1870 s - 1880 s The Day of Small Beginnings... James Welsh Pepper founded J.W. PEPPER & SON, INC. out of his parents' modest print shop in Philadelphia during the American centennial. This same year, the unofficial anthem of the American West, "Home on the Range," was first published. Pepper's passion to teach instrumental music was combined with his print apprenticeship and a keen business sense. What happened between then and now is the extraordinary story of an American business.
1853 James Welsh Pepper is born in Philadelphia to William and Rachel Pepper. His parents ran a small print shop where he first learned about the business. J.W. Pepper grew to love music from a young age, which inspired his life's labor. He would prove to be a savvy businessman, creating a company that today is the largest sheet music retailer in the world.
1876 J.W. Pepper is founded, starting as a music publisher in Pepper's parents' print shop. For Pepper, it was never just about selling music, but also about giving musicians everything they needed to be their best. With this in mind, he published a number of scholarly journals aimed at helping improve musicians' technique and teach them best practices. These journals included the Musical Times and the Brass and Reed Band Journal.
1877 Pepper opens its first retail store and new headquarters. The building, located at 832 Filbert Street in Philadelphia, is designed to house both sheet music and instrument stock. Thanks to this new space, the company begins selling musical instruments for the first time. The company would go on to invent a number of new instruments and accessories, becoming a pioneer in instrument manufacturing.
1880 U.S. Patent 229271, a folding music stand, is filed by James Welsh Pepper, one of many inventions patented during his time as President. The stand, made of wood and iron, is designed to be lighter than the other stands of the day and to fold down into a smaller, more transportable size. The leg configuration makes the stand more stable as well, solving many of the problems of contemporary folding stands.
1881 Pepper opens its second store in New York City at 249 Bowery Street in Lower Manhattan. By venturing out of Philadelphia, Pepper hopes to expand sales in arguably the largest market in the nation. Today, Pepper boasts 11 locations serving the entire United States. These locations are pillars of our company, hosting many events each year, sponsoring many more, and providing services catered to the regions they serve.
1882 Pepper continues to improve their instrument manufacturing by bringing celebrated brass instrument maker Henri Distin to Philadelphia. With his help, the company became a major player in the instrument market. In this same year, J.W. Pepper's son Howard is born. Howard grew up in the music industry, eventually joining his father in running the business.
1886 Seeing great potential in the burgeoning Midwestern states, Pepper opens a third store located in Chicago. The store, at 149 Wabash Avenue, caters to a booming population in what would become one of the largest cities in the country. The Chicago location was a staple of the city for over 100 years before it closed. Today, the region is served by Pepper's Indiana Regional Sales Center.
1888 Alexander LeForrestier becomes superintendent of bell making and would oversee perhaps the company's most recognizable achievement. It was during his tenure that John Philip Sousa himself gave Pepper the idea for what would become the Sousaphone. LeForrestier's efforts helped put Pepper instruments on the map, leading to a number of high honors for the company.
1890 s - 1900 s Songs, Symphonies and Sousa! Philadelphia is known for many famous firsts that include the first library, hospital, zoo, and stock exchange. Pepper played its part by making and naming the first Sousaphone for John Philip Sousa himself! By 1902, Pepper's publishing efforts expanded to include music for band, orchestra, piano, banjo, and mandolin, as well as collections for all brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. Hostilities with Spain brought an increase in military contracts for instruments. Much of the martial music of that period was played from the output of Pepper's robust 8th and Locust manufacturing headquarters.
1890 Pepper moves its Philadelphia headquarters to a new building at 8th and Locust, complete with robust instrument manufacturing capabilities rivaling those of any other manufacturer in the country. The state-of-the-art equipment paired with some of the greatest minds in instrument craftsmanship puts J.W. Pepper on the map with the top manufacturers of the times.
1892 An increased focus on manufacturing instruments leads to a number of patents for drums and musical accessories. In this year, Pepper acquired the Excelsior Drum factory at 223-235 N. 4th Street as well as the "Excelsior" trade name. Also in 1892, Sousa first gives Pepper the idea for a modified helicon designed for concert use. This instrument would come to be known as the Sousaphone.
1893 The Chicago World's Fair, also known as the World's Columbian Exposition, commemorates the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas. Exhibits from 34 countries display the best the Western world has to offer, and J.W. Pepper is among them. In fact, Pepper's instruments win the highest medal and diploma for craftsmanship at the fair.
1894 As the turn of the century approaches, the United States is slowly becoming a true world power. Part of that power comes from a strong navy, and every ship has a band. In 1894, the U.S. Navy commissions J.W. Pepper to outfit 17 ships with complete sets of band instruments. Valued at $46,000, it is a record-breaking sale at the time.
