The Apollo Piano Company

At the turn of the last century, piano factories could be found in nearly every major and not so major city. The Chicago and northeastern Illinois was home to as many as ¼ to 1/3 of all piano factories in the US. The same geographic elements which led to the growth and success of Chicago, made piano manufacturing just as successful. One of the most storied of these companies was the one which ultimately became the Apollo Piano Company.

Melville Clark had moved to Chicago from New York by way of California as a young man to seek his fortune in the reed organ business. As many piano companies did at the time (Mason & Hamlin being one of the more famous), Clark started by making reed organs. Being relatively small and portable, these enjoyed great popularity.

Having settled in Quincy, IL, Clark eventually partnered with the Story family in the manufacture of reed organs and eventually they moved to the ever increasingly popular piano. Clark’s mechanical genius, initially engaged with reed organs, became fully engaged with the newfangled mechanical or player piano. He has many patents in his name.

These player pianos were the first to bear the name “Apollo.” In 1904 or 1905 the manufacturing plant was moved to DeKalb, IL where Clark had dreams of developing a massive piano manufacturing center. The Apollo line of pianos was expanded to include straight pianos (sans player), both upright and grand pianos. Apollo was the brand name used for the company’s best products.

In 1919, Clark sold the Apollo Piano Co. to QRS which moved the manufacturing plant to Chicago. This is the same QRS who made all the piano rolls which sat on top of your grandmother’s player piano. QRS is still in the player piano business today. They are one of the leading makers of player piano systems in the world and have one of the largest historical library of digital recordings.

In case you were wondering what happened to the large piano plant that Melville Clark built in DeKalb, IL; Wurlitzer moved in a few years later and fulfilled Clark’s dream of making DeKalb a leading center for the manufacture of pianos.