The Fred Gretsch Mfg. Co. was formed by Friederich Gretch (who Anglicised his name after settling in America) at the age of 27 when he left his job of working for the drum and banjo makers Albert Houdlett & Son of Brooklyn, NY.
With a few workmen he opened small shop at 128 Middleton Street Brooklyn and manufactured drums, banjos and tambourines. Fred senior died in 1885 when his firm had but a dozen employees and was housed in a wooden building in S. 4th Street, Brooklyn.
Within five years his son Fred (eldest of seven children) had impressively altered the firms operations to include the making of mandolins, and in addition, the importation of most musical instruments and their various accessories.
The also had acquired impressive factory premises at 104 Middle Street, which were vacated in 1916 for the mammoth 10 story office and factory building the firm had specially built for them at 60 Broadway, Brooklyn, which is still the home of the Fred Gretsch Mfg. Co.
They had been making and advertising banjos from about 1870 and in 1902 introduced “Daynor” banjos each of which had a hole in the vellum. After WWI they made a range of banjos with the trade name “Rex” and these were being advertised well in to the 1920’s. By 1928 their range of banjos had been extended for the company was advertising their “Gretsch”, “Claraphone” and “Orchestrella” models in addition to the popular “Rex” range.
In March 1940 the company acquired the Bacon Banjo Co. of Groton. Conn. and the post war range of “B&D” banjos was made by them.
During the the 50s and 60s they made the Belmont model in regular and long neck versions.
Images courtesy of Teddy Lee Wolf
1926 Orchestrella images courtesy of Vinnie Mondello
1929 Orchestrella images courtesy of Bob Ervin
Fred Gretsch to 1885