stylized and distinct instrument, that still appears modern and bold even today.
In the 1960s, Lyon & Healy introduced a smaller lever harp, the “Troubadour”, a 36-string harp that is designed for young beginners, who have smaller hands and may find playing a concert harp difficult, as well as hobbyists. This harp stands 65.5 inches (166 cm), and weighs 17 kilograms (37 lb).
Lyon retired in 1889; Healy died in 1905.
The company`s image began changing in the 1970s. It began to perceive that it could no longer maintain a full range of products and services that included instruments, sheet music, songbooks and music lessons. Lyon & Healy stopped selling many of these products in 1977, concentrating more on making harps. It had closed all its retail outlets by 1981, including their flagship store on Wabash Avenue.
Although many of the musical wares once sold by Lyon & Healy are no longer available, the company`s “premier role as harpmaker” is still very much in tune today. About 85-90% of harps used today are Lyon & Healy harps. The company is located at 168 N. Ogden in Chicago. From 1974 to 1985, Lyon & Healy was the property of CBS, which also owned three other musical instrument divisions–Rodgers Organ Co., Steinway & Sons piano company and Gemeinhardt Co., a flute and piccolo maker.
In September 1985, CBS announced its departure from the musical instrument business and sold its divisions to a group of Boston area businessmen, including Bruce A. Stevens, who was president of Steinway & Sons.
The Music Trade Review, May 27, 1916:
Opening of Palatial New Home of Lyon & Healy
Prominent Piano Men From All Sections of the Country Attend Formal Opening of the New Headquarters of This Famous House in Chicago—A Description of the Building
CHICAGO, IL., May 22.—The formal opening of Lyon & Healy’s store and headquarters building at the northeast corner of Jackson boulevard and Wabash avenue, makes this one of the important weeks in the history of the music trade of Chicago.
Coming as it does so soon, comparatively speaking, after the completion and placing in full operation of the immense new Lyon & Healy factory on Fullerton avenue, it bears witness not only to the progressiveness of the great house, but to the remarkable latter-day development in the piano and musical industries of this, the great western trade centre, in these lines. The new Lyon & Healy building, which stands at the greatest piano corner in the world, has been aptly described as “an expression in steel and stone of the best ideas for the display and sale of musical merchandise which have been evolved through the cumulative experience of half a century.”
Actual figures show that the Lyon & Healy organization includes no less than 138 people who have been with the house all the way from ten to fifty years. It can be easily understood that they must have experienced emotions akin to home-sickness when they left the old building at Wabash avenue and Adams street, which had been occupied by Lyon & Healy for nearly half of their half century career. Even now, however, this feeling is no doubt being replaced by one of elation because of the artistic triumphs and of the superb equipment, convenience and personal comfort of the new structure.
The building was erected under the personal supervision of Marquette A. Healy, vice president and general manager of the corporation. It is a nine story steel structure, faced with pink granite and gray terra cotta, and follows the Italian Renaissance in the design of its principal facades, with the introduction of the Corinthian order at the upper stories. The entrances on Jackson boulevard and Wabash avenue are finished in walnut, white marble, gold leaf, and white enamel. The corridors are finished with light Toanazzo marble wainscot, the floors are of marble tile, and the woodwork is of walnut.
The first floor is devoted to Victrolas, sheet music and music books, while in the rear with entrances through the store from Wabash Avenue and also from Jackson Boulevard, is the Lyon & Healy Concert Hall. The latter is an acoustical triumph and this has been remarked upon by many experts including several officers of the Victor Talking Machine Co., who were in Chicago last week.
The second floor is devoted to Victor records, retail and wholesale, and the third to the display and sale of pianos. The piano floor is a wonder. Some idea of the beauty of the reception room is given in the wash drawing accompanying this article, but the principal feature is the tremendous vista furnished by the large number of beautiful grands, uprights and players, which can be obtained even from the elevators, as all of the partitions of the various rooms are of glass, thus causing no obstacle to the vision. Several beautiful display rooms are, of course, devoted to the Steinway exclusively, while the Aeolian line of Pianola-Pianos and the Weber and the Steck are beautifully housed. Furthermore, the Lyon & Healy and the Washburn pianos, both products of the company’s own factory, have a most adequate representation. A number of other well-known makes of pianos are also shown.
The administrative offices and the counting room are found on the fourth floor, together with the wonderfully organized music roll department, while the small goods, band instruments, old violins and special sales rooms devoted to the Lyon & Healy harp are on the fifth floor.
The four upper stories, with the exception of a few studios extending along the Wabash avenue and Jackson boulevard frontages, are occupied by various other retail and wholesale lines of musical merchandise.
