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Orville H. Gibson (1856-1918)

Musician, Performer, Inventor, Craftsman

Orville H. Gibson, c.1890s. Photo: The Gibson Story by Julius Bellson (Local History Room)

When Grammy Award-winning jazz guitarist Pat Metheny greeted the audience at Miller Auditorium during his first Kalamazoo appearance in 1981, he said, “I’ve been dreaming about Kalamazoo since I was about ten years old, you know… ‘Home of Guitars’.” Indeed, for more than eighty years the name Gibson made Kalamazoo, Michigan the epicenter of the stringed instrument world. At one point 85% of all fretted stringed instruments manufactured in the United States were made in Kalamazoo. Volumes have been written about the Gibson company and its musical legacy, but somewhat less is known about the man behind the name—the musician, the performer, the craftsman, Orville H. Gibson.

Chateaugay, New York

Born in May 1856, Orville Gibson grew up on a 60-acre farm northeast of the village of Chateaugay in Franklin County, New York, just a mile or so south of the Canadian border. The Gibson household was typical of many family farms in the northeastern United States at the time; a simple home with a barn full of hay, a couple of horses, a few cows, some sheep, a pig, and probably a chicken or two scurrying around the dooryard. John Gibson worked a 41-acre section of the farm, where he grew wheat, corn, oats, and potatoes. The remainder of the property was most likely undisturbed Northeastern woodlands. From these meager surroundings emerged a family of extremely gifted individuals; a writer, a painter, an upholsterer, a carpenter, and an expert musician/craftsman.

Orville was the youngest of five children born to John W. Gibson and Emma (Nichols) Gibson, joining four older Gibson siblings; Lovell J. Gibson (born about 1847), Pluma A. Gibson (born about 1848), Emma E. Gibson (born about 1850), and Ozro M. Gibson (born about 1852). Orville’s father, John Gibson, was a New Englander but probably born in Great Britain in 1808; Orville’s mother, Emma, was born in Peru, New York, in 1810. Orville’s mother also had children from a previous marriage, including Mary C. Fuller (born 1835) and Sidney Fuller (born 1838). Although Mary was apparently on her own by the time Orville came along, Sidney lived in the Gibson household while Orville was a youngster, but had moved on by 1860 and soon after joined the military. 

Location of the Gibson farm near Chateaugay, Franklin County, New York, 1858. Library of Congress

All Roads Lead to Michigan

The Gibson place was just east of Earlville on the south side of Farquher Road, a few miles from the train station in Chateaugay on the Ogdensburgh & Lake Champlain Railway line, which ran west through Malone and after a few connections, linked up with the Lakeshore & Michigan Southern in Buffalo. Getting from Franklin County to Kalamazoo would have been a relatively easy trip by 1870s standards; a midnight train out of Buffalo would have passed through Michigan the following afternoon.

Postcard view of the railroad station at Chateaugay, N.Y., c.1900. Private collection.

By June 1870 the Gibson children had all grown and left Chateaugay, although most didn’t venture far. In June 1875 Ozro was boarding in the nearby town of Malone and working in a carriage shop. He later developed a successful career in Malone as an upholsterer. Sister Emma was married by then with a four-year-old daughter, Minnie, and living in nearby Constable. Emma later moved to Malone, as did their sister Mary Fuller, who spent most of her lifetime in and around Malone.

Why Kalamazoo?

Kalamazoo, Michigan, was a vibrant community of 13,000 during the 1870s. “The land is very fertile, the timber is abundant, the character of the buildings and the improvement of the farms is first class, and the model farmers of Michigan live here,” wrote county historian George Torre in 1876. Many New Yorkers saw opportunity in Michigan and joined the post-Civil War migration toward the western Great Lakes.

Joseph Morgan farm in Texas Township near Oshtemo. Kalamazoo County, Published by F. W. Beers & Co., 1873.

Lovell Gibson

Orville’s older brother, Lovell, became a carpenter and would have seen great promise in Michigan’s booming lumber trade. During the early 1870s Lovell moved to Oshtemo, Michigan (near Kalamazoo), where he married a girl from Texas Township named Hattie Morgan in March 1873. How long Lovell stayed in Kalamazoo isn’t known, but their marriage didn’t last. Hattie remarried two years later and remained in Oshtemo. By 1877 Lovell had moved on to Detroit, and a year after that he was back in Malone, where he met and married Eva E. Bassett. Lovell remained in Malone until his death in 1890.

Orville reportedly lived in Malone for a time, as well, before moving on to Kalamazoo, most likely enticed by his brother, Lovell. Kalamazoo was a hotbed for local musicians at the time, with a pair of fine city military bands and a bevy of local dance bands and orchestras. By the spring of 1876, Orville was working as a salesman in Kalamazoo and probably feeling right at home in his room on Lovell Street.

Musician and Performer

Exactly when Orville Gibson began playing music or how and when he learned the craft of instrument making is uncertain. We do know, however, that by the time he arrived in Kalamazoo, the nineteen-year-old Gibson was already an accomplished musician and performer.

In April 1876 Gibson was featured in a fundraising event for the Young Men’s Organ Association of the First Presbyterian Church. During the concert performance he sang an Irish ballad “in dialect” (Gazette) called “An Emerald Gem Worth Erin” and played guitar in “Signor Bartalletti’s full orchestra,” a collection of ten local amateur musicians led by Edgar Bartlett. The event raised $150 and was called “an immense success, one of the best and most enjoyable amateur concerts” (Telegraph).

“Who remembers Orville Gibson and Will Hays when they went around serenading in the evening with banjos and guitars?”

Kalamazoo Gazette, May 16, 1920

Gibson soon became friends with several of the musicians in town, including William E. Hays, a violinist with whom he had performed since the Presbyterian Church benefit. Gibson, Hays and others became known for their late-night impromptu performances while strolling through the residential portions of the village. “We are indebted for a delightful serenade in the ‘wee sma’ hours,” wrote the Gazette in September 1876, “to Messrs. Allen, Hayes[sic], Gibson, Landon, Rahlemeyer and Clemont[sic].” The musicians were evidently a lively bunch but clearly they were well-liked.

Michigan State Troops

During the summer of 1876 Gibson and Hays both joined the Michigan State Troops (forerunner of the Michigan National Guard) where they worked as musicians in Company ‘C’ of the 2nd Infantry Regiment while stationed at Camp Custer, at that time located near Grand Rapids. In addition to his musical abilities Private O.H. Gibson was a capable marksman with an accurate eye. As a member of Company ‘C’ he scored among the best in his unit at several target shooting contests during 1878 and 1879. Gibson remained with the Michigan State Troops at least through August 1879.

By 1880 Gibson had completed his military duty and was back in Kalamazoo boarding at 67 South Burdick Street while working as a store clerk at A.P. Sprague’s shoe store on East Main Street. A series of advertisements enticed shoe shoppers to purchase their “Pebble Goat Buttons” at Sprague’s and experience O.H. Gibson’s “prompt, polite, and gentlemanly treatment” (Gazette).