1895 The first Sousaphone is manufactured by Pepper using Sousa's own specifications. Originally designed for use in a concert band, the Sousaphone has become a staple in parades and field shows around the world. The original instrument was lost for many years, only to be found hanging in a flea market over 70 years later – prompting a long journey in search of the true history of the instrument. See the whole story here.
1898 Pepper expands to a new market, beginning to publish piano music. The company also introduces three new trade names: Surprise, American Favorite, and Challenge. The Spanish-American war leads to an influx of patriotic tunes and an increase in their popularity over the turn of the century. Also in 1898, Pepper donates a brass staff, cord, and tassels to the University of Pennsylvania band, a close neighbor in Philadelphia.
1900 Continuing the tradition of education and empowerment for musicians, the company begins publishing The Pepper Piano Music Magazine. Parlor music is still very popular at this time, though the invention of the phonograph would soon displace in-house piano performances in upper-middle class homes. In this same year, Pepper begins publishing the 20th Century Series filled with pieces written for band and orchestra.
1902 Pepper begins to develop publishing of vocal selections. Pepper Publishing Company is formed to take on this new venture. Meanwhile, James' son Howard Pepper begins classes at the University of Pennsylvania while also working in the shop. Over time, his responsibilities would grow as he learned more and more about the business from the best teacher available - his father, James Welsh Pepper.
1910 s - 1920 s High Notes and Undertones. Pepper went through significant changes during this period. Internal and external forces created conditions unfavorable to the coming challenges. A new location at 33rd and Walnut Streets became Pepper's home in 1910, at which time the company discontinued its instrument manufacturing operations, but continued importing instruments for sale. Upon founder James Welsh Pepper's death in 1919, son Howard E. Pepper became President. He did not prove to be the same keen businessman as his father.
1910 With Howard's involvement in the company ever growing, his father decides to change the company name to J.W. Pepper & Son, the name it is still registered under today. The company moves their headquarters to the Howard E. Pepper Building at 33rd and Walnut, which is now the Moore School of Engineering. Also in 1910, the company decides to focus on imports and stopped manufacturing band instruments.
1912 Another big change in practices occurs when Pepper ceases publication of the Musical Times and Band Journal. These publications remain iconic reminders of the early days of the company, as well as glimpses into what the music world was like at the turn of the century. Over time, Pepper has published thousands of catalogs and journals – each a snapshot of decades past. Read more here.
1914 With turmoil brewing overseas, Pepper foresees the material shortages that were on the horizon. To stay competitive, the company orders a large number of instruments from Austria before the situation erupts in full-scale war. World War I follows shortly after and proves this a shrewd decision, as massive shortages of tin, brass, and iron leave other instrument manufacturers in a precarious position.
1919 After 43 years as a leader in the music business, James Welsh Pepper dies of cancer at the age of 66. His legacy has endured 100 years after his death, and the impact of his business savvy and love of music cannot be overstated. He was truly a visionary in the world of music publishing and education. Upon his death, the presidency is transferred to his son, Howard E. Pepper.
1924 Pepper publishes its last new title, choosing to focus entirely on retail sales. The company continues to publish many of the old titles it had produced during its first 50 years in business. In that time, Pepper registered an estimated 3,500 titles. Today, the company continues to focus on retail, building relationships with the many publishers across the country and around the world.
1926 With changing needs, the company decides to sell the Howard E. Pepper building to the University of Pennsylvania. Following the sale, Pepper moves to a more modest location at 5014 Sansom Street and continues to focus on retail sales. The move is part of a changing strategy to refocus the company from publishing to retail. Times would prove hard, however, as the Roaring Twenties gave way to the Great Depression.
1930 s - 1940 s House of Pepper...Tribulation or Triumph? Despite the honesty, integrity and pride evident in Pepper's 1929 catalog preambles, neither Howard Pepper, James W. Pepper II, nor Emma Pepper could harmonize with the economic ravages of the Great Depression. The House of Pepper was put on the auction block in 1941, and its story could have ended there. Upon reading of Pepper's plight, one Harold Burtch (known as "Flash," for how he always seemed to be everywhere at once) took note. Having played a Pepper cornet in high school, he decided to rally a small group of investors and began extended negotiations to keep the House of Pepper alive.
1930 At 48 years of age, Howard E. Pepper dies of "acute indigestion." The term covered multiple conditions, but in Howard's case most likely referred to a heart attack. His death comes at a time of economic turmoil and dwindling sales in the music industry. His wife, Emma H. Pepper, succeeds him as President and would have to lead the company through arguably the most difficult decade in American history.
1940 The company moves to a new building at 210 N. Broad Street, but sales remain stagnant. Despite her best efforts, Emma Pepper is not able to reverse the company's fortunes. The following year, facing overwhelming losses, Pepper is forced to declare bankruptcy. The future of the company looks bleak as it heads to the auction block, putting everything the Pepper family had built into jeopardy.
