28 November 1916: thus saith The El Paso Herald:
Hawaii, following the lead of the mother country, the United States, is in the midst of a manufacturing boom with the ukulele as the chief product, an article less deadly than war munitions and less high-priced than flour and women’s boots. The popularity which Hawaiian music has achieved in this country is responsible for the making of ukuleles, on which this music may be played, or which may be used for purposes of accompaniment.
The ukulele is a guitar which never grew up. It produces a melodious groan, just as the Hawaiian steel guitar produces a musical whine. It is easy to manufacture and easy to play, which accounts, perhaps, for some of its popularity.
String in string with the ukulele goes the “Hawaiian” song, a missionary’s hymn elaborated, syncopated and generally disguised, and full many a man and girl are doing yeoman service in trying to master these songs of the islands who never sang a good old gospel hymn in their lives.
Fine business for Hawaii while it lasts. Only, if it grows and lasts much longer, there is danger that Connecticut will soon be making most of the genuine Hawaiian ukuleles, to the detriment of Honolulu.
In 1916, the New York Tribune featured illustrations by L. M. Glaskens about the ukulele. He seems to have taken a less than flattering view of the noble little instrument, but perhaps captures (in a back-handed way) its popularity at the time.
Louis M. Glackens (1866–1933) was an American illustrator, animator and cartoonist, was the brother of painter and illustrator William Glackens.
According to Wikipedia (from whence I pinched this info), Louis M. Glackens was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the 1890s he began to work for Puck, a magazine known for its political and social satire, where his humorous depictions of different ethnic groups reflected the melting pot of New York City at that time. When Puck was sold in 1914, he began to work for Barré Studio and Bray Productions pioneering some early animation films.
The Colville Examiner 5 August 1916 ran the following, aiming to strike the balance between selling a uke to anyone and warning that it might take a bit of work, really.
The key selling points seem to be
1. The ukulele has had a sudden rise in popularity.
2. A worthwhile instrument if you study it seriously.
3. There are thousands of ukuleles in schools.
4. On US Pacfic Coast the ukulele has become a craze (almost every home in California has one)
5. The ukulele is ideal to accompany the human voice
6. The ukulele is cheap (compared to grand piano).
7. Seller has lots to get rid off, and is willing to help the beginner.
So it was all there at the beginning of the craze.
If only I was born a century or so ago…
The Evening Ledger, 20 and 23 December 1916 ran ads for ‘a man [sorry ladies — must have been the heavy lifting involved in the job] who can play, demonstrate and sell ukuleles — apply employment bureau’.
Of course, the downside is that there were no antibiotics, effective pain-relief, or fear-free dentists then, but the job does appeal…
The following report appeared in The Musical Trade Review in 1916.
At the end of August, 1915, manufacturers of ukuleles in the Hawaiian Islands were turning out 500 or 600 instruments per month. At the end of August, 1916, the output was extended to 1,600 per month, with demands from mainland music dealers which could not be met.
There are eight principal manufacturers of ukuleles in Honolulu, with a scattering of instruments coming from small makers in the other islands. Each manufacterer has turned his small workshop into a factory, adding new workers and increasing the plant as rapidly as possible. In the first week of September a company was organised in Honolulu with plans to manufacture from 1,000 to 2,000 ukuleles per month with improved machinery, the workers to be Hawiians and Portuguese. This company plans not only the manufacture of ukuleles, but also to purchase completed material from other makers.
The originator of the ukulele, a Portuguese, who is now head of a manufacturing company, is still an active worker in his own factory, and turns out about 700 instruments per month. Another Honolulu firm produces about 400 per month.
The Hawiians and Portuguese of Hawaii claim that the instruments made by them, principally of koa wood, are seasoned and properly prepared. The prevailing local prices for ukuleles range from $3.75 to $16 and $20. The highest-priced products are heavily beaded. The tone is of the most important items in the construction of the ukulele, and the Hawaiians and Portuguese claim that this is obtained only with the use of properly seasoned koa wood and proper attention paid to shaving the wood and fitting it. The plans of the new companies forming, and of old factories being enlarged, will give an output close to 3,000 per month.