East Main Street c.1869-70
East Main Street, Kalamazoo c.1869-70. Note A.P. Sprague store (79 Main St.) center-right. History Room photo P-186

Young Men’s Musical Minstrels

O.H. Gibson, c.1890. Photo: The Gibson Story by Julius Bellson (Local History Room).

By the mid-1880s Gibson’s musical prowess had become well known in Kalamazoo. Around that time, he began organizing and managing a series of annual charity minstrel shows designed to raise funds for the local hospital and children’s home. Though overtly racist and often derogatory in nature, minstrel shows were immensely popular forms of entertainment in their day and typically drew large and enthusiastic audiences. Gibson’s “Young Men’s Musical Minstrels” featuring local musicians and amateur actors, and grew to be popular annual events.

Gibson evidently enjoyed performing, and he figured prominently among the more than 40 local performers who took part in the shows. In addition to his organizational work, Gibson performed at various times as a member of a guitar quartet; a mandolin, banjo and guitar sextet; a xylophone, guitar and banjo trio; and other such ensembles, all of which drew rave responses from the audiences. Gibson’s own song and dance numbers were genuine crowd-pleasers, as well.

Orville’s commitment to the community was admirable. His charity shows were for the most part financially successful, but Gibson did willingly dip into his own pockets on occasion to help cover expenses. He also put his creative talents to use in other ways by making extravagant costumes for these and other events. He even designed and built some of the stage sets on occasion. For the 1890 charity minstrels Gibson crafted a costume for a “trained elephant” named Bolivar that was used in a comedy sketch said to be “alone worth the price of admission” (Gazette).

“Mr. Orville Gibson has gone to Malone, N.Y., for a two week’s visit to his old home.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, September 13, 1887

“A Unique Musical Instrument”

O.H. Gibson, c.1880s. Local History Room.

Gibson worked incessantly during the 1880s. In addition to his full-time job as a shoe salesman, he helped organize local stage productions and often performed with a variety of musical ensembles. But the decade soon revealed yet another side of Gibson’s creative genius.

In January 1888 Orville put the finishing touches on a “unique musical instrument” (Telegraph) he had been working on in his spare time. Unlike the more familiar eight-string mandolins (eight strings tuned in pairs) and standard six string guitars (six strings tuned individually), Gibson’s so-called “mandolin-guitar” was a nine-string instrument with its three bottom (treble) strings tuned like a standard guitar, plus six additional top strings, probably tuned in pairs. According to the reporter who saw it, the instrument “played very easily and its effect in accompaniments is very fine” (Telegraph).

In between his day job and various musical adventures, Gibson kept working on new and innovative musical instruments during his spare time, and his designs were anything but ordinary. In August 1891 he completed eight month’s of work on a “fine spruce guitar” with the head stock shaped like a harp and “inlaying of mother of pearl of exquisite workmanship” (Gazette). With the project finally complete the craftsman took a two-week trip to Charlevoix to relax and perhaps contemplate his next move.

And move he did. Gibson held a steady job at Arthur Sprague’s shoe store for several years, where he was known as a “popular and efficient clerk” (Gazette), but in his personal life he seemed restless and never stayed in one place too long. When Gibson arrived in Kalamazoo he took a room on Lovell Street. After his military service he stayed on South Burdick Street for a year but then moved back to Lovell Street in 1881. By 1883 Gibson had moved again, this time to a house on West South Street across from Bronson Park, and then back to yet a third place on Lovell Street in 1885. Two years later he moved to the Fuller Block on South Burdick Street, then to the corner of East Main Street and Farmers’ Alley in 1889, to the Stevens Block on West Main Street in 1891, back to West Lovell Street in 1893, and then to a house in the 300 block of South Burdick Street in 1895.

After more than a decade on the job, Gibson left his position at Sprague’s in December 1891, evidently planning to devote more time to his musical instrument craft. To make ends meet Gibson performed repair and clerical work in exchange for room and board, which resulted in at least one altercation with a landlord over unpaid rent (said the homeowner) vs. payment due for services rendered (said Gibson). Gibson worked for a time as a clerk at Butter’s Restaurant on West Main, and even opened his own shoe store at 149 South Burdick (237 S Kalamazoo Mall today), where he advertised a “large stock of boots and shoes for sale at the very lowest prices” (Telegraph).

In November 1892 Gibson revealed a “most valuable and pure toned guitar, which was made entirely by himself” (Gazette). The guitar was quite large, nearly twice the size of a standard guitar, and valued at $100 (roughly $2,800 today), with a face made of spruce, the back of cedar, and a sycamore fingerboard. According to the Gazette, Gibson’s guitar “surpasses anything seen in this city… an expert piece of workmanship.” But the best was yet to come.

“In the past year and a half or two years the mandolin has become very popular here, and its popularity shows no signs of diminishing. The demand for mandolins comes from all over the country, and it is so great that wholesale dealers in musical instruments are not always able to keep up with it promptly. It is said that we make in this country mandolins better than the imported, and the same is said of American guitars.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, October 3, 1894

Mandolin Madness

Mandolins had been around since the 17th and 18th centuries, but during the late 1880s the instrument’s popularity grew dramatically. Kalamazoo folks relished the sound of string ensembles and flocked to performances by a myriad of local mandolin soloists, duos, ensembles, quartets, clubs and orchestras. It was then that Madame Jannasch Shortt began offering instruction in mandolin, violin, guitar, banjo and other instruments at her Music Institute, and each year she featured her finest students—including her own mandolin, banjo and guitar club—in gala public recitals at the Academy of Music. Women from the Michigan Female Seminary organized their own mandolin quartet around that time, as well, as did students at Kalamazoo College.

During the 1890s and beyond, others followed. Clarence Waldo organized the Kalamazoo Mandolin Club (Mr. & Mrs. Waldo, Mr. & Mrs. V.L. Palmer, Mr. & Mrs. F.B. Orcutt, Florence and Bessie Barnard, et al.), while the Smith family (Veda, Mamie, Jessie, and Nora) formed the Ladies’ Mandolin Club of Kalamazoo. The Kalamazoo Club sponsored its own mandolin ensemble (Morris J. Bristol, Arthur Taylor, Wing Agnew, Ray Wilder, Will Sidnam, Elmer Gates), and Ms. Clarabelle Waldo led teams of talented young students in the Carnation Mandolin Club (Bernice Wood, Ethel Gibson, Cecil Miller, Nellie Gibson) and the Brownie Mandolin Club (Letha Hannon, Lulu Hart, Bernice Wood, Stella Fuller).

“Sam Hannon has bought the $50 mandolin made by O.H. Gibson and presented it to his granddaughter, Miss Letha Hannon.”

