In 1821, a 16-year-old German clockmaker named Christian Ludwig Buschmann put 15 pitchpipes together and invented what we know today as the harmonica. The tiny instrument may have faded away unnoticed among all the exciting innovations of the 19th century, but Buschmann recognized his invention as "a truly unique musical instrument … only four inches in diameter and equally high, with 21 notes and crescendo playing possibilities…with harmonies of six tones, which can be held as long as the player has breath." He named it the "mundaeoline", which is German for mouth harp. In time, all of Europe had heard about this delightful hand-held wonder.
After a few decades passed, another clockmaker purchased one of these handcrafted early instruments and decided to mass produce harmonicas. This young visionary was Matthias Hohner, who founded our company in 1857 at age 24. During that first year, Hohner, his wife and one employee produced 650 harmonicas. Hohner then shipped some of his mouth harps to cousins, who had immigrated to the US, and harmonica demand soared as peddlers, emigrants and soldiers spread the diminutive instrument’s popularity across America. The US quickly became an important market for the emerging company's musical products.
In more recent years, the harmonica has gained status as a serious musical instrument. It can now be heard in the world’s most renowned concert halls, with music written specifically for harmonica by world-acclaimed contemporary composers. In New York, Classical harmonicists Larry Adler, Robert Bonfiglio, Larry Logan, and Tommy Reilly all staged recitals and New York’s City College became the first institution of higher learning to offer a degree program majoring in harmonica. In 1948, the American Federation of Musicians recognized the harmonica as a legitimate instrument and today lists thousands of harmonicists among its members. Since Matthias Hohner’s great undertaking of 1857, his company has made more than 1,500 harmonica models. The current US catalog includes more than 70 models ranging in size from a 23” chord harmonica down to the tiny “Little Lady.” At just 1 3/8”long, this harmonica plays a full 8-note scale and was the first instrument played in outer space, by astronaut Wally Schirra on the Gemini VI spacecraft in 1965. Of course, there’s more to the harmonica than a colorful history, and today there’s more to Hohner than harmonicas! In 1893, after founder Matthias Hohner passed away, his sons decided to expand the company to include the manufacture of another reed instrument, the accordion. Hohner quickly built a parallel reputation for excellence -- as a top accordion maker –a dedication to quality that continues to this day. Hohner later added recorder and melodica manufacturing to its line of top-quality instruments. Then, in 1986, Hohner founded HSS, a US division created to distribute Sabian Cymbals, Hohner Fretted Instruments and Sonor Drums & Percussion products. HSS proved quite successful and later expanded into additional products including Lanikai Ukuleles and several accessory lines.
Hohner, Inc./HSS currently occupies a spacious warehouse and office facility housing its US Corporate Headquarters in Glen Allen, Virginia, and a West Coast office and warehouse in Santa Rosa, California.