In 1883 Friedrich Gretsch, a German immigrant, opened a small shop in Brooklyn to manufacture banjos and drums. The business thrived, but in 1895, he unexpectedly died at the age of 39. His son, Fred Gretsch, Sr., assumed control of the company while still a teenager.

Fred a hard working young man, soon expanded the company to produce guitars and mandolins. He also started importing instruments and related products, and by 1916 the firm occupied a huge ten-story building at 60 Broadway Street in Brooklyn. Business directories of the late 1920s show the company's name as Fred Gretsch Mfg. Co.

The company continued to grow, and in 1929 a branch was opened in Chicago, at 226 South Wabash Avenue. By that time they were producing about a hundred thousand instruments annually. In 1940 Gretsch purchased the Bacon Banjo Company, and in 1967 Gretsch was acquired by the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company.

Gretsch produced a large quantity of banjo ukes over the years. Most of them were inexpensive instruments, typical of which is the "Clarophone" pictured below. It has a 7" head and is stamped "Gretsch American" on the back of the peghead.

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