1942 Businessman Harold Walker Burtch hears of the company's troubles and makes it his mission to rebuild the "grand old company." Having played a Pepper cornet in his youth, Burtch (called "Flash" by those close to him) had a close connection to J.W. Pepper. Pulling together a group of investors, he purchases the company in hopes of saving it from ruin. The stock is formally issued on September 16, 1942.
1943 One of the first actions Burtch takes is to secure a contract with the U.S. Navy, just as James Welsh Pepper had done at the turn of the century. With World War II at its height, the demand for military band music surpasses anything the nation had seen before. The order, 35 tons of music from 200 publishers, is the largest band order in history at the time.
1944 The company purchases a building at 1423 Vine Street, signifying a new beginning for the company under the Burtch family leadership. Two years later, Harold's son Dean graduates from high school and joins the company full time. It takes the efforts of both father and son to pull Pepper back from the brink. For years, Harold worked a second job full-time and ran Pepper as an unpaid employee.
1950 s - 1960 s The Baby Boom and a Favorite Son Under Harold Burtch's direction and reorganization, publishing of new material was minimized and the sale of music by all publishers to schools, colleges, and churches was maximized. A focus on mail-order advertising led sales upward and reversed ten years of operating at a loss by 1953. The Pepper catalogs had now become the primary print music source for educators in the United States. By the close of the '60s the company had refined customer service and grown sales accordingly under son Dean Burtch.
1953 Pepper begins a marketing strategy based around mail-order efforts. In the past, the best way to reach more customers was to have stores in multiple locations. However, by switching to a mail-order system, the company was able to cut the costs associated with physical expansion while reaching new markets across the nation. This method would prove to be a huge success for the company.
1954 Part of the Burtch family's success rejuvenating the company is a willingness to accept outside management when working to grow the business. In 1954, Dean successfully presses his family to consider this. The result is new growth, much of which can be attributed to the hiring of Ron Rowe, a shrewd businessman who would go on to become President of the company.
1955 Pepper hosts a three-day music reading clinic at the University of Delaware. It is the company's first reading session and is attended by over 500 musicians and music teachers. The session proves to be such a great success that the company makes such events an important part of its business. Today, Pepper sponsors hundreds of sessions across the country every year, reaching musicians wherever they call home.
1958 Tragedy strikes the Burtch family as Harold has his first heart attack. Though he survives, Harold is no longer able to run the company as he had for 17 years. In that time, Pepper had gone from the brink of ruin back to the major player in the music world it had been at the turn of the century. His son, Dean C. Burtch, takes over as President of the company in his stead.
1963 Pepper moves its headquarters to 231 N. 3rd Street where it stays for ten years. The company continues to focus on sheet music retail and expanding its mail-order network. This is a time of great success for the company under Dean C. Burtch, who would guide Pepper through renewed expansion and the dawn of the digital age.
1966 Pepper opens a new location in Atlanta, headed up by Ron Rowe. Pepper has maintained a location in the Atlanta area to this day. It serves the southeastern United States, sponsoring events and hosting reading sessions for musicians and music teachers across the region. The Atlanta building also houses one of Pepper's two state-of-the-art distribution centers.
1968 Pepper opens another new store in the Midwest, in Troy, Michigan. Ron Rowe again fosters the new store through its first year. Rowe was instrumental in these expansion projects and helped to guide the company from a more regional business to a nationwide leader in music retail. Two years later, the company expanded further, opening a store in Tampa, Florida. The once-bankrupt company had finally come back to life.
1970 s - 1980 s Harmonizing with New Technology The '70s and '80s saw a burst of new business technologies, and J.W. Pepper was at the forefront of their adoption. New automation and early computers strengthened the company that the Burtch family had saved. This early adoption of new technology under the direction of Ron Rowe and Robert Murphy started a tradition of innovation at Pepper that continues to this day. Pepper became the first company to allow text-based online ordering in 1989 when it launched Pepper National Music Network, setting the industry standard for online service.
1972 With rock and roll reigning supreme in the pop world, Dean Burtch ventures into the fray. Dean forms Gladwyne Music Publishing Co. and acquires the copyright for five songs from a band called Wicked Lester. The partnership was unsuccessful until the band reformed under the name KISS and adopted an unmistakable new image. KISS has since been awarded 30 gold records, three of which were titles originally funded by Dean through Gladwyne.
1977 Lee Paynter, future Chief Operating Officer, joins the Pepper team and plays an integral part in the company's expansion efforts. Paynter spearheaded the establishment of a number of new locations with the company and continues to hold a significant role in Pepper's leadership. Paynter also served on the board of directors for the National Association for Music Merchants and for the Music Publishers Association.
1981 Slowly but surely, telephone ordering overtakes the mail. In response, Pepper establishes a nationwide toll-free line in 1981. This line allows customers to connect instantaneously with the world's most complete inventory of sheet music. Questions can now be answered quickly over the phone and customers can easily access their billing information.
