Charles Gerard Conn was the patriarch of musical instrument manufacturing in Elkhart, Indiana. In 1873, following a brawl in a bar which resulted in a split lip, C.G. Conn developed a brass mouthpiece with a rubber rim. Conn converted an old sewing machine to a lathe and set-up a shop building these mouthpieces. In 1875, a French instrument maker named Dupont began repairing instruments in Conn’s shop. After watching him work for a few days, Conn believed he could build his own instrument. In that same year, Colonel Conn would build the first American made cornet.
By 1879, Conn moved operations into larger quarters and began making other instruments. In 1880, the town of Elkhart, Indiana became so enamored with C.G. Conn they elected him as their Mayor. During his second term, he was forced to resign due to a factory fire in 1883. The factory was rebuilt bigger and better and production continued. By 1893 his instruments were awarded the highest honors in the World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago.
The Colonel loved strange and bizarre instruments. In 1907, he built an immensaphone, the largest horn in the world at 12 feet in diameter and 35 feet long. Conn also continued on a series of “firsts”, building the first American made saxophone and the first sousaphone, built to John Philip Sousa’s specifications.
In 1915, Conn retired and the company was purchased by Carl Greenleaf. The business was renamed C.G. Conn Ltd. During this era, Carl Greenleaf began the National School Band Movement. In 1923, Greenleaf established the first National Band Contest in Chicago, and the Conn National School of Music, also in Chicago. In 1928, he supported the National Music Camp located in Interlochen, Michigan.
The company flourished until World War II. In 1942, the factory retooled to manufacture compasses, altimeters, and other items related to the war effort. During this time, many of Conn’s dealers turned to smaller instrument makers who were allowed to manufacture instruments on a limited basis. Coming out of wartime production, Conn found difficulty regaining its position as the number one band instrument maker.
In 1969, the Greenleaf family sold the business to Crowell-Collier MacMillan, a publishing company. Manufacturing of Conn instruments was split between Nogales, Arizona and Abilene, Texas; the Elkhart factory was sold to the Selmer Company.
In the 80’s through a series of mergers, C.G. Conn Ltd was combined with Slingerland Drum Company, Artley, Scherl & Roth, and several other musical instrument manufacturers and distributors to eventually form United Musical Instruments (UMI). In 2002, UMI merged with the Selmer Company to form Conn-Selmer, Inc. and later in 2004 merged with G. Leblanc Corporation.