— Kalamazoo Gazette, May 1, 1896

Clearly inspired by the instrument’s sudden surge in popularity, Gibson organized and performed with several mandolin ensembles of his own, including the Troubadour Mandolin Club (O.H. Gibson, Bert Waldo, Frank Flynn, S.L. Carpenter), the Orpheus Mandolin Club (O.H. Gibson, James W. Kelley, Rowland N. Knight, Clarence D. Waldo, Charles W. Watkey, J. Walter McLouth, V.T. Palmer, Frank Taylor, Louis W. Miller, George Cornell, Dorr E. Wood), and the “Jolly Young Men’s Unanimous Club,” better known as the J.Y.M.U.C. Mandolin Club (O.H. Gibson, Albert L. Waldo, Frank Flynn, Leon N. Jones, Ernest D. Evers, Fred S. Parsons, Justin B. Keyes, Judson Hodgkins, Fred Havens, S.L. Carpenter, Harry Leland, Harry Pierce, Frank Hitchcock, Harold Warwick, Roy Johnston). In addition to the ensemble performances, stage programs and social gatherings often featured mandolin soloists like Goddie Rosenbaum, Frank Flynn, Albert L. Waldo, J. Walter McLouth, and of course O.H. Gibson.

Over the years, Orville Gibson performed with many other local musicians. In November 1892, he formed the “Cleveland and Stevenson Octet” (Gibson, McHugh, Cornell, Carpenter, Binkhorst, Cornell, Buckley, Engen) for a Democratic campaign rally in support of presidential hopeful Grover Cleveland and running mate Adlai Stevenson. A thousand supporters attended the afternoon rally at the Academy of Music, and twice that many were on hand for the feature event that evening. Gibson sang a lengthy piece with the octet called “For He Is A Democrat,” which was encored with a song called “For Cleveland.” Gibson joined in a vocal rendition of “America” to close the evening’s performance.

“The music furnished by the Orpheus Mandolin club was fine and up to date adding much to the enjoyment of those present.”

— Kalamazoo Gazette, March 17, 1895

In August 1893, J.Walter McLouth arrived in Kalamazoo from Jackson to lead the city’s Grand Opera House Orchestra. Soon after McLouth began to experiment with the idea of forming a mandolin orchestra; not simply an ensemble, mind you, but a full string orchestra with different voiced instruments—soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Although he had no difficulty enlisting capable local musicians, McLouth did have trouble securing the specialized instruments needed to fulfill his unique musical vision. While performing with the Orpheus Mandolin Club in 1894, McLouth presented his mandolin orchestra idea to O.H. Gibson and subsequently placed an order for a selection of mandolins and guitars, including a ten-string lute, a mandola (tenor mandolin) and an “oboe” (soprano) mandolin. Gibson immediately went to work and by the summer of 1895 the instruments had been completed and McLouth’s Ideal Mandolin Orchestra (J.W. McLouth, Dorr E. Wood, Louis Miller, Rowland Knight, William Tyler, B.E. Willard) began a series of distinctive public performances.

“O.H. Gibson has just completed a handsome mandolin which took him six weeks to make.”

— Kalamazoo Gazette, August 7, 1895

“Gibson mandolin is a world beater”

O.H. Gibson’s patent, No.598,245. US Patent Office.

During 1895 Gibson abruptly changed course. For the most part he stopped performing and devoted the majority of his time to designing, making and selling musical instruments. In May he applied for a patent on his unique mandolin design, which according to the description “specifically related to the construction of the body, neck, and head of such instruments.” The following year he moved to the second floor of 114 South Burdick Street (now 128 S Kalamazoo Mall) above the Cowling, Cable & Lee shoe store. He established a small workshop there and began listing his occupation as a “manufacturer of musical instruments.”

Gibson was proud of his craft, but the work was evidently beginning to take its toll. He was reportedly “quite ill” (Gazette) in January 1897, but had clearly bounced back by March when he advertised that his “Gibson mandolin is a world beater. O.H. Gibson’s mandolins lead them all,” he proclaimed, “Gibson mandolins made at 114 Burdick.”

Patent Pending

In July 1897, Gibson announced through his Kalamazoo attorney L.C. West that a patent had been allowed on his mandolin design. Gibson’s patent #598,245 called for the sounding board and back to be “carved in a somewhat convex form,” which was noticeably different than the cheaper flat instruments of the day, with a “hollowedout portion of the neck beneath the finger-board,” also unique. Where stringed instruments were typically made by gluing multiple pieces of wood together, Gibson’s patent specified that his instruments would be “composed of only three parts peculiarly constructed and having the desired quality of vibratory and resonant characteristics.” Carving instruments in such a way took a great deal of time, but it’s a feature that made Gibson’s instruments unique and highly desirable.

In October 1897, Kalamazoo merchants hosted a large “Free Street Fair,” which drew enormous crowds to the downtown business district. Store owners decorated their buildings and displayed their finest wares. Orville Gibson’s Burdick Street workshop was just a few doors south of Main Street in the very center of the action, to which the Gazette responded, “O.H. Gibson mandolins and guitars acknowledged by the best experts in the United States, as superior to all others, are attracting as much attention as any exhibit at the fair.”

Gibson’s patent was finally approved and dated February 1, 1898. He remained at the South Burdick Street location for roughly three years before moving to larger quarters around the corner on East Main in 1899.

Sanborn Insurance Maps
O.H. Gibson’s workshops and residence: 114 S Burdick Street c.1896 (left), 104 E. Main c.1899 (center), and first Gibson Company offices at 114 E. Main (top right) and factory (bottom right) in the rear of the Witwer Bakery (Exchange Place) c.1902. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Sanborn Map Company, 1896 (left). 1902 (right). Library of Congress.

“Superior to all others”

As Gibson kept working and refining his skills, the accolades began to pour in. The newspaper in Gibson’s old hometown of Malone, New York, credited him as “a musician and genius of exceptional quality.” According to the Kalamazoo Gazette Gibson was “constantly in receipt of letters and congratulatory remarks from musicians who know and appreciate his fine instruments.” In 1898 Gibson entered a 12-string harp guitar in a Rochester, New York, competition, where it was judged “superior to an 18-string Harwood valued at $160, and to a 12-string Washburn and a 12-string Bowman valued at $125 and $100 respectively” (Telegraph). The Parisian Academy of Inventors awarded him an honorary membership and a gold medal for his accomplishments.

Gibson worked feverishly over the next year or so making musical instruments, but kept himself in good humor by performing with various groups of vocalists and instrumentalists from time to time. In January 1901 Gibson formed a new musical club “made up of singers and string instrument players, all of Kalamazoo, for the sole purpose of amusing themselves” (Gazette). The group met and rehearsed in Gibson’s East Main Street studio and spent summer evenings serenading through the city streets and residential neighborhoods, just as a younger O.H. Gibson had done two decades earlier.

Gibson stepped back into his performing past once again that same month and paid tribute to his former military mates at the Michigan National Guard’s annual ball. Backed by Gardie Simons’ twelve-piece orchestra, Gibson performed vocal interpretations of the “Dream of Heaven” waltz by Arthur Bauer and “Colonel Blue from Kalamazoo,” the humorous “great military character song” by Charles Blake. The performers were called back for “repeated encores” (Gazette).

