The C. F. Martin story began back in 1811 when 15-year-old Christian Fredrick Martin, Sr. traveled to Vienna to apprentice with renowned guitar maker Johann Stauffer. After a few years there, Christian returned to his hometown of Markneukirchen and opened his own shop.
Violin Makers vs. Cabinet Makers
Not long after opening his new shop, Christian became included in a large dispute between the Cabinet Makers Guild and the Violin Makers Guild. His family had been member of the Cabinet Makers Guild for a long time. Unfortunately, to minimize competition, the Violin Guild was determined to prevent cabinet makers from making musical instruments. The Cabinet Makers retaliated by mentioning that the discovery of the guitar was made by one such cabinet maker some 35 years earlier. This cabinet maker was Christian’s father, George Martin.
The Move to NYC
No longer wanting to deal with the constraints of the guild system in Germany, Martin moved to New York City in 1833. There he opened a small music store with a little shop in the back, a huge cut-back from the 84,000-square-foot, 500 employee setup he had in Germany. Guitar sales were minimal at this point, so Martin entered into a few distribution agreements.
In 1873, C. F. Martin, Sr. passed away and the company was handed down to his son, Christian Frederick, Jr. He ran the company for fifteen years until he passed in 1888 and the company was handed down to his 22-year-old son, Frank Henry.
The Addition of Mandolins and Ukuleles
During the 1890s, a huge influx of Italian immigrants to the United States made the mandolin extremely popular. Frank decided to cut ties with their distributor and start distributing Martin products themselves. This led to a huge increase in mandolin sales.
As the ukulele became popular in the ‘20s, Frank decided to start producing some. Their first designs weren’t well received. Fortunately, adjustments were made and sales started to increase. Instrument sales continued to grow until 1929-1931, when guitar sales were halved.
C. F. Martin Remains in the Family
When Frank Henry Martin passed away in 1948, C. F. Martin III took over the company. He and his son, Frank Herbert Martin, built a larger plant to create better working conditions. In 1970, Frank Herbert assumed ownership of the company after his father’s passing.
In that same year, the company purchased Vega Banjo Works, as well as Fibes Drum Company and the Darco String Company. Eventually Fibes and Vega were spun off, but Martin and Darco strings remained a part of the company.
An Eco-Friendly Company
In 1990, C. F. Martin formalized its ecological policy to include responsible use of traditional natural materials and alternative wood species. The company also developed alternative wood guitars for exhibitions to educate consumers. To this day, the company closely follows the directives from CITES.
Learn more by visiting C. F. Martin’s website.