George Washburn Lyon, an employee of the Oliver Ditson Company of Boston, and Patrick Joseph Healy moved to Chicago and established their business in 1864. In the early 1880s the company started producing high quality guitars and mandolins under the Washburn name. Banjos were later added to the line. Lyon & Healy eventually became the country's largest music firm, not only manufacturing their own instruments but selling other makers' products.
In the late 1920s Tonk Brothers of Chicago purchased the wholesale division of Lyon & Healy. At the same time the machinery and patents for the company's fretted instruments was sold to J. R. Stewart, another Chicago company (by 1930 this firm was bankrupt). After that, the only instruments produced by Lyon & Healy were harps. The company is still in business, and is well known as a leading harp manufacturer.
The company produced banjo ukes under both the Lyon & Healy and Washburn names (on some, the Lyon & Healy name is stamped into the back of the peghead, and a Washburn nameplate is also affixed). Although most of them are plain, typically adorned with a fleur de lis inlay on the peghead and dots on the fingerboard, they are solid, well made instruments. The model was designated "The Duke" in advertisements. A fancier variation of "The Duke" has snowflake inlays, and an inlaid marquetry design on the back of the resonator. And, a few fancy banjo ukes were also produced under the Washburn name.
Washburn Prewar Instrument Styles, a book by Hubert Pleijsier published in 2008, gives an excellent history of the company and the instruments it produced.
Click Here to see the Washburn "Duke" Banjo Uke
Click Here to see the fancier version of the Washburn "Duke" Banjo Uke
Click Here to see a fancy Washburn Banjo Uke
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