1983 Pepper introduces Choral Experience, a revolutionary new way to introduce customers to the best new music available each year. The Choral Experience box quickly becomes known to choir directors far and wide. It would evolve over time, becoming a collection of books and CDs taking up a little less room than the boxes. Eventually, similar programs for other ensembles started and came together to become Editors' Choice.
1984 Pepper moves its national headquarters into a new building in the Philadelphia suburb of Paoli. The new building is geared toward handling mail-order sales, but also well positioned to incorporate emerging technologies like computer systems.
1989 Pepper National Music Network (PNMN) is launched, allowing musicians, music directors, music librarians and more to connect with one another from across the United States. At a time when internet forums were in their infancy, Pepper was using them to foster peer-to-peer cooperation between people who otherwise might never have met. Customers could even place text orders online and receive their orders through the mail.
1990 s - 2010 s To Serve Well, Change is a Constant... The 1990s were a period of rapid expansion for J.W. Pepper & Son, with several new stores opening in cities across the country. When the recession of 2008 hit, the upheaval damaged businesses across the country, and the music industry was not immune. However, the company was able to weather the storm. With an eye toward protecting the future, Pepper has taken strides toward diversifying its products and strategies, preparing the company to meet the needs of customers for another 140 years.
1990 Pepper at Paige's becomes the first satellite store, combining Paige's instrument sales with Pepper's continued focus on sheet music. The store, located in Indianapolis, serves much of the Midwest. The partnership has been a great benefit to both companies, building a strong bond between the two over the years and leading to great successes in the Midwestern states.
1995 Pepper Music Network formally moves onto the internet, making Pepper one of the first businesses of its kind to introduce full online ordering. Over the years, online ordering has expanded to become the leading source of orders for the company. The internet opened many new opportunities for both Pepper and the world at large. Pepper, for its part, would seize on those opportunities wholeheartedly.
1999 Ron Rowe retires from Pepper. Having been the Chief Financial Officer and an influential part of the ambitious expansion during the 1990's, Greg Burtch, Dean Burtch's oldest son, is named President and serves from 1999 until July 31, 2007, when he retires. Greg continues to serve the company as a member of the Board of Directors.
2000 Pepper introduces ePrint, a service that allows customers to purchase music online and print it out on their personal printer. While we pride ourselves on fast delivery, sometimes people need their music the same day. ePrint finally allows Pepper to do just that. Over the years, Pepper has worked hard to perfect the process, just recently introducing Legato, a new viewing tool that works on all devices.
2004 Pepper acquires Malecki Music, a major competitor in the sheet music industry, and its subsidiary Wingert-Jones Publications. Wingert-Jones was founded in 1964 as a labor of love between two instrument salesmen with a passion for high-end band music. While Pepper remains focused on retail sales, the acquisition of Wingert-Jones signals the first time in decades that a subsidiary of Pepper would publish music.
2007 Upon the retirement of Greg Burtch, Glenn Burtch (Dean Burtch's youngest child) is named the President of Pepper. Glenn began his career at Pepper in April of 1991 and held several management positions before being named President. Under his direction Pepper redesigned its distribution system to better serve its customers, directed it through the economic downturn that began in 2008, and accelerated the expansion and development of new business opportunities. Glenn still currently serves as President & CEO of Pepper.
2009 Pepper begins shipping exclusively from two Distribution Centers, one in Atlanta and the other in Salt Lake City. With sales shifting dramatically away from walk-ins, it makes sense to centralize inventory, shipping and receiving, and order fulfillment. This makes coordination of orders easier and lifts the burden from the individual stores. As a result, the Regional Sales Centers have more time to focus on customers and local events.
2012 Pepper introduces My Score, a marketing platform for independent composers and arrangers. Composers now have the opportunity to sell works that, for whatever reason, might not fit with a more traditional publisher. Often times, great pieces fall through the cracks, and that is where this service comes in. Many independent composers have found a home on My Score.
2013 Pepper moves from Paoli to a new national headquarters at 191 Sheree Blvd. in Exton, Pennsylvania. That same year, Pepper Fundraising launches its first fundraising program. Part of an ambitious mission to diversify the company, Pepper Fundraising uses the company's extensive knowledge of the needs of music teachers and their ensembles to help them, or any group, raise money with little effort and no risk. Visit Pepper Fundraising
2016 Pepper celebrates its 140th anniversary, honoring 14 decades of customer service and devotion to music and music education. Cut Time, a new organizational tool for group leaders, is launched the same year. This tool allows music teachers (and anyone else who needs to stay in contact with a large group) to coordinate events, keep track of equipment and finances, stay in touch with students, parents and volunteers, and promote their group with a public website. Visit Cut Time