Gibson’s Famous Harp Guitar

In the spring of 1901 Gibson began work on one of his most challenging and important projects to date, an elaborate 18-string harp guitar for renowned Italian guitarist, Joseph Bistolfi. Bistolfi was touring the United States with a New York mandolin player named Louis Colombo—both said to be “artists of the highest standard and thorough masters of their respective instruments” (Gazette). The musicians had performed in Kalamazoo the previous November and placed their orders with Gibson at that time.

“O.H. Gibson has outdone himself in the manufacture of a harp-guitar for Prof. Bastolfi of New York.”

Kalamazoo Telegraph, June 7, 1901

Harp guitar made by O.H. Gibson, c.1900. The Gibson Story by Julius Bellson (Local History Room)

Gibson did not invent the harp guitar. The instrument had been around since the 1700s in various forms, but one could easily argue that Gibson took the style to an elegant new level. The instrument he made for Bistolfi was the eighth such harp guitar that Gibson had designed, but according to the Gazette, none were “so pretentious as this.” The body of the instrument was made of dark Brazilian walnut and the top of fine-grained Western red cedar from the Pacific Northwest with a lustrous hand rubbed ebony finish. According to Gibson musicologist Louis Bellson, Orville used only varnish on his instruments, never stain, which allowed the rich color and grain of the natural wood to shine through. The fingerboard and sound hole were both elaborately inlaid with mother-of-pearl, specially made for Gibson by a Turkish manufacturer in Grand Rapids.

The six bottom strings were configured like those on a standard guitar, while the top twelve strings were configured like those of a harp, giving the instrument a uniquely rich sound. Gibson valued the instrument at $150, roughly equal to $4,800 in today’s currency. After a full month of continuous work Gibson completed Bistolfi’s elaborate harp guitar in June 1901 and proudly displayed it in front of his Main Street shop. Bistolfi was thrilled with the results and lauded Gibson as “the peerless maker of musical Instruments whose work is beyond compare and distinctly his own conception, thus blending the highest achievement of acoustic and artistic results” (Telegraph).

As one might expect Gibson was “swamped with orders” (Gazette) and by 1902 he was having difficulty keeping up. He had been in full scale instrument production for a few years by this time and as word of Gibson’s fine craftsmanship, spread the demand for his products grew. According to Bellson, a firm in Boston once requested particulars for an order of 500 mandolins, to which Gibson “in his characteristic way” replied that the instruments would cost $100 each and the company could expect delivery in 500 years. What began as a simple hobby had turned into a booming business, and Orville needed help.

The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co.

Harp guitar Style ‘U’ from the 1903 Gibson catalog. Local History Room.

The pressure on Gibson to produce had become unbearable. Seeing an opportunity, a group of local businessmen developed a plan to form a new manufacturing firm based on Orville’s designs. The group met with Gibson and on Saturday, October 11, 1902, they filed articles of incorporation for the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company Limited with initial capitalization of $12,000—twelve hundred shares valued at $10 each.

Orville Gibson’s exact level of involvement with the new company remains somewhat unclear, but he did receive “a substantial royalty on all the instruments” (Malone Farmer) based on his patented design. According to Bellson, O.H. Gibson received a lump sum payment (perhaps as much as $10,000, according to one newspaper at the time), with monthly payments thereafter.

Gibson agreed to spend two years with the company, training workers and “to impart his knowledge of grading, tuning, and designing the entire construction of said musical instruments.” (Bellson). The company would also be allowed to use the “Gibson” name on its products. Musician and music dealer Sylvo Reams became the company secretary, Judge John W. Adams was chairman, and Kalamazoo attorney Samuel H. Van Horn assumed the duties of treasurer, with Louis Williams and LeRoy Hornbeck rounding out the board of directors. New craftsmen were sought and hired as they could be found, but with a careful eye toward quality, they realized that locating workers with the right experience would take time. It was expected, however, that the new company would be up and running within a few weeks.

Afro-American Journal and Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1894. Courtesy, WMU Archives and Regional History Collections.

114 East Main Street (1902-1906)

The Gibson factory and offices were initially located in the rear of Benjamin Witwer’s bakery at 114 East Main Street, just a few doors east of Orville Gibson’s residence and workshop. Machinery was ordered with plans to begin operation by Thursday, December 11, 1902. The first objective would be to fill the existing backlog of orders and hopefully place a few products on the market in time for Christmas. Once the current demand could be met, full production would begin, making Gibson mandolins, guitars and violins available to the wholesale market.

Location of Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Co. factory c.1902 (former Witwer Baking Co.), A&B Exchange Place: Building ‘A’ (foreground): Body Work (1st floor), Finishing (2nd floor). Building ‘B’ (left): Lumber & Sawing (1st floor), Wiring & Varnishing (2nd floor). Local History Room

Orville evidently had difficulty transitioning to the new working arrangement, and his health began to deteriorate. As the new Gibson company ramped up production and made plans to display some of its best creations at the upcoming World’s Fair in St. Louis, Orville retreated to his own workshop. He completed work a new violin he had been making for an important client, and then traveled east to spend a few weeks with his brother Ozro in Malone.

“Miss Maggie Gibson, of Kalamazoo, Mich., is in town, visiting at the home of her cousin, O.M. Gibson, and with other friends in this vicinity. This is Miss Gibson’s first visit East and she is enjoying the trip.”

Malone Farmer, August 19, 1903

The Family Gibson

Exactly what brought Lovell Gibson (and later Orville) to West Michigan in the first place isn’t exactly clear, but it may have been family. The Gibsons were a close-knit bunch and they seemed to stay in touch, no matter how scattered the family became. While the Gibson surname is common, evidence does suggest that Orville and his brother were likely related to at least one other household by that name in the Kalamazoo area.

By 1850 a farmer named William Gibson had moved from the New England area to Michigan, and was living in Barry County with his wife, Mary Lee Gibson, and their seven children. Their oldest son, Cyrus Gibson, later married Margaret Doonan in 1871 and moved to the city of Kalamazoo around 1890 with their youngest daughter, Margaret M. “Maggie” Gibson. A firm connection between the two families has yet to be established, but Maggie and Orville were evidently cousins.

Gibson residence: 414 E Lovell Street c.1908. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1908. Library of Congress.

After Cyrus Gibson and his wife divorced in 1900, Maggie and her father moved to 414 East Lovell Street, just west of Portage Road. Orville visited the family there on occasion and spent a fair amount of time with Maggie, who seemed to look after Orville, especially after his health began to decline. Maggie often accompanied Orville as the two traveled to visit friends and relatives in New York, Chicago and Grand Rapids. In return Orville and other “members of the musical coterie of Kalamazoo’s society” (Gazette) entertained Maggie and her friends with music and, on at least one occasion, costumes.

After the new Gibson company was formed and Orville began to face challenges with his health, he gave up his place on East Main in 1904 and started rooming with Maggie and her dad at their home on East Lovell Street. Orville remained with them at that address for the balance of his time in Kalamazoo.

