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The Selmer family traces its roots back to the 18th century rural Lorraine region of France with Johannes Jacobus Zelmer. Enlisting in the French army provided a means of moving families from the country to the city. For three generations Zelmer men served in the same regiment, while the boys, too young to be soldiers, played in the band. Jean-Jacques Selmer (son of Johannes Jacobus), in addition to changing the spelling of the family name, ascended to the rank of drum major. The military afforded great opportunities for education and travel.
When Charles-Frederic Selmer (son of Jean-Jacques) died in 1878 he left sixteen children, five surviving to adulthood. Of these, Henri and Alexandre graduated from the Paris conservatory as accomplished clarinetists. Henri went on to perform in the famed Garde Republicaine band and the Opera Comique. By the early 1900s Henri had opened shop at Place Dancourt in Paris to meet the demand for his handmade reeds and mouthpieces. Soon repair work and customizing led to the manufacturing of clarinets.
From 1895 to 1910, Alexandre Selmer served as principal clarinetist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. At the turn of the century, a small retail store was opened in New York City for selling the family wares. Selmer clarinets prospered after winning a gold medal at the Saint Louis exposition of the 1904 Worlds Fair. In 1918 Alexandre returned to Paris to assist Henri in their growing family business, leaving an employee, George Bundy, the rights to distribute Selmer products in the United States.
Having a firm hold on the professional clarinet market, Bundy next set his sights on flutes. In 1920 Bundy hired George W. Haynes, the first in a family famous for flute making, to design the Selmer flute. These fine instruments bore the brand names Original Haynes and Master Flute. In fact, Selmer flute manufacturing was briefly moved to Boston, site of several famous flute companies.
Louis Lot flutes became the rage with professionals in the late 1920s. Selmer responded by offering a copy of a Louis Lot owned by Charles Selmer (first flutist with the Opera Comique and the Concerts Colonne Orchestras). To cement Selmers position in flutes, Bundy brought a young flute craftsman named Kurt Gemeinhardt to the United States from Markneukirchen, Germany.
Bundy recognized the need to leave New York City in order to expand his manufacturing operations. By the 1920s Elkhart, Indiana, had established a reputation as the band instrument capital. Drawing on a skilled labor pool, the company was moved to Elkhart. A New York showroom remained open until 1951.
In the 1940s, Selmer entered the piano market, purchasing the Jesse French Company of New Castle, Indiana. The division was closed in 1954 to concentrate on band instruments.
American industry in the 1940s prospered from advancements in efficient and economical production methods and the newly developed field of plastics. Selmer combined these factors in 1948 to produce one of the first commercially successful molded clarinets--the Bundy Resonite model 1400. The 1400 was patterned after the famous Selmer (Paris) BT clarinet, used by such great artists as Benny Goodman. The Bundy Resonite clarinet launched a revolution in affordable, high quality musical instruments and established Selmer as an industry leader. The 1400 passed the one million-units-sold milestone in 1978 and continued to launch musical careers.
The band instrument industry grew rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s as demand increased due to a baby boom in the number of school age children and the proliferation of school music programs throughout the United States. Selmer seized the opportunity to reinforce its position as an industry leader by skillful acquisitions Vincent Bach Corporation (1961), Buescher Band Instrument Company (1963), Brilhart mouthpieces (1966), Lesher double reed instruments (1967), Glaesel String Instrument Service (1977), Ludwig Drum Company (1981), Wm. Lewis & Son (1995).