It is impossible within the compass of an article such as this to give any idea of the remarkable ingenuity shown in the display of goods, or of the manner in which the wholesale and retail stocks have been arranged with a view of expediting handling and the filling of orders. However, it can be said most emphatically that any dealer visiting Chicago can gain a vast amount of information which he can use to a great advantage in his own business by studying the systems evolved by Lyon & Healy during their fifty years of experience in the trade. It can also be said that the company extends a hearty invitation to the merchants in this line to avail themselves of this opportunity at any time.
Tt would be difficult to refrain from indulging at this time in a brief account of the main facts in the development of the great house, which reaches its culmination for the present in the wonderful new building and all it signifies. This can best perhaps be done by presenting an article which will appear in a souvenir booklet soon to be issued by the company.
Lyon & Healy Building
The music house of Lyon & Healy, to quote from the authentic source above mentioned, now entering a new epoch in its career in the occupancy of its new building in May, 1916, has grown from small beginnings to its present position of supremacy in the music business.
It was in October, 1864, during the period of the Civil War, that Lyon & Healy began business in Chicago. The firm name bears the distinction of being one of the very few in the city that has remained unchanged through the vicissitudes of half a century.
The first store of Lyon & Healy was located at the corner of Washington and Clark streets, on the snot where the Conway Building now stands. Then, as now, the site was opposite the County Court House, and in the centre of what was then the leading retail section of the city.
The founders of the business, George W. Lyon and Patrick Joseph Healy, had been for some years previous employees in the music houses of Oliver Ditson & Co. and Henry Tolman in Boston. In May, 1864, the two men decided to move to Chicago and engage in business as Western representatives for the Ditson productions. After making a thorough investigation of the situation, the new firm arranged to open for business in the fall. The principal business of the house at that time was in sheet music and books, small musical instruments and cabinet organs.
From the start the business grew rapidly and soon exceeded all expectations. The Boston concern sought to encourage the young men by saying: “If you have good luck, in ten years’ time you will do a business of $100,000 a year.” Before the first year was up the new firm had passed that mark and many new fines had been
After five successful years spent at their first location, Lyon & Healy moved to larger quarters in the new Drake Building on Wabash avenue and Washington street. By this time they were doing both a wholesale and retaH business, and their trade grew by leaps and bounds.
On September 4, 1870, after being in the new home but a few months, the building was entirely destroyed by fire. The great task of gathering together another representative stock of musical merchandise was promptly undertaken, and a building was leased at 150 South Clark street. Soon the stock of Lyon & Healy was larger and more complete than before, notwithstanding the severe loss of the former store.
In the spring of 1871, Lyon & Healy took over the piano business of Smith & Nixon, who had occupied the premises jointly, which marked a further step in the expansion of the business.
Then, in October, 1871, came the great Chicago Fire, which wiped out the principal part of the city, including the establishment of Lyon Healy. Fortunately there was sufficient time after the fire began its work of devastation for Mr. Healy and some of his employees to get to the store at night and carry away the contents of the safe, including the money, bills receivable, ledger, and other valuable papers, to a p-lace of safety on the West Side.
After the fire, which swept so many Chicago firms out of business, Lyon & Healy secured temporary quarters in a small store at 287 West Madison street, and later, to get more space and a better location, they moved into a little church building on Wabash avenue at the corner of Sixteenth street. Here they waited the better part of a year while the business section of the city was being cleared of debris and rebuilt.
Fortunately the insurance carried by Lyon & Healy had been so judiciously placed that 85 per cent, of its face value was realized, which made it possible for the business to continue in spite of the great disaster.
In 1872 a store was secured at 162 South State street, it being foreseen that this location would be in the heart of the new retail district. Again the business prospered, despite the deferred payments made necessary by the fire, and additional space was acquired in the adjoining corner store, and various upper floors were added, until finally the entire corner block at the northwest corner of State and Monroe streets was occupied.
Here the business grew and prospered until that next great epoch in Chicago’s history, the World’s Fair, in 1893.
In October, 1889, Mr. George W. Lyon, senior partner of the firm, who was then approaching seventy years of age, retired from the business, and his interests, and the right to continue the use of his name, were acquired by the corporation of Lyon & Ileally, which was formed at that time. From that time until his death sixteen years later the affairs of the business were directed by Mr. Patrick Joseph Healy and his official associates.
The ideas for the expansion of the business, which had long been fostered chiefly by Mr. Healy, were now put into execution. The factories which had been established in a small way for the production of musical instruments, had outgrown their quarters and a large new factory building was erected some distance from the centre of the city, opposite one of the parks. Within a year the annual output of the Lyon & Healy factory was 100,000 musical instruments, or “one musical instrument every other working
Immediately following the World’s Fair, and as the result of a continued expansion of the business, Lyon & Healy removed to the block at the southwest corner of Wabash avenue and Adams street. This building, gradually augmented by various floors in the adjoining building, continued to serve the needs of the retail and wholesale portion of the business until the new building was ready for occupancy in 1916.
