A little history…The Ludwig & Ludwig Drum Company was founded in the spring of 1909 by brothers William F. and Theobald Ludwig, manufacturing a bass drum pedal. Crude pedals of the day were “…not powerful or fast enough for the fast rag-time tempos” and the new Ludwig creation became an immediate success. So much so that the brothers began spending more time manufacturing rather than playing drums. That is, until Theobald fell victim to the great Flu Epidemic in 1918 and died at a young age of 29. By demand, William F. took over and devoted 100% of his professional career to manufacturing. Ludwig & Ludwig became the world’s largest drum company in the 1920’s, surpassing Leedy Drums. World War I put a damper on all non-war related manufacturing, but Ludwig was awarded a substantial contract from the US Government for rope tensioned drums and the company continued. After the war, returning musicians were in-demand for theater orchestras and Ludwig’s success flourished.
From William F, Ludwig Sr.’s booklet, 75 Years A Drummer…My Life At The Drums:
“In 1929, as the well-remembered depression drew near, some of us became, perhaps unduly, concerned about the future. The Stock Market collapse choked business and we owed money on our new building (built in 1923). After considerable deliberation, it was decided that the best way for Ludwig & Ludwig to ride out the storm would be to merge with the G.C. Conn Co. of Elkhart, Indiana.”
The Conn Company was already cash-strapped from the purchase of the Leedy Drum Company earlier. Conn proposed a merger with Ludwig receiving $1,000,000 of preferred Conn Stock. Facing bankruptcy, Ludwig was forced to accept. Unfortunately, the Market crash devalued the option to $100,000. Ludwig, being the eternal optimist and being at odds with the Conn business model (which included not only another drum company but a full line of musical instruments) decided,
“In the year 1937…to start all over again in the drum manufacturing business and bought the 20,000 square foot factory building at 1728 N. Damen Ave. in Chicago…The new firm was named the Wm. F. Ludwig Drum Co.”
Conn was quick to notice and had their attorneys file for trademark infringement (Conn owned the Ludwig name). Ludwig Sr. was forced to change the company name to WFL Drum Company. Knowing the brand recognition of the Ludwig name, he wisely inscribed his logo badges to include “Wm. F. Ludwig, Founder”. Conn was enraged but Ludwig was totally within his right, a totally legal procedure."
Son Wm. F. Ludwig, Jr. joined the company one year later and albeit a slow start, the WFL Drum Company began to grow. World War II soon erupted but with some innovate designs to overcome the ensuing government metal restrictions together with Ludwig’s uncanny ability to secure government contracts, the WFL Drum Company received “the largest contract for field drums that had ever been placed with a single manufacturer.” Post war sales flourished with the war-weary population turning to music to relieve their depression. That coupled with the signing of Buddy Rich as an endorser, WFL, with Ludwig at the helm, became a major contender once again. Rich’s endorsement was not without pain though. WFL Jr. later recounted,
“My six most feared words were ‘Buddy Rich is on line two.'”
Still, the path was definitely silver lined, especially when Ludwig Sr. got the call of his dreams. Conn had a number of set backs including a 110 day strike of their labor force. In 1951, in an effort to consolidate their efforts they merged the Leedy and Ludwig & Ludwig names to offer the Leedy & Ludwig Drum Company. By 1955, lack of direction coupled with some design failures forced Conn to reconsider keeping drums in their instrument offering. The decision was made to sell the drum line…the Leedy name to Slingerland, the Ludwig name would go full circle, back to the Ludwig family. Ludwig Sr. continues,
“after exactly twenty-five years…I ‘owned’ my own name once more!”