The War and Post War Years

This article is a reprint from the Conn Chord magazine, volume 19 no. 1. With kind permission from the C.G. Conn company.

Pershing's bugler used a Conn instrument. So did American bombadiers during World War II. It was a Conn-made bombsight. The contrast between the two wars could not be more clear. During the first World War Conn made band instruments for the army. But they were a small part of over-all production. Most of the instruments that left the factory were destined for town bands. In 1942 Conn converted totally for the war effort. Old machinery was literally pushed into a corner while the plant was tooled for producing high precision navigation instruments. These included such intricate mechanisms as the gyro-horizon for aircraft, the Naviscope which enabled convoy ships to maintain position during complicated night evasion maneuvers, and refinements on magnetic compasses for the Navy.
Charlie Rogers, a 46-year Conn veteran (he retired in 1973 as service department manager) who was closely involved in the change-over, described the factory as being virtually gutted. Portions of it were air-conditioned and sealed off for electronics work. Only a tiny service department was kept open to repair band instruments. Four Army-Navy "E" awards were presented to C.G.Conn, Ltd. for its contributions to the war effort. The change was dramatic. Yet Conn's ability to produce the highly scientific equipment required by the war did not happen overnight. Or in a matter of months. Conn's technological sophistication had been developing for years. Carl Greenleaf's marketing genius was only part of the Conn story during the 1920's and 30's. Of equal importance were the engineering breakthroughs that enabled Conn to increase production to supply the new markets, yet at the same time maintain traditional standards of quality. Carl Greenleaf recognized and encouraged this side of the business. But it was his son Leland who was mainly responsible for many of Conn's technical triumphs.
Leland B. Greenleaf joined Conn in 1928 as Assistant Chief Engineer. He was later Chief Engineer and held other high corporate posts until 1958 when he became Conn's president. The engineering innovations under Leland Greenleaf are legendary. A particularly complicated example is the lock bolt "drum" concept of drilling clarinet tone holes. More simple but equally significant was the development of beryllium brass castings for saxophone keys. These feats solved problems or produced refinements in instrument manufacture that often were apparent only to experts. Yet the end result was a better instrument at a lower cost. Among the more important developments under Leland Greenleaf were machines for drilling saxophone knobs, better honing methods for brasswinds and improved tooling for French horn rotary valves. "Crysteel" valves were developed. Also the "Coprion" process, involving an electrolytic depostion of metals which later led to the "Electro-D" process and the "Micro-Finished" mouthpiece interior. Improved methods of producing cornet and trumpet valves were introduced. Allied with this was the development of the "Borematic" concept and new precision gauging methods which made possible the selective assembly process of pistons and castings. This selective assembly process helped make Conn cornet and trumpet valves world famous for their precise uniformity.
Conn innovations were developed for the most part in its scientific research laboratory established by Carl Greenleaf in 1928. This was the first such department in the musical instrument industry. One of its finest achievements is the Stroboconn, developed in 1936 for the visual measurement of sound. In 1960 it produced the Dynalevel, an audio-visual aid to measure the dynamic level of sound. During the period more new model instruments were created by Conn than any other competitive manufacturer. C.G. Conn also added to its line of instruments by acquiring Artley (woodwind manufacture) and Scherl & Roth (strings).