The Harmony Company of Chicago was established in 1892 by a small group of craftsmen who learned their skills by apprenticeships in Europe. At first they only made guitars and mandolins. By 1903 the growth of the business warranted the building of a small plant at 1750 North Lawndale Avenue, Later, two additions to the main building were undertaken to cope with the increasing demands for instruments.
With the spread of ragtime the company equipped itself to make banjolins, tenor-banjos and plectrum-banjos to meet demand and by the mid 1920’s were one of the largest banjo makers in the USA, however their output of 5 string banjos was not large.
In addition to the instruments bearing the name Harmony the company also made all types of banjos for other firms sold under the vendors own brand names.
In 1941 the company moved to larger premises at 3633 S, Racine Avenue and in 1962 it acquired a modern one story factory built at its present location 4600 South Kolin Avenue. Continuous growth compelled the establishment in 1965 of Harmony’s “Plant No 2” nearby so that now with 125,000 sq ft of manufacturing it is one (1960’s) of the top production facilities in the USA.
They ceased the manufacture of banjos abruptly, like all other manufacturers when the US entered WWII and did not recommence production until the 1950’s. Not content to resume manufacture on prewar lines the company developed and entirely new process of making hoops which involved a moulded resin plastic hoop reinforced at key points and they called them the “Reso-tone” . A heavy protruding rim (as earlier used by Gibson and Merriman) through which the tension brackets pass, takes the place of the shoes. The company also markets a resonator of the same material.
In the early “sixties the rising popularity of folk and bluegrass music bought about a change in demand and the company’s principle banjo production was devoted to 5-string and long necked instruments, although tenor and plectrum banjos continued to be made.
Pictures courtest of Smakula's Fretted Instruments