The Workbench Photo

ohg-workbench-photoThis photo of Orville’s work bench was taken by professional photographer Henry G. Dornbush in 1900 and appeared in the Aug/Sep 1937 issue of Gibson’s in-house magazine “Mastertone” along with a written article. It also appeared in Julius Bellson’s 1973 book, “The Story of Gibson.” It was taken at Orville’s studio at 104 East Main Street.

Henry was the forth of five sons born to Geert Doorenbos. The family emigrated to the United States from The Netherlands in 1881 when Henry was about two years old. In 1894, at the age of 15, Henry apprenticed at the photographic studio of Frank P. Ford at 119 South Burdick. By 1896, Orville had moved into a studio across the street. This is probably when and where Henry met him.

Orville had been advertising instrument repair since at least 1897. The photo shows two instruments on the far right, one small guitar and one mandolin/banjo, that he must have been repairing for customers.

Also, note the violin rib garland hanging on the rack at the center of the photo and the lyre pattern hanging on the wall above. Evidently, Orville had been making violins and lyre-mandolins by 1900.

The photo also shows a collection of hand saws and metal C-clamps hanging on the rack. A large case of awls and chisels leans against the wall. The F-style mandolin on the left sits on top of a small wooden case. And a pitcher and small glass bottle sit on the table at the far right.

The photo also shows what appears to be a guitar case laying below the guitar on the left.

In all, this photo shows four A style mandolins (one is on a stand just inside the left edge of the photo), three F style mandolins, two guitars, one violin rib garland, one lyre pattern, and two non-Gibson repairs. All this production at one moment in time in 1900. Thank you, Henry Dornbush.


The East Main St. Studio, 1897


Main St at Burdick 1875c
Photo courtesy of the Clarence L. Miller Family History Room, Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo, Michigan

By September of 1897, Orville had moved his studio to a larger space on the second floor of 104 East Main. In the photo, it’s the second building from the right below where the ‘Business College’ sign hangs. This studio was above the Foster & Post five and dime store.

Among Orville’s output by this time was two complete sets of instruments, one for his own Orpheus Mandolin Club and one for the John W. McLouth Ideal Mandolin Orchestra.


Source: 1897 Kalamazoo City Directory
Source: 1897 Kalamazoo City Directory

Orville had previously advertised in the newspaper, but at this point he also placed a pictured ad in the 1897 Kalamazoo City Directory. This advertisement also answers my question as to whether he had an exhibit at the 1893 World’s Fair.




Source: Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, October 13, 1897
Source: Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, October 13, 1897

The first annual Kalamazoo Street Fair took place October 12-13-14 of 1897. Since his studio was on the second floor, Orville probably displayed his instruments and wares on the sidewalk below as did many other merchants.

The South Burdick St. Studio, 1896

From 1896 to at least March of 1897, Orville’s studio was on the second floor of 114 South Burdick Street (the building on the far left). This is where he completed the set of instruments for the John W. McLouth Ideal Mandolin Orchestra.

From the collection of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.
From the collection of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

The alley between the construction and the buildings is West Exchange Place. To the right of the horse and carriage (out of view of the camera) is East Exchange Place. Main Street runs behind the horse and carriage from right to left.

This photo was taken in 1907 during the construction of the Kalamazoo National Bank (the line running from top middle to bottom right is a crack in the photo plate).

Orville Gibson Patent and Studio, 1895

Through his attorney, Lucius C. West, Orville applied for his mandolin patent on May 11, 1895. Entitled “Mandolin,” the patent states that it pertains to OHG Patentmandolins, guitars, mandolas and lutes. If Orville had applied for it at the height of a guitar craze it may well have been entitled “Guitar.”

The patent was granted on February 1, 1898. So, why did it take three years for his patent to be granted? The answer lies with the United States Patent Office.

For a time, the USPO had changed their criteria for granting patents. Previously, they had granted patents on common knowledge alone. They changed their process to actually doing research to see if they could locate the same invention by someone else. This may account for the three year delay in it being granted.

The USPO eventually went back to granting patents on the basis of common knowledge alone and new patents were, once again, granted and issued within a few months of being filed.

Former Gibson employees have said they were told Orville perfected his instrument-making in his garage. After further research, it turns out that when Orville applied for his patent, he lived at 318 South Burdick St. which had a large garage-like structure attached to the back of the residence.

Photo courtesy of the Clarence L. Miller Family History Room, Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Photo courtesy of the Clarence L. Miller Family History Room, Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo, Michigan

Orville’s studio, 1895. The white house at the left edge of the photo is 318 South Burdick. There is an elongated addition on the back. And attached to that is a long garage-like structure of which the long, low roof can be seen behind the tree on the right.

This photo was taken in 1891 when the new post office was being built at the southwest corner of Burdick and South Street. In the foreground, bricks can be seen stacked neatly encircling the building site. Within its parameter, the foundation was being dug by hand. The Post Office had been completed by the time Orville lived at this address.

Orville’s First Known Studio, 1887

In 1887-88, Orville resided in The Fuller Block at 143 South Burdick Street. In the photo below, the International Hotel is the corner building that sits in the foreground. The Fuller Block is the next building up the street with the four bay windows, three with the awnings outstretched.

Photo courtesy of the Clarence L. Miller Family History Room, Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Photo courtesy of the Clarence L. Miller Family History Room, Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo, Michigan

This building is important for many reasons. With this address, Orville had changed from living in local boarding houses to his first residence among the downtown businesses, probably because it provided a larger, more suitable working space.

When Orville lived at this address, he was experimenting with the construction of stringed musical instruments that he himself played. So, it can be deduced that by 1887-88 he had mastered the luthier processes to the point of successful experimentation. At this time, he was also considered to be one of Kalamazoo’s most eligible bachelors.

On the ground floor of The Fuller Block was Butters’ New Central Restaurant. Orville would work for Mr. and Mrs. Frank Butters in about five years (around 1893), after they had moved their restaurant up to Main Street. The Fuller Block had its own water well in the basement and may have had gas lighting.

In 1909, The Fuller Theater was built onto the back of the Fuller Block. The entrance was through the right hand side (south door) of the building. It was managed by Leroy Hornbeck, founding manager and stockholder of the Gibson Company.