Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Packard Pianos

by Carmen Doyle

The Great Chicago Fire had a positive effect on music in Fort Wayne. Isaac Packard was an organ builder in Chicago and by the time the fire ended his business was destroyed. According to local legend, Packard then boarded a train and told the conductor to let him out when the money ran out. His fare ran out in Fort Wayne.

The Chicago fire happened October 10, 1871. By the end of November, Isaac had begun a new organ company- the Fort Wayne Organ Company. A factory was built and within the next year, the first organs had been produced and sold.

By the time Isaac reached Fort Wayne in 1871, he was 54 and had been working with organs for over 30 years. He had lived in Chicago for five years and had in that time been granted four patents to improve organ performance. Isaac’s reputation, along with his skills and the skills of few coworkers he had brought from Chicago, were impressive enough to persuade several prominent citizens to back his new company, the Fort Wayne Organ Company, producer of Packard Orchestrals. (One of his backers was Judge Lindley Ninde, whose daughter-in-law Joel Roberts Ninde became one of Fort Wayne’s most notable architects. You can read more about Joel Ninde in a December 2012 blog post “Fort Wayne’s most famous female architect.”) (http://historycenterfw.blogspot.com/2012/12/fort-waynes-most-famous-female-architect.html)

The company flourished and employed many local residents who helped settle the area of what would later be South Wayne. The organs were renowned for their superior sound. Allegedly, the reed organs were so well known that Queen Victoria purchased one. Isaac Packard didn’t stay in Fort Wayne long. In 1873 he was granted another patent to improve reed organ stop actions. A few months later, he died.

The company kept thriving however.

Packard organs were reed organs, which were smaller, weighed less and were easier to transport than pipe organs. Because of their size, reed organs were popular in smaller churches and chapels. Reed organs did not have the same range of sounds as pipe organs. Packard organs were elaborately carved and considered very beautiful. The process to make an organ was very long and expensive. The expense of making organs is greater than pianos. That fact eventually led to the Fort Wayne Organ Company shifting its focus from reed organs to pianos and changing their name to The Packard Piano Company.
Inside a Packard organ owned by the Historical Society

(You can see other pictures of this Packard Organ at http://historycenterfw.blogspot.com/2012/07/follow-pipes_09.html).

Packard Company did also end up making a non-musical contribution to Fort Wayne. In World War I they made airplane propellers. (The History Center has one of the propellers on display and more about the process of Packard making propellers can be found in the Old Fort News Vol. 72, No. 2, 2009)
The Packard Propeller on display in the second floor display case at the History Center.

In 1893, Packard decided to start making pianos and not just organs. Packard pianos were used all over Fort Wayne. An old ad for the pianos contains a positive review from St. Augustine’s Academy (St. Augustine’s was the precursor of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.) Packard did a very good business not only in Fort Wayne but throughout the U.S. They continued prospering until 1930 and the Great Depression. People could no longer afford pianos and companies that had ordered pianos could no longer afford to pay for them. Packard Company went bankrupt.  The company’s resources were sold and some pianos continued to be sold retail, but the days of Packard Pianos and Organs were over.

A few years after the company closed, the City of Fort Wayne bought the property, tore down the buildings, and made it into a city park- Packard Park.

1 comment:

  1. Erin (nee Craig) SmithThursday, October 31, 2013

    My grandparents built their house on Nuttman, just a block from Packard Park, in 1923. I wanted to note, along with your narrative, that the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League practiced regularly at Packard Park. Cool.