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DRUMS AND THE WAR EFFORT

 

 

 

When the United States of America entered into World War Two in late 1941, metals such as brass, nickel, and steel were soon desperately needed for the production of ammunition, airplanes, tanks and other war related materials. Thus, the U.S. Government mandated that non-essential, newly manufactured items such as musical instruments must be constructed using very little of these important metals. NOTE: For even more information on drums of WWII, please see my Modern Drummer article in the “Articles” section of this web site: Modern Drummer Article

 

 

 

 

This order posed quite a problem for drum companies and creative measures had to be taken in order to comply with these new laws. As a result of these wartime limitations, many unique and beautiful drums were produced during World War Two.

 

1943-44 Slingerland Rolling Bomber Radio King drum set

(Photo courtesy of Dave Brown)

 

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7x14 Slingerland Rolling Bomber snare drum

 

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In June 1942, The United States had been at war with Japan and Germany for over six months. With materials necessary to the war effort becoming scarce, the U.S. Government issued the following order to manufacturers of musical instruments:

General Limitation Order No. L-37

To Restrict the Production of Musical Instruments

“Whereas, the demands of national defense have created a shortage of materials used in the manufacture of musical instruments, action has action has already been taken to conserve the supply and direct the distribution of such materials to insure deliveries for defense and essential civilian requirements; and the present supply of these materials will be insufficient for defense and essential civilian requirements unless the manufacture of musical instruments is curtailed and the use of critical materials for such manufacture thereby reduced.”

 

General Limitation Order L-37, stated that all producers of musical instruments must limit the amount of critical materials (metal) to no more than ten percent of the total weight.

 

In answer to the government’s order, Slingerland introduced the “Rolling Bomber” drums with rosewood and walnut lugs, strainers, maple hoops, and other parts normally made from metal. However, the fragile nature of the wooden lugs often caused them to break under higher tensioning. Pearl and sparkle finishes were available.

 

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 The Gretsch Drum Company offered their “Defender” line, with silver painted, bullet shaped maple lugs and tacked-on bottom heads.

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The W.F.L. company devised a unique internal tensioning system (most likely inspired by the Leedy and Strupe “Master Model” drums of the 1930’s) constructed mostly of maple. The drums were tuned by turning a series of tension rods from outside the drum. This caused wooden rings to be pushed against the heads for tensioning. These unusual drums were known as the “Victorious” line. This tensioning system was far from perfect and the concept was eventually either discontinued or side-lined in favor of more traditional tuning. The company began installing wooden lugs with threaded metal inserts that looked suspiciously like those used on Slingerland’s Rolling Bomber drums.

 

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Below are examples of WFL’s later wooden

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The Ludwig & Ludwig Drum Company, which was owned by C.G. Conn of Elkhart, Indiana offered their line of drums during this period known as the Victory models. Lugs and hoops were made from maple.

 

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The Leedy Manufacturing Company was also owned by parent company, C.G. Conn of Elkhart, Indiana and like Ludwig & Ludwig, they were producing mostly wooden drum outfits during the war. Their drums were known as the “Dreadnaught Victor” and “Dreadnought Command”.

 

 

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                                      From the Tony Lewis collection

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During the war, drum companies did not produce only drums. Many musical instrument manufacturers were granted contracts to produce navigational equipment and other products for use in the war effort. For example, C. G. Conn (parent company of Ludwig & Ludwig and Leedy) was granted exclusive contracts to manufacture altimeters for the armed forces.

M-087 Altimeter by C. G. Conn

Altimeter manufactured by ConnConn signature on altimeter

 

 

As World War Two drew to a close, the L-37 metal restriction order was finally revoked on May 10, 1945. However, because supplies of crucial materials was still in short supply, it was many months before instrument production returned to pre-war levels. By 1946, manufacture and sales had pretty much returned to normal. Below is a 1944 letter to drum distributors announcing the relaxation of wartime restrictions. Note that all tom toms at that time would receive wood hoops due to the shortage of brass.

 

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This order form dated May 1945, shows an order place for a white duco Radio King drum set, presumably with wood hoops on bass and toms. No cymbals available.

 

 

 

 

Here is a Slingerland order form from July 1946. Notice the mention at the bottom that no cymbals are yet available. Brass would be a difficult commodity to obtain for quite

some time.

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While Sears & Roebuck did make drums in the 1930’s and 1940’s, there is no evidence that any wooden lug drums were produced. They were mainly selling drums made by other companies like L&S. There is a mention of wartime restrictions in an attachment in their 1941 catalog, printed on December 12, 1943.

 

 

 

Some interesting World War Two advertisements and articles