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.