The History of the Ukulele (or Commercial Humour in 1926)

From “Tom Foolery” in the Music Trade Review 83, 6 (1926), p. 13:

This is a comparatively new instrument, but its origin is already somewhat obscured, 4,739 different persons claiming the honor of having introduced the instrument to America. We have investigated it thoroughly and find that the discover of the ukulele was Christopher Columbus, who found some Indians (Red Men, as he called them) playing ukuleles in Florida in 1492. The Indians said that they purchased the instruments from C. Bruno & Sons. (Inquiry reveals that Bruno is still selling ukes in Florida.)

The next appearance of the ukulele in American history was about twenty-five years later when Peter Minuit bought Manhattan Island from the Indians for a ukulele. To-day it would take more ukuleles than you could shake a stick at to buy it back.

Another story that sheds light upon the place of the ukulele in history  deals with Sam Beugeleisen, who was traveling for Tonk in 1851. He made such a fast trip to the Pacific Coast and was burning up the territory making sales that he was unable to stop in California and kept right on to Hawaii before the four-wheel brakes in his Buick would stop. On the beach at Waikaki he discovered a quaintly garbed native girl wearing a dress of some shredded material strumming an instrument which we know to-day as the ukulele.

“How much for the what-do-you-call-it?” demanded Mr. B.


“Too much. I can get ’em made in Chicago for $4.99.”

“All right, go to Chicago,” the maiden said. And he did.

Following the introduction of the ukulele to America Harry Hunt of Ditson’s began a campaign to have the poor little instrument called by their proper name, which sounds like “ookelellie,” but he has not had much success, even his New York Dealers’ Association insisting upon coming right out in the open and referring to them in Mr Hunt’s presence as “you-kelaylays.”

Reproduced courtesy of The International Arcade Museum and the Musical Box Society International.

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 5:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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