German bow makers in America: Across the Atlantic


Many, if not most, of the earliest bow makers working in America originally hailed from Germany. Raphael Gold discovers how they helped lay the foundations for the industry

Tracing the arc of American bow making is a tricky business. There have been nearly as many influences in its history as bow makers, and their traditions range from the self-taught to the rich heritage of French master makers. The earliest wave of bow making in America was a group of unaffiliated German immigrants, beginning in the mid-1870s. What drew these makers to the New World? Influential violin shops run by German master craftsmen took root across America as German immigration swelled, reaching nearly three million German-born immigrants by 1890. In the late 19th century, American government raised its funds mainly from tariffs on all manner of imports, including musical instruments. A central political issue of the day, tariffs averaged a whopping 45 per cent by 1911. Some makers saw the potential in moving to America and establishing a local foothold protected by the tariffs. Dealers in America sought ways to avoid tariffs by importing the actual German bow makers themselves; while others were already in the US when they saw an opportunity to dabble in, if not focus on, bow making. Each of these makers has a unique story to tell, highlighting the complex business relationship between the musical worlds of America and Germany before World War I…

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