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Oakdale History Presents: The Packard Piano Company

The Packard Piano Company

by Melissa Hitzemann

The Fort Wayne Organ Company was located in Fort Wayne, Indiana at Fairfield Avenue and Organ Avenue. Isaac T. and Edmund Packard moved to Fort Wayne after losing their business in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Isaac Packard boarded a train that headed east; his only instruction to the conductor was to let him off when his money ran out. Packard’s money ran out as he arrived in Fort Wayne, so fate was what led to a major industry for the city. Edmund followed his brother, and with the backing of the banker S. B. Bond the two opened the company for business in late 1871. The name was changed to the Packard Organ Company in 1900 and later to the Packard Piano Company.

The establishment of the company led to increased development and population growth in the area which included land in the Oakdale Historic District. Eventually a movement was formed to incorporate South Wayne as a town. After a lengthy court battle with the City of Fort Wayne which wanted to annex the area, the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of South Wayne and the town was incorporated in 1889.

The City of Fort Wayne eventually succeeded in annexing South Wayne in 1894, bringing with it streetcar lines, utilities and schools. The annexation, coupled with growing industrial development, led to increased residential interest.

The output of Packard’s instruments greatly increased each year and the factory facilities were enlarged until the Ft. Wayne facility was one of the largest in the country. Factory capacity in 1897 was around 5,000 organs and the company employed more than 400 workers.

High endorsements from many famous musicians created a greater production of pianos. Chronicled in the Gellerman’s International Reed Organ Atlas, these instruments, of the highest grade, were manufactured in The United States, which made them all the more desirable. They presented the ideal example of high grade sales both here and abroad.

The company was thought of as a model industry, where the cooperative stem of labor was brought to the point of perfection, the inner workings of the factory found expression in the statement “The workings of the Packard factory at Ft. Wayne present an ideal example of harmonious industry. If there is no harmony in the factory, there will be none in the piano. Every worker is loyal to the Packard and puts into it the best results of his skill and effort. The Packard piano has been before the musical world for years, and has attained a foremost place as a reliable instrument of most artistic qualities.”

Many piano manufacturers that made highly esteemed pianos around the 1930′s went bankrupt during the Great Depression and the Packard Piano is included in the list of these manufacturers. The company went out of business in 1930. Much of the nuances in construction, design, art and engineering were lost. These lone manufacturers were bought up by the surviving companies and in some cases, the company’s designs continued to be used and some were not.

The former factory site is now Packard Park. Sale and restoration of the few Packards that remain today are in great demand.