In 1914 the factory building of 1900, by this time outgrown outgrown, was superseded by another and larger factory building, located on Fullerton avenue at Crawford avenue, and which is the headquarters of the manufacturing department of Lyon & Healy, its activities, however, being augmented by absorbing the entire output of other factories operated according to the specifications of Lyon & Healy.
Mr. Patrick Joseph Healy, after forty-one years of active service in the up-building of the business, died April 3, 190S.
The responsibilities he laid down were taken up by the remaining members of the corporation, and the business carried forward in the same spirit of idealism and progressiveness which has ever characterized the institution.
The president of the company, Mr. Robert B. Gregory, has been with the business since its beginning in 1864. The vice-president is a son of Mr. Healy. The secretary has been with the business since 1870, and the treasurer since 1883.
The present officers of Lyon & Healy are: Robert B. Gregory, president; Marquette A. Healy, vice-president and general manager; James F. Bowers, secretary; Charles R. Fuller, treasurer.
Felix Borowski, the famous musical authority and critic, has written a really notable article on Chicago as a musical center, which will appear in the forthcoming Lyon & Healy booklet. it traces the various currents of artistic and psychological development, the commingling of which has made Chicago what it is as a musical center and incidentally has made possible just such an institution as that here described.
On another page of this issue will be found a further account of the opening of the new Lyon & Healy building, together with a list of the prominent piano men and musicians who inspected the headquarters during the week, and who extended congratulations.
The Chicago Central Business and Office Guide, 1922
The location is not excelled in the city. Right in the heart of the musical section, at the corner of Wabash Avenue and Jackson Boulevard. The building extends 171 feet on Jackson Boulevard and 96 feet on Wabash Avenue, directly opposite the Illinois Theatre and one-half b ock from Michigan Boulevard.
Exterior is faced with pink granite and terra cotta encircled with band courses, balconies. and the introduction of the Corinthian order at the upper stories.
The building is fireproof in every detail and equipped with an automatic sprinkler system. The renting section is served by a separate battery of high speed elevators, assuring the best elevator service. All offices are outside, splendidly lighted. They are finished with oak floors, Port Tobasco mahogany trim, and generous lighting equipment.
Lyon & Healy
The Lyon & Heaiy Concert Hall on the first floor is one of the most perfectly and comfortably equipped concert halls in the country. It will probably be crowded daily with visitors who attend the complimentary concerts given there. This statement is based on the experience of the past fifteen years. This hall is available for the use of tenants for evening concerts.
The entrance corridor is spacious and high It is finished in white marble, gold leaf metal and white enamel.
The reputation and standing of this building enhanced through the great amount of advertising it necessarily receives in connection with Lyon & Healv’s own business. The retail business of the firm alone contributes a steady flow of visitors.
The tenancy of the building is restricted firms and individuals of the highest standing in such a limited office space it is possible it arrange for a most select list
Lyon & Healy window display of the latest Victor Talking Machine Company’s Victrola.
Talking Machine World, August 1919
From Talking Machine World, August 1919
Window suggestions of the season are great hobbies with the window dressing departments of Lyon & Healy. The big double window which faces both Wabash avenue and Jackson boulevard is an ideal show spot and the window dressing department is, it seems, never lacking in ideas to decorate this particular place to suit the occasion. As will be seen in the accompanying illustration, the window is suggestive of outdoors and the Victor talking machine is conspicuously displayed. It is, so to speak, being operated by the “wax woman” and in the foreground may be seen a baby playing with some Victor records. Swinging around the outer edge of the window is a trickling brook, wherein are live fish. In the background is a pergola effect overhung with vines, bowers, etc. These have a waving motion, which is accomplished by means of a concealed blower or electric fan, giving the effect of a genuine breeze. It goes without saying that the window is having the desired effect upon passersby.
Peter H. Adams says
Concise and accurate to a point. The first musical instruments Lyon & Healy manufactured were drums. None of these drums were used during the Civil War, as the firm had begun manufacturing shortly before the war ended. Many of these drums were used after the war by Civil War vets who gathered yearly. When the firm began and ended manufacturing of certain classes of musical instruments is still a topic for research.
I have been researching this firm for over 10 years, and have many of the firm’s trade catalogs. My manuscript is currently over 800 pages thanks mainly to Lyon & Healy’s advertising department publishing many articles and advertisements.