Orville Gibson’s workshop, c.1904. Note the beginnings of a violin on the wall. Photo: The Gibson Story by Julius Bellson (Local History Room).

For the following year or two the Gibson company continued to focus on producing mandolins and guitars for the general public, while Orville found his niche crafting violins for certain clients. His friend J. Walter McLouth loudly applauded Orville’s new violin, calling it “a revolution in the art of violin making.” In a letter to Gibson, his friend wrote, “I never heard such volume, quality and purity of tone. Its pensive velvety legato; its clear bird-like harmonics; the mellow vox stumana of its bass strings; the flute like sweetness of its third, together with its equality of tone balance, and ringing brilliance through its upper register, places it beyond the power of words to describe. Where others stagger and limp, this violin springs to the front without an effort” (Telegraph).

In mid-1905 Gibson made a violin for another local musician and friend, George Newell. Then director of the much celebrated 137-member Kalamazoo Boys Band and soon-to-be leader of the Academy of Music Orchestra, Newell said, “I have tried several violins made by the old masters, some of them worth several thousands of dollars, and in my opinion, the instrument which Mr. Gibson has just made me is better than any of these” (Telegraph).

“O.H. Gibson has begun the manufacture of a violin for Marian, the younger daughter of Mr. and Mrs. C.B. Hays. It will be a handsome instrument.”

Kalamazoo Telegraph, July 27, 1905

“Old Wood”

Gibson mandolin label, c.1906. Courtesy, Dave Sutherland.

Orville used whatever materials he could find, but according to Gibson the secret for crafting fine instruments was “old wood.” He often used well-seasoned old furniture wood for his craft and occasionally worked through a dealer in New York who specialized in vintage wood for instrument making. For one of his violins Gibson used wood from the Old City Hall in Boston, which had stood for some five decades before it was torn down and replaced after the Civil War. For another he used “spar wood from an old sailing vessel said to date back more than a century” (Gazette). He once crafted a violin using old walnut woodwork removed from a building that stood for decades on Main Street in Kalamazoo, and for yet another he used wood from the old town hall in his hometown of Malone, New York, a building which reportedly stood in that town for more than 90 years.

Despite receiving “an excellent offer” (Telegraph) from a manufacturing firm in Detroit Orville chose to stay in Kalamazoo, but the mounting pressure of being associated with the growing Gibson firm seemed to be more than the craftsman could bear. In 1905 Gibson retired from the instrument company and in September Maggie and Orville made a trip to Chicago to spend time with friends and seemingly contemplate the future.

O.H. Gibson Retires

From 1896 through 1905 Orville Gibson listed his occupation as a “manufacturer of musical instruments.” In 1906 that was changed to “inventor” and in 1909 Gibson’s occupation changed again to “music teacher,” although the extent of the latter is uncertain.

Gibson’s health took a turn for the worse in August 1908 when he became ill with stomach issues and was placed under a doctor’s care. In June the following year Gibson evidently suffered a nervous breakdown. He was placed in the county jail for being violent and “brooding over imaginary troubles” (Gazette) while his relatives in New York were contacted. After a few weeks of confinement, he was found “incompetent” by the court in July, and William R. Fox was appointed Gibson’s guardian.

In August 1909 Orville sold his Stanley Steamer and moved to New York, where he spent a few weeks in Malone with his brother, Ozro. As his health began to improve, Orville moved to Saranac Lake near Lake Placid to be with his niece, Minnie Drury (sister Emma’s daughter), and her family.

Second Gibson factory location on Exchange Place. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Sanborn Map Company, 1908. Library of Congress.

Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company Grows

A&B Exchange Place (1906-1911)

Meanwhile, the Gibson Company continued to grow… rapidly. In 1904 Sylvo Reams left his brother’s music store business to devote his time fully to the Gibson Company as superintendent. In 1906 the company was restructured and became known as the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company, and capital stock was increased to $40,000. By then the company had outgrown its tiny space on East Main Street so a pair of brick buildings (A & B) directly behind the Main Street shop were leased on the alley known as Exchange Place. The company remained at that location for five years, but it soon outgrew the space and plans were made for a necessary expansion.

521 Harrison Alley (1911-1917)

In July 1909 the Gibson firm awarded a construction contract to Thomas Foy for new factory building to be located north of Kalamazoo Avenue on East Harrison Alley (Harrison Ct. today). The building was to be 55 feet wide, 125 feet deep, and two stories high with plenty of space for the firm to grow. Company officers at the time were John W. Adams, president; Carl G. Kleinstuck, vice president; Samuel Van Horn, treasurer; Sylvo Reams, secretary and manager; George D. Lauraine, superintendent, with directors Leroy Hornbeck, A.U. Campbell, George Broesamle and F.A. Stewart. Plans were to have the new building ready by October. Following several construction delays, the new building at 521 East Harrison Alley was finally ready to occupy come November.

Third Gibson factory location on Harrison Alley. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Sanborn Map Company, Vol. 2, 1932. Library of Congress.

Gibson Company workshop, 521 East Harrison Ct., 1911. From The Gibson Story by Julius Bellson (Local History Room)

225 Parsons Street (1917-1984)

By 1912 the Gibson company was employing some 60 workers and was doing more than $75,000 a year in business (more than $1.9 million in today’s currency). Despite its best laid plans, the company had within a short time completely outgrown the facility on Harrison Alley and was once again looking to expand. A large new tract of land on Parsons Street was purchased in April 1912 and plans began to move forward for a new four-story 30,000 square foot $26,000 facility.

It took a bit longer than expected—a few years longer, in fact—but after several design changes, work on the company’s (now) three-story $75,000 building was finally completed in mid-1917. Once opened, the company expected to nearly double its workforce by employing between 75 and 100 workers. After Gibson moved the old building on Harrison Alley stood under varied use at least through the 1970s but has since been razed.

The building on Parsons Street (along with subsequent additional construction) saw the company through its glory years, where more than 1,000 workers were employed, making upwards of 1,000 guitars each day—something Orville likely never imagined. After nearly eight decades in Kalamazoo, the company moved its headquarters to Nashville in 1981 and ultimately closed the Kalamazoo plant in 1984. Learn more about Gibson, Inc.

Gibson Inc., Kalamazoo, 1941. 225 Parsons Street. Kalamazoo Public Library photo P-27

Orville Gibson’s Final Years

As his health continued to improve, Orville visited Kalamazoo at least twice after his retirement. His first trip back was in August 1912 when he spent a few weeks with friends in Kalamazoo, South Haven, Grand Rapids and Chicago. Whether he stopped by the Gibson plant on Harrison Alley during his stay is unknown, but he was apparently quite impressed with how much Kalamazoo had grown in the three short years since his departure. “Kalamazoo will be the second city in Michigan in a few years,” he told a reporter.

