Starr Piano Company, Richmond Indiana

Date added: May 19, 2016 Categories: Indiana Industrial
1979 Building #1, from northeast looking southwest

The Whitewater Valley, the site of buildings provided, the necessities for the town first settled by Jeremiah Cox and Joseph Smith in 1806. The uplands provided excellent timber, and good soil and clay for bricks. The gorge was lined with springs and supplies of easily extracted building stones. The river provided water power for early mills. It was these assets that enabled the steady growth of Richmond. The valley was the site of grist mills saw mills, linseed oil mills, tanneries, and quarries.

In the 1820's and 30's, some residences and mills were found in the valley. The early state road came down into this area and crossed the Whitewater at the ford located near present "G" Street Bridge before climbing the West bluff and continuing to the county seat at Salisbury and on to Indianapolis. The National Road crossed the river at the north end of the Starr property on a covered bridge and several early travelers were inspired by the beauty of the valley and the bridge, recording notes of their passage. By 1840, only mills and industry occupied the valley.

It was into one of those early mills that George Trayser moved his small piano forte company in 1872, James M. Starr was president of this company and a Mr. Richard Jackson, Secretary with Mr. Trayser as General Manager. In 1878 a four story addition to the mill was completed and employment rose to 35. In 1884 this company was reorganized as the James M. Starr and Company as a joint venture of James and Benjamin F. Starr. They produced the new "upright" that carried the "Starr" name, and stressed the quality of the material and the workmanship of their product. They could produce up to 15 pianos a week.

In 1893, John Lumsdcn and his son-in-law, Henry Gennett, who were piano retailers from Nashville, Tennessee bought into the company and reorganized it as the STARR PIANO COMPANY. A major fire destroyed the old mill and the four story addition early in 1894, but was rebuilt. By 1910 Starr in a promotional catalogue boasted of over 10 acres of factory floor space under roof, and 35 acres of lumber with a work force of 600 people. They referred to their company as the pioneer of the western piano industry. The company produced over 15,000 pianos in 1915 and won awards at every major exhibition or fair. (1880-Cincinnati; 1897-Nashville; 1904-St. Louis; 1909-Alaska-Yukon: 1915 Panama-California).

But the real significance of Starr came in 1915 with the development of the recording industry. STARR was one of the first companies to promote folk music-hillbilly and spirituals. Many early musicians traveled to Richmond, Indiana to record for the Starr Records under the Gennett label. Heagy Carmichael, Gene Autry, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong were brought before the record buying public for the first time by STARR.

Good marketing placed Gennett Records as competitors to larger manufacturers such as Victor. In 1928, Victor cut 1,900 master records and Gennett cut 1,250. Gennett took Victor to court over alleged patent infraction and won. (Several patents for the manufacture of pianos were granted to the Starr Piano Company previously). Gennett produced records under many different labels, including one for the use of Sears, Roebuck and Company. The factory produced record plavers and even refrigerators that were marketed under the name STARR FREEZE.