Inside the Architecture: Mason and Hamlin Company

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One of the leading piano and organ manufacturers during the Golden Age of the Piano was once located right in Kendall Square.

A factory once stood at 162 Broadway Street where pianos and organs were handcrafted in the 19th and 20th century. The factory was founded by two men with very different backgrounds, but one goal: to create the world’s finest musical instruments.  Their vision was a success.

Henry Mason was a pianist.  He came from a long line of musicians, his father being Lowell Mason who was a widely acclaimed composer and producer of hymns. Lowell Mason is also known for bringing music into public schools. Henry Mason knew he wanted to continue a lifelong interest in music like his father.

Emmons Hamlin was an inventor and mechanic.  He did not play a musical instrument, but he did work with melodeons at the George A. Price and Company of Buffalo, NY. There, he invented the “organ harmonium,” which was an organ reed that sounded like a clarinet or violin.  

An organ factory already inhabited East Cambridge since 1809 by William M. Goodrich. Cambridge was an epicenter for musicians, so making instruments was only appropriate for the city.  

When Mason and Hamlin first opened their doors, they built and sold Hamlin’s organ harmonium. They eventually began building the American Organ Cabinet around 1867, which won first prize for several continuous years at the Paris Exhibition. These wins gave the company’s organs world wide recognition.  

It was not until 1883 that Mason and Hamlin began making pianos. They first sold the “screw stringer,” which allowed musicians to tune with string tensions. The older models required tuning pins.

A piano designer from Germany, Robert W. Gertz, became secretary of the company in 1903 and president in 1906. While at Mason and Hamlin Company, Gertz invented the “Tension Resonator.” It was a device used to keep sound boards from flattening.

After the stock market crash in 1929, piano sales dropped drastically. Mason and Hamlin Company was sold to a competitor Aeolian for $450,000. Within the year, the company’s buildings were sold off.

The company went through many owners until 1996 when it was bought by Burgett, Inc. Burgett, Inc also owns PianoDisc. They moved the company to Haverhill, Massachusetts, where it still stands today to make and sell fine detailed pianos. Most recently, the Haverhill factory has opened one of its floors as a museum honoring its creators Henry Mason and Emmons Hamlin.

Today, 162 Broadway Street is the location of Draper Laboratory: a non-profit lab for applied research, engineering development, education, and technology transfer. The lab was once owned by MIT, but is now independently run. Its address in 555 Technology Square. A blue oval plaque still marks the place where the Mason and Hamlin Company once stood.

For more information about the current Mason and Hamlin Company in Haverhill, MA, please visit http://masonhamlin.com.