After 1912 Orville Gibson returned to Malone, where he made “several beautiful instruments by hand, exquisitely inlaid and ornamented which were greatly admired by all who saw them” (Malone Farmer). According to the Malone newspaper, Orville made a second trip to Kalamazoo in April 1915 on his way to the Panama–Pacific International Exposition (1915 World’s Fair) in San Francisco, where he planned “to exhibit musical instruments of his manufacture” (Malone Farmer). Few in Kalamazoo seemed to notice, as there was no word of his visit in the Kalamazoo papers.

Orville’s health continued to decline and in early 1918 he was taken ill and admitted to the A. Barton Hepburn Hospital in Ogdensburg, New York. After five months of treatment, Orville Gibson passed away on August 19, 1918, at the age of 62. Sadly, Orville Gibson never got to see the company he created become a world leader in the musical instrument industry, although his influence carried on for decades. Orville’s outward zeal for uniqueness and quality permeated the culture of the Gibson Guitar Corporation, and helped make Kalamazoo the true “Home of Guitars.”

Continuing Research

Like many of our Local History essays, this article is by no means a definitive study. To make this narrative as historically accurate as possible, only primary sources such as newspaper articles published during O.H. Gibson’s lifetime, census records, maps, etc., were used, with the exception of Louis Bellson’s The Gibson Story, published in 1973. If you have new information, corrections, photos, or items you’d like to share, please contact the author or the Local History Room.

Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, June 2019.



The Gibson Story

Bellson, Julius. 1983.
Local History Room Orange Dot File


“Jottings. There was a double wedding…”

Kalamazoo Telegraph. 16 February 1875, p.4, col.2.

“The Concert Last Night.”

Kalamazoo Telegraph. 6 April 1876, p.4, col.3.

“The Roster of Co. C.”

Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph. 10 August 1876, p.4, col.3.

“Locals. We are indebted…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 September 1876, p.4, col.1.

“K.L.G. – Special Order No. 7.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 October 1878, p.6, col.2.

“The following is the score…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 October 1878, p.4, col.2.

“The following is the result…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 7 May 1879, p.4, col.2.

“The Target Shoot”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 4 June 1879, p.4, col.2.

“Michigan State Troops.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 June 1879, p.4, col.3.

“Go For ’Em!”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 November 1880, p.1, col.4.

“Mr. O.H. Gibson,…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 27 October 1885, p.3, col.2.

“For Sale”

Malone Palladium (Malone, New York). 24 February 1887, p.3, col.5.

“The guitar quartett,…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 17 April 1887, p.2, col.4.

“Personal. Mr. Orville Gibson…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 September 1887, p.4, col.1.

“O.M. Gibson.”

Malone Palladium (Malone, New York). 1 December 1887, p.1, col.1.

“Blacked For Charity”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 29 January 1889, p.4, col.2.

“Will Be Repeated”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 September 1889, p.3, col.5.

“About the time…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 3 November 1889, p.6, col.3.


Kalamazoo Gazette. 7 November 1889, p.5, col.2.

“About the time…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 8 November 1889, p.2, col.4.


Kalamazoo Gazette. 9 November 1889, p.1, col.3.

“Music and Drama”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 November 1889, p.4, col.6.


Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 January 1890, p.1, col.4.

“The Drama”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 9 February 1890, p.1, col.5.

“Charity Minstrels”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 February 1890, p.1, col.3.


Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 February 1890, p.1, col.2.

“The receipts of the Charity minstrels…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 February 1890, p.3, col.1.

“The Smith Family”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 April 1891, p.1, col.2.

“Orville Gibson has just completed…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 August 1891, p.5, col.1.

“Mr. O.H. Gibson…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 18 August 1891, p.5, col.2.

“O.H. Gibson…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 4 December 1891, p.5, col.1.

“Butters’ Restaurant”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 30 August 1892, p.6, col.2.

“A number of local singers”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 September 1892, p.7, col.1.


Kalamazoo Gazette. 12 October 1892, p.1, col.4.

“The Prize Song”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 November 1892, p.1, col.3.

“Mr Orinville Gibson…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 27 November 1892, p.5, col.3.

“Singers All”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 December 1892, p.8, col.1.

“The first rehearsal…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 29 December 1892, p.5, col.1.

“The Minstrels”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 January 1893, p.1, col.2.

“There Was Nothing In It”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 12 January 1893, p.1, col.2.


Kalamazoo Gazette. 24 February 1893, p.1, col.2.

“Musical Minstrels”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 26 February 1893, p.1, col.4.

“Music and Jokes”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 February 1893, p.4, col.3.

“Last Friday night…”

Kalamazoo Telegraph. 9 March 1893, p.4, col.3.

“The Courts”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 March 1893, p.4, col.3.

“The one-sided account…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 March 1893, p.5, col.1.

“A Syd Hays says…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 11 March 1893, p.5, col.1.

“A Correction,…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 12 March 1893, p.4, col.3.

“Methodist Musical”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 30 March 1893, p.1, col.4.

“Tonight At Lake View”

Kalamazoo Telegraph. 17 August 1893, p.1, col.5.

“Entertainment At Lake View Park This Evening”

Kalamazoo Telegraph. 17 August 1893, p.1, col.7.

“The J.Y.M.U.C’S.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 October 1893, p.1, col.1.

“In New Quarters.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 October 1893, p.1, col.2.

“Complementary Concert.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 November 1893, p.1, col.4.

“Entertainment No. 2.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 5 November 1893, p.1, col.4.

“On Friday evening…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 November 1893, p.5, col.1.

“The Program.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 November 1893, p.4, col.3.

“A Grand Success.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 7 December 1893, p.1, col.2.

“The Elk’s Benefit.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 30 December 1893, p.1, col.4.

“Regular Monday Evening”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 31 December 1893, p.1, col.1.


Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 February 1894, p.8, col.3.

“Elk’s Benefit”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 February 1894, p.1, col.1.

“The Michigan Seminary quintet…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 February 1894, p.5, col.1.

“An Excellent Concert”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 22 February 1894, p.1. col.2.

“The Mandolin club plays…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 March 1894, p.6, col.1.

“Knights Templar.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 3 March 1894, p.1, col.1.

“A Crowded House”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 7 April 1894, p.1, col.4.

“The Grand Council”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 April 1894, p.1, col.4.

“Royal Arcanum”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 18 April 1894, p.1, col.1.

“Musical Entertainment”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 May 1894, p.1, col.2.

“Young Women’s Christian Association Benefit”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 September 1894, p.1, col.2.

“The Peak Sisters”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 September 1894, p.1, col.4.


Kalamazoo Gazette. 3 October 1894, p.8, col.2.

“Opening Program”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 24 October 1894, p.1, col.2.

“Burr Oak Banquet”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 25 October 1894, p.1, col.1.

“An Enjoyable Musical”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 5 December 1894, p.5, col.3.

“First Gathering”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 December 1894, p.1, col.1.

“In Fellowship”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 December 1894, p.1, col.1.

“In Society”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 4 January 1895, p.1, col.2.

“In Society”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 11 January 1895, p.8, col.3.

“Will Entertain Ladies”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 January 1895, p.1, col.4.

“Bonson’s Minstrels”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 February 1895, p.4, col.2.

