Michigan history: Orville H. Gibson, the founder of Gibson guitars

By Dane Sager Kelly - Web Producer

Orville H. Gibson, the founder of Gibson guitars in Kalamazoo, died on August 19, 1918. (WDIV)

Orville H. Gibson founded Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company in Kalamazoo in 1902. It would later become Gibson Brands, Inc., one of the most famous and iconic guitar manufacturers on the planet. 

Gibson moved from New York to Michigan due to health issues, seeking out Dr. John Kellog's health spa in Battle Creek.

After moving to Kalamazoo, Gibson created and patented a new mandolin design in 1896, the same year Henry Ford created his first automobile. The patent was issued in 1898.

You can see Gibson's mandolin patent here.

His new mandolin was stronger and could be mass produced, leading to the creation of the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company. 

Gibson was hospitalized multiple times in the last 10 years of his life. He died at the age of 62 on Aug. 19, 1918 in Ogdensburg, New York.

The company continued to grow, only slowing production during World War II to manufacture parts for the military. 

The company introduced the Gibson Les Paul in 1952, the company's first solid-body guitar. The first Les Paul guitars sold for $210.

In the late 1970s, production of Gibson's guitars started to shift from Kalamazoo to Nashville, Tennessee.

The Kalamazoo plant was closed officially in 1984.

Gibson Brands, Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 1. The company is restructuring and will continue to produce and sell Gibson-branded guitars.

When Gibson left Michigan in 1984, multiple employees and the plant manager, Jim Duerloo, started their own guitar company, Heritage Guitar Inc., building their own versions inspired by Gibson's designs.

Though Orville H. Gibson died 100 years ago, instruments are still being built out of his old plant in Kalamazoo.

Heritage Guitar Inc. still operates out of the old Gibson plant.

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