words project roundtable

J. Estey & Co.

Dennis Waring discusses the impact of Brattleboro’s Estey Organ Company on American Consumer Culture at a Words Projec Roundtable discussion at the Estey Organ Museum on Thursday, June 14, 2018.

Dennis Waring, Author “Manufacturing the Muse: Estey Organs and Consumer Culture in Victorian America”  (Wesleyan University Press, 2002) leads a discussion at the venerable Estey Organ Museum in Brattleboro.

Although there were many manufacturers of reed organs, Estey’s dominance in the market was due largely to the company’s innovations in both design and marketing.  Estey organs accompanied Christian missionaries throughout world and spread the Brattleboro name far and wide.

“Though it is obvious that Jacob Estey’s use of period imagery was the most influential element in his advertising, his exploitation of standard marketing phraseology — the largest, most perfect, new, improved, worldwide — made a deep impression on developing consumer mentality and advertising itself,” Waring said.

Waring will also discuss Jacob Estey’s progressive ethos which helped shape the imagination of Vermont itself  He was recognized not only for business acumen but his commitment to the town of Brattleboro and the care and concern for his workers. Among his philanthropic gifts, Jacob Estey was a benefactor of Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina – underwriting the first building in the U.S. intended specifically for the higher education of black women.

The Estey Organ Company employed a large workforce, many of whom were highly specialized craftsmen. For many years Estey was the largest employer in the State of Vermont. Estey employed master woodcarvers, designers, engineers and inventors, many of whom who came from Europe to work for Estey.

Jacob Estey’s progressive views towards his workforce extended to women employees. Estey believed that women had the right to do any work for which they were capable, and that their compensation should be equal to their male counterparts. A permanent exhibit in the Estey Organ Museum documents the Women of Estey.  Estey family graves are located in Prospect Hill Cemetery.

The Roundtable Discussion Series is presented by The Brattleboro Words Project, a multi-year collaboration between the Brattleboro Historical Society, the Brattleboro Literary Festival, Write Action, Brooks Memorial Library and Marlboro College and backed by a National Endowment for the Humanities matching grant.  The Project is creating a ‘Brattleboro Words Trail’, podcasts linked with sites of interest in the history of words for walking, biking and driving tours of our area.