“Large Reception”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 8 February 1895, p.6, col.1.

“The Lincoln Club”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 February 1895, p.1, col.1.

“Exposition Program”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 February 1895, p.6, col.4.

“Annual Washington Banquet.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 February 1895, p.1, col.3.

“In Miss Peck’s Honor.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 February 1895, p.4, col.4.

“The Lincoln Club.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 February 1895, p.1, col.1.

“To Open Today”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 February 1895, p.5, col.3.

“The Exposition”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 February 1895, p.1, col.1.

“The Orpheus Mandolin club…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 February 1895, p.8, col.4.

“The Exposition”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 21 February 1895, p.6, col.1.

“The Expo Thronged”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 23 February 1895, p.5, col.2.

“At The G.A.R. Fair.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 24 February 1895, p.5, col.3.

“The Passion Play”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 March 1895, p.2, col.2.

“A Grand Success”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 17 March 1895, p.5, col.3.

“The Passion Play”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 22 March 1895, p.5, col.4.

“The Orpheus Mandolin club…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 23 March 1895, p.5, col.1.

“Mr. and Mrs. C.D. Waldo…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 July 1895, p.5, col.1.

“O.H. Gibson has just completed…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 9 August 1895, p.9, col.1.

“Sam Hannon has bought…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 25 April 1896, p.5, col.2.

“Frank Lawson, Maurice Cohn,…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 22 July 1896, p.5, col.2.

“O.H. Gibson is quite ill…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 January 1897, p.5, col.1.

“Gibson mandolin is a world beater.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 21 March 1897, p.6, col.1.

“O.H. Gibson’s mandolins lead them all.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 21 March 1897, p.6, col.1.

“Gibson mandolins made at 114 Burdick.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 21 March 1897, p.6, col.2.

“Orville Gibson has just been allowed…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 17 July 1897, p.5, col.2.

“The O.H. Gibson mandolins and guitars…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 October 1897, p.5, col.1.

“Orville H. Gibson, Kalamazoo, has been granted…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 3 February 1898, p.5, col.1.

“O.H. Gibson (a brother of O.M. Gibson…”

Malone Palladium (Malone, New York). 10 March 1898, p.3, col.2.

“Gets A Gold Medal.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 April 1900, p.4, col.5.

“O.H. Gibson, of Kalamazoo, Mich., formerly of Malone…”

Malone Palladium (Malone, New York). 26 April 1900, p.3, col.3.

“Charming Serenade.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 24 November 1900, p.5, col.2.

“O.H. Gibson, of Kalamazoo, Mich.,…”

Malone Palladium (Malone, New York). 3 January 1901, p.2, col.8.

“New Musical Club.”

Kalamazoo Gazette-News. 16 January 1901, p.7, col.4.

“The Brave And The Fair.”

Kalamazoo Gazette-News. 17 January 1901, p.5, col.2.

“Sunday Evening Concerts”

Kalamazoo Gazette-News. 24 January 1901, p.2, col.2.

“Wonderful Instrument”

Kalamazoo Gazette-News. 7 June 1901, p.1, col.5.

“Still Another New Industry”

Kalamazoo Gazette-News. 12 October 1902, p.2, col.1.

“The Gibson Mandolin and Guitar Manufacturing company…”

Kalamazoo Gazette-News. 7 November 1902, p.7, col.3.

“New Factory To Start.”

Kalamazoo Gazette-News. 7 December 1902, p.4, col.4.

“Members of the musical coterie of Kalamazoo’s society…”

Kalamazoo Gazette-News. 15 February 1903, p.2, col.4.

“O.H. Gibson, of Kalamazoo, Mich.,…”

Malone Farmer (Malone, New York). 12 August 1903, p.5, col.2.

“Miss Maggie Gibson…”

Malone Palladium (Malone, New York). 19 August 1903, p.4, col.2.

“Miss Maggie Gibson…”

Malone Palladium (Malone, New York). 20 August 1903, p.2, col.3.

“Display At The Fair.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 25 May 1904, p.2, col.2.

“Roy C. Hastings is visiting his uncle…”

Malone Palladium (Malone, New York). 1 October 1904, p.3, col.8.

“Roy C. Hastings of Malone, N.Y., is visiting his uncle…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 26 November 1904, p.5, col.2.

“Roy C. Hastings is visiting his uncle…”

Malone Farmer (Malone, New York). 30 November 1904, p.1, col.7.

“How Kalamazoo is Growing…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 December 1904, p.6, col.1.

“Partnership Ceases”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 December 1904, p.1, col.5.

“O.H. Gibson”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 21 June 1905, p.8, col.2.

“Used Spar of Old Ship”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 8 July 1905, p.2, col.2.

“Miss Maggie Gibson and O.H. Gibson…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 September 1905, p.6, col.3.

“Kalamazoo Makes the Finest Mandolins and Guitars in the World”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 January 1906, p.2, col.5.

“Walter A. Boehm”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 11 February 1906, p.10, col.1.

“O.H. Gibson, of Kalamazoo, Mich,…”

Malone Farmer (Malone, New York). 14 February 1906, p.5, col.2.

“Praise For Gibson”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 March 1906, Part Two, p.1, col.4.

“O.H. Gibson has been ill for the past ten days…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 August 1908, p.8, col.3.

“Real Estate Transfers.”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 30 April 1909, p.8, col.1.

“Inventor Goes Insane.”

Bay City Times Tribune (Bay City, Michigan). 16 June 1909, p.5, col.2.

“Suffers Mental Collapse.”

The Flint Daily Journal (Flint, Michigan). 16 June 1909, p.5, col.4.

“Inventor Gibson Believed Insane”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 June 1909, p.3, col.4.

“Inventor’s Sanity Questioned”

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan). 16 June 1909, p.5, col.2.

“Orville H. Gibson, well known inventor…”

The Flint Daily Journal (Flint, Michigan). 17 June 1909, p.5, col.2.

“Probate Court”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 July 1909, p.3, col.6.

“Probate Court”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 7 July 1909, p.7, col.2.

“Contract for Mandolin Factory”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 18 July 1909, p.12, col.2.

“Probate Court”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 July 1909, p.4, col.3.

“Probate Court”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 21 July 1909, p.7, col.6.

“City Improvements”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 3 August 1909, p.3, col.2.

“Probate Court”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 21 August 1909, p.3, col.2.

“Officers Elected”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 September 1909, p.10, col.4.

“O.H. Gibson, of Kalamazoo, Mich.,…”

Malone Farmer (Malone, New York). 29 September 1909, p.5, col.2.

“Out Of Old Plant, Can’t Get In New”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 26 October 1909, p.10, col.2.

“Arcadia Creek As Sewer”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 November 1909, p.6, col.6.

“Probate Court”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 7 August 1910, p.5, col.4.

“Fuller—In Malone…”

Malone Farmer (Malone, New York). 9 August 1911, p.4, col.2.

“Enlarged Factory Will Be Erected By Gibson Company”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 7 April 1912, p.1, col.4.

