History of Frank Holton & Co.

There are many variations of this story, but here is the best timeline we’ve been able to piece together about the Frank Holton & Co. instrument manufacturing company.


Frank E. Holton
born Mar. 10, 1858

Allegan, MI


Frank Holton

Source: 1860 US Census
Heath Township, Allegan, MI June 23, 1860
Father: Otis M. ? or L.? Holton (Born 1827: New York); Farmer
Mother: Hanna A. Holton (Born 1829: Michigan)
Emma E
Frank E
Leona (? spelling)


Frank E. Holton

Source: 1870 US Census
Allegan Village, June 10, 1870


Frank Holton official roster of John Philips Sousa Band (age 33-34)

John Philip Sousa official website
Sousa Band Roster


York briefly participated in two partnerships, Smith & York (1883) and York & Holton (1885) before naming the company J.W. York and Company.

Lars Kilmer York Serial Number List
York Serial Number list


Frank Holton began his company in Chicago.

source: Music Trades Database, G. Leblanc Company

“Frank Holton was a professional trombonist with the famous Sousa band and associate of the leading musicians of the late 19th century. He was a business manager and trombone soloist; a theatre musician and entrepreneur. The legacy of Frank Holton continues to this day, over 100 years later, focusing on providing musicians with the finest tools on which to perform their craft.

Holton began his company in 1896 in Chicago, after numerous engagements as a trombonist in many leading performing groups. As a former member of Sousa’s great band, and an associate and friend of trombonist Arthur Pryor and cornetist Herbert L. Clarke, Holton enjoyed wide renown. At forty year’s of age, Frank Holton created his own recipe for trombone slide oil. He soon took on the sale of used band instruments. H. A. Vander Cook (who later started the Vander Cook School of Music) stated that, “The present factory is the result of his perseverance and his making one good tone at a time, which method he applied to overcome the obstacles as they arose before him. Holton’s contacts and friendships made in his professional musician days served him well during these years. Many of his friends in the theatre and dance band circuits had made their way to top symphony jobs, bringing their Holton instruments to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other highly respected orchestras.

One interesting note is that the first trumpet player with the Boston Symphony, Vincent Bach, used and endorsed the Holton trumpet at that time. In 1917, Holton had completed tooling for a complete line of saxophones, in order to meet with the saxophone craze that was just beginning. His factory, though, was at capacity and needed to grow. One of his early customers and friend suggested that Holton combine his love of Wisconsin farms with his work and set up a new factory in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. The citizens of Elkhorn built him a factory of over 35,000 square feet and, while bringing in or training a workforce proved difficult, the first profits for the Wisconsin-based company showed themselves in 1920. The organization of school bands and the promise of ?a playing band within twelve weeks, brought Holton good sales results, but this growth in student instrument demand was not a good fit for the higher-priced professional instruments that Holton was producing. The company introduced lower-priced outsourced instruments under such names as Pertin and Beaufort until it could introduce its own ?Collegiate? line in the early 1930’s. Mr. Holton retired at age 82 and sold his controlling shares to longtime associate, William Kull. Frank Holton died on April 16, 1942. Kull remained the CEO until his death in 1944, but the Frank Holton Company was essentially run by the sales manager, Elliott Kehl, a long-time Holton employee. Kehl found war work to keep the factory open during a time when all brass was directed to the war effort. Over the next several years, Kehl was allowed to purchase a majority share in the company as he led a program of re-engineering and improving the line of instruments. Kehl also revived work with key artists, including Phillip Farkas, first horn player of the Chicago Symphony. In 1956, the Holton Farkas model French horn was introduced to great acclaim. That same year, new tooling for saxophones brought Holton into the modern saxophone world.

In 1962, the decision to sell the Frank Holton Company to the G. Leblanc Corporation was made. G. Leblanc brought its strength in woodwind instruments together with Holton brass expertise, creating a much more formidable competitor in the band instrument industry. Through the remainder of the century, Holton continued to produce student and professional brass instruments. Its work with international star Maynard Ferguson and his “Superbone” continued Frank Holton’s commitment to working with the finest artists. Development with key educators such as Chicago’s Ethel Merker keeps Holton French horn development moving even beyond what Phillip Farkas has envisioned. Efforts to help young people progress included the introduction of a child-size single horn. In 2005, the company introduced the new Holton Collegiate line of low brass instruments. Like its predecessor in the 1930’s, this high-quality, lower-priced instrument line provides the ideal combination of performance and value for school music programs. The second century of Holton continues to be written, however, the purchase of Leblanc and Holton by Steinway Musical Instruments bodes well for the company. Working with key artists, serving amateur musicians, and developing exciting new opportunities were key to Frank Holton’s vision. Now as part of Steinway Musical Instruments and its band and orchestra division, Conn-Selmer, Inc., Holton instruments continue to excite the musical mind and provide today’s musicians with the finest instruments on which to experience the joy of music.”


Frank Holton began his company in Chicago.

source: Music Trades Database, G. Leblanc Company

“Holton was acquired by Leblanc in 1964, but the story behind this pioneering brassmaker began in 1898 in Chicago. The original company consisted of one small room and a modest assortment of tools. The real capital of the venture, however, lay not in these humble surroundings but in the enthusiasm, perseverance, and skill of Frank Holton, a man of many musical and technical accomplishments. Holton, who had been first trombonist in John Philip Sousa’s band, sought to perfect the band music he loved and played so well. He wanted instruments that would meet his own rigid standards, and that desire led him to manufacture his own. His efforts were quickly rewarded. The best players came to play Holton instruments, and the best craftsmen came to work for Frank Holton. This led to expansion in a new plant in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, where the fame and fortune of the Holton name have continued to grow.

