What is the benefit of a stringed instrument made of aluminum? It’s more durable than wood certainly (and saves trees!) A mandolin bowl can contain as much as 64 strips of wood, stress-bent per custom of traditional mandolin making. An aluminum bowl can be cast in one piece, saving time in manufacturing, and no doubt cost. Aluminum was the late 19th century’s “wonder material” in industry. First discovered in 1820, aluminum was considered rare and extremely expensive to extract from ore. An American patent for a cheap method of extracting aluminum was granted in 1886. That same year, instrument maker turned entrepreneur Neil Merrill began experimenting with making stringed instruments from aluminum. His instruments were actually hybrid wood and aluminum, the necks and tops made of spruce wood, the bodies aluminum, and were welded together rather than glued.
Merrill formed The Aluminum Musical Instrument Company in 1894, first located in Philadelphia, PA, then moving to New York City. It sold mandolins, guitars, banjos, and zithers made of aluminum. Although not a New England-based mandolin company, Merrill contracted the bodies for mandolins and guitars from the Hutchins Manufacturing Company of Springfield, MA.
The Hutchins Manufacturing Company was formed in 1896. Ten years before forming the company, Charles W. Hutchins, born in Greenfield, MA in 1860, made band instruments from aluminum, plus other non-musical items. Hutchins was granted a Canadian patent in 1897 for an aluminum mandolin, and a U.S. patent for an aluminum tailpiece and guard.
It was believed that Merrill, whose name graced the instruments sold from the Aluminum Musical Instrument Company, did not have his own factory but contracted manufacturing to others. While Hutchins provided the bodies, the necks and heads were provided by the Barrows Music Company of Saginaw, MI, and Erland Anderberg of Mount Vernon, NY. Merrill ran into trouble over non-payment of contract work. He was first sued by Barrows in 1896, for non-payment on an 1895 contract to put heads and necks on 500 instruments. In 1898, Anderberg entered attachment proceedings against the Aluminum Musical Company for similar complaints. The Aluminum Musical Instrument Company was sold at auction that year to pay off debts. Two years later, in 1900 a travelling piano salesman named Neil Merrill was sought by authorities for falsely advertising used pianos he was selling as new. It is uncertain if it was the same Neil Merrill of aluminum instrument fame.
In 1903, Hutchins Manufacturing Company merged with the Fletcher Aluminum Company as the Fletcher Novelty Aluminum Company for making specialty signs and advertising. Hutchins was officially dissolved as a company in 1907. Charles Hutchins died in Springfield in 1926.
http://www.mugwumps.com (extract from an unpublished book, “Encyclopedia of American Instrument Makers” by Michael I. Holmes, copyright 1997)
The Springfield Mandolin Orchestra is always looking for new members. If you play mandolin, or any other instrument in the mandolin family, and can read music, you are welcome to join. Please visit the Web site http://mandolinorchestra.org for more information.
The Springfield Mandolin Orchestra is a 501(c) 3 non-profit dedicated to providing educational performances and events throughout the Metro Springfield area.