“Real Estate Transfers”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 7 April 1912, p.2, col.2.

“Expend Over $3,500,000 In New Buildings This Year”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 June 1912, p.11, col.1.

“Probate Records”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 3 August 1912, p.4, col.5.

“Probate Records”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 4 August 1912, p.6, col.4.

“A.C. Gilbert[sic], the former well known Kalamazoo business man…”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 August 1912, p.10, col.4.

“Gibson Sees Kazoo State’s Second City”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 9 August 1912, p.6, col.1.

“The Factories of Kalamazoo Are All Mentioned Here”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 26 October 1913, p.22, col.4.

“O.H. Gibson has gone to Kalamazoo, Mich.,…”

Malone Farmer (Malone, New York). 14 April 1915, p.2, col.4.

“J.Y.M.U.C. To Meet After Many Years”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 11 December 1915, p.1, col.5.

“Gibson Co. To Erect Building”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 May 1916, p.3, col.3.

“Bids To Be Asked On Gibson Factory”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 July 1916, p.11, col.3.

“Gibson Contract Will Be Awarded”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 9 July 1916, p.5, col. 3.

“Sylvo Reams, Aged 50, Dies”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 5 January 1917, p.1, col.7.

“Gibson Offices In New Plant”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 July 1917, p.11, col.6.

“Deaths. Gibson – At Ogdensburg”

Malone Farmer (Malone, New York). 21 August 1918, p.4, col.5.

“Obituary Notes. O.H. Gibson.”

Ogdensburg Republican Journal (Ogdensburg, New York). 21 August 1918, p.9, col.6.

“For Sale Or Rent”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 October 1918, p.23, col.2.

“Most Of Nation’s Mandolins, Guitars Made In Kalamazoo”

Ann Arbor News (Ann Arbor, Michigan). 1 July 1955, p.3, col.2.

“An era ends in Kalamazoo as Gibson guitar plant closes”

Ann Arbor News (Ann Arbor, Michigan). 29 June 1984, p.D4, col4.

Census Records

John W. Gibson household, 1850 United States Federal Census, Franklin County, New York
Census Place: ChateaugayFranklinNew York, page 229, dwelling 696, family 729
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

Joseph Morgan household, 1860 United States Federal Census, Kalamazoo CountyMichigan
Census Place: TexasKalamazooMichigan, page 141, dwelling 1023, family 1013
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

John W. Gibson household, 1860 United States Federal Census, Franklin County, New York
Census Place: ChateaugayFranklinNew York, page 229, dwelling 1679, family 1679
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

John W. Gibson household (absent), 1870 United States Federal Census, Franklin County, New York
Census Place: ChateaugayFranklinNew York, page 13, dwelling 86-95
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

Joseph Morgan household, 1870 United States Federal Census, Kalamazoo CountyMichigan
Census Place: TexasKalamazooMichigan, page 27, dwelling 213, family 214
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

Lovell J. Gibson and Hattie Morgan, Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952. Date: March 16, 1873, Oshtemo, Michigan
Michigan Department of Community Health, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, MI. Record No. 1853
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

Roswell Hastings household (Emma Gibson), 1875 New York, State Census, Franklin CountyNew York
Census Place: Constable, Franklin, New York, sheet 11, line 31, dwelling 95, family 95
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

Levi Merrill household (Ozro Gibson), 1875 New York, State Census, Franklin CountyNew York
Census Place: Malone, Franklin, New York, sheet 6, line 38, dwelling 41, family 46
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

Orville Gibson household, 1880 United States Federal Census, Kalamazoo CountyMichigan
Census Place: KalamazooKalamazooMichigan, 67 Burdick, page 50, dwelling 508, family 520
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

Orville Gibson household, 1900 United States Federal Census, Kalamazoo CountyMichigan
Census Place: KalamazooKalamazooMichigan, 104 S. Burdick St., page 8, dwelling 156, family 178
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

Nerton A. Durry (Merton A. Drury) household, 1910 United States Federal Census, Franklin CountyNew York
Census Place: Saranac Lake Village, Harrietstown, Franklin, New York, 24 Ampersand Ave., sheet 9B, dwelling 114, family 207
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

City Directory Listings

Gibson, Orville, salesman, bds 45 Lovell.
1876 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, O H, bds 31 Lovell, salesman
1881 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, clk, bds 203 w South
1883 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, bds 209 W Lovell, clerk A P Sprague
1885 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, clerk A P Sprague, rms Fuller Blk
1887 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, rooms 120 E Main, clerk A P Sprague
1889 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, rooms 214 W Main, clerk
1891 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, 209 W Lovell, clerk Butters restaurant
1893 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, clerk, 318 S. Burdick
1895 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, musical inst mnfr, 114 S. Burdick
1896, 1897 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, musical inst mnfr. The Gibson mandolin a specialty. off & room 104 E main, 2nd fl
1899 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, musical inst mnfr, 2d fl, 104 E Main, rms same
1901, 1902 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orlo[sic] H. musical instrmts, bds 414 E Lovell
1905 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H, inventor, bds 414 E Lovell
1906 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H. bds 414 E Lovell
1907, 1908 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Orville H. music teacher, boards 414 E Lovell
1909 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co, John W. Adams Pres, Sylvo Reams, Sec, Samuel H Van Horn Treas, Manufacturers of Mandolins, Guitars and Strings Instruments, 114 E Exchange pl. Tel 1985
1904, 1905, 1906 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Co, John W. Adams pres, Sylvo Reames, sec, Samuel H. VanHorn treas, 114 E Exchange pl
1907, 1908 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Co, John W. Adams pres, Sylvo Reames, sec, Samuel H. VanHorn treas, 114-116  E Exchange pl
1909 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Co, John W. Adams pres, Sylvo Reames, sec, Samuel H. VanHorn treas, 521 Harrison alley
1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Co, J W Adams pres, Lewis A Williams, sec + gen mgr, S H VanHorn, treas, 219-225 Parsons
1917, 1919 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Cyrus. lab, res 414 E Lovell
1905, 1906 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Cyrus. hostler, res 414 E Lovell
1907, 1908 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room

Gibson, Margaret M. boards 414 E Lovell.
1906, 1907, 1908 City Directory, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Local History Room


1858 Map of Franklin Co., New York : from actual surveys. Philadelphia : Taintor, Dawson & Co., publishrs, [1858].
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.
Call Number: G3803.F7 1858 .T3

1887 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Sanborn Map Company, Jul 1887.
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Sanborn Map Company, Oct 1891.
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Sanborn Map Company, Sep 1896.
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Sanborn Map Company, Apr 1902.
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Sanborn Map Company, 1908.
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

1932 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Sanborn Map Company, 1932; Republished 1958.
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

Local History Room Files

History Room Name File: Gibson, Orville H. 

History Room Subject File: Gibson Inc. 


United States Patent and Trademark Office
O.H. Gibson. Mandolin. (No Model). No. 598,245. Patented Feb. 1, 1898.

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