Holton today is the world’s largest producer of French horns, including the Farkas and Merker-Matic models. Maynard Ferguson collaborated on a family of brass instruments that bears his name. The Harvey Phillips model tubas were introduced in 1996. Holton’s second edition of its Collegiate Series of student band instruments is designed and priced for today’s demanding student market. The company offers a complete range of artist and student model brass and woodwind instruments. Holton oils for valves and slides are leading products in their field. Frank Holton’s own formula is still followed and is a closely guarded secret. Other popular Holton accessories include Holton artist-quality mouthpieces for brass instruments, replacement parts, and an extensive range of accessories for brasswind instruments.”


Frank E. Holton, (unrecognizable)
Florence E. Holton; Music Teacher

Source: 1900 US Census
Hyde Park Township, City of Chicago, IL June 8, 1900


Built factory on West Side of Chicago (1907)

source: Wisconsin Historical Society website
A trip through an instrument factory in Elkhorn, 1920


Frank Holton, Manufacturer Band Instruments
Florence Holton; Music Teacher

2652 Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL

Source: 1910 US Census
Track M5, City of Chicago, IL April 15, 1910


Moved to Elkhorn, Wisconsin, from Chicago in 1917.

source: G. Leblanc Company website


Moved to Elkhorn, WI in Spring of 1918.


The Janesville Daily Gazette
April 18, 1918

Elkhorn, April 12.

The little city of Elkhorn, the county seat of Walworth county, is the new home of Frank Holton & Company, largest exclusive manufacturers of band instruments in the United States. The Holton company was formerly in Chicago, but moved into their new building in Elkhorn this week, where they will formally open for business Monday morning.

More than a year ago a committee of several of Elkhorn’s business men investigated the proposition of inducing the band instrument factory to move from Chicago to Elkhorn. The matter was laid before the citizen’s of the city, who agreed that it was Elkhorn’s great opportunity, and accordingly a modern building was built, to be turned over to the factory, and becomes eventually the property of Frank Holton & Co.

Frank Holton & Company is an old established business, employing more than 200 people, and advanced far beyond the experimental stage. For several years the owners of the business had been planning to move the factory away from Chicago, and labor difficulties, and were induced to choose Elkhorn, though they had many tempting offers made them by other progressive cities.

The first carload of machinery arrived from Chicago Tuesday evening, draw and is being received at the rate “of three and four carloads daily.” A total of 85 carloads of machinery must be moved. Fifteen erecting machinists are at work installing the equipment fast as it arrives, and within a few days the entire plant will be in operation. The business office fixtures and office crew will arrive in Elkhorn Saturday, and the factory will open for business Monday morning. For a few months the help situation will prevent the factory from turning out a normal quantity of  instruments. Many of the workmen did not wish to move from Chicago to a smaller town, so there is quite a shortage of help, both skilled and unskilled.

Like most small inland cities, Elkhorn is not adapted to large factories, especially those that would have large freight shipments, or need immense quanties of water.  The quantities of raw material that must be used in band instruments are not large, and the greater proportion of the cost of an instrument is represented by  the skilled labor. The factory is equipped to take the raw material, manufacture the instrument, including the plating and engraving, and also make the packing cases.

One of the pleasing features about the factory is that a large band, under the direction of skilled musicians, is maintained at all times, available for various public gatherings.



Elkhorn— Frank Holton, president of Frank Holton & Co., will build twenty-five new houses on property recently purchased of O. B. Rogers in the north part of the city. Work will start soon and it is expected that the houses will be completed before winter.

The houses will be modern five and six room bungalows costing from $3,000 to $4,000, and all will have different exteriors.

Frank Holton, Band (unrecognizable)
Florence Holton

North Wisconsin Street
Elkhorn, WI

Source: 1920 US Census
Elkhorn, WI Jan.  24, 1920


The Janesville Daily Gazette
April 23, 1923

Frank Holton has, purchased the Henry Barnes home and possession will be-given May 15. Mr. Holton comes into possession of a home which is in one of the finest locations in the city.

(presumably this was the house at 640 North Broad Street, Elkhorn, WI)


Frank Holton, Band Factory
Florence Holton

640 North Broad Street
Elkhorn, WI

Emma (Sister) lived at  625 North Broad Street

Source: 1930 US Census
Elkhorn, WI April 2, 1930


Frank Holton
d Apr. 17, 1942, Elkhorn, WI.


Founder Of Holton Company Is Dead
Elkhorn, Wis.

Frank Holton, founder of Frank Holton Co, band instrument manufacturers, died yesterday after a long illness. He was 84 years old. Holton, a native of Allegan, Mich., once was trombonist with the late John Philip Sousa’s band.

He founded his instrument company in Chicago, later moving to Elkhorn. He retired from business four years ago. Holton is survived by a widow and a sister.

Funeral services will be held here tomorrow. (4/18/1942)


Frank Holton & Co. decided to sell to G. Leblanc;


G. Leblanc acquired Frank Holton & Co


Acquired by Steinway Musical Instruments, Conn Selmer Division

Note the circular driveway, and original building still existing today.
Photo: Google Earth

330 N Church Street, Elkhorn, WI 53121


Manufacturing of Holton instruments was retained in Elkhorn, Wisconsin until 2008 when it was relocated to Eastlake, Ohio.