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This Drum Company Has Hardly Changed Since Lincoln Was President. Now It Serves the World's Best Musicians

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18.06.2019

Editor's note: This tour of small businesses across the country highlights the imagination, diversity, and resilience of American enterprise.

August 1860: "Finished the Lincoln drum today. The finest thing ever made."

Jay Jones is fortunate to come from a family of diarists. Otherwise, he would not have known that Noble & Cooley, the company co-founded by his great-great-great grandfather James Cooley in 1854, had created a drum for Abraham Lincoln's campaign rallies around New England. The drum factory burned in 1889. But Cooley's account of its early history survived.

"They sent to Illinois and got a fence rail that Lincoln had split years earlier, machined it into strips and steamed and bent the hoops out of it," Jones says. "It was then strung with sterling silver hooks and silk cord. There was a likeness of Lincoln painted on it."

Some equipment also survived the fire, including the now-150-year-old steam-bending machines the company still uses to render wood pliable to fabricate drum shells. Most of the crafting is handwork performed by Jones, his son Nick, and two employees in a cluster of red wood-frame buildings in Granville, Massachusetts, a one-store, one-crossroad farming community 112 miles across the state from Boston. Noble & Cooley operates out of 6,000 square feet; Jones leases another 80,000 to tenants that include a custom bicycle maker, a hot tub delivery service, and a guy with a personal workshop whose wife kicked him out of their garage. The company used to be bigger. "Shortly after the Civil War, we had a factory with 17 or 18 employees making 80,000 drums a year," Jones says.

But those were toy drums--far less sophisticated than the 55 drum sets and 300 snare drums the company now produces for professional and advanced musicians. Phil Collins adopted Noble & Cooley snare drums in 1986; the brand has toured with Billy Joel and Sting. Whether you're a Taylor Swift fan listening to the album Red or your tastes run toward Iggy Pop and Instinct, you've heard Noble & Cooley in action.

Noble & Cooley currently bends eight woods--ash, beech, birch, cherry, oak, maple, tulip, and walnut--all harvested from within 20 miles of the factory. Each has a different density to produce a different sound. "Traditionally, a jazz musician or a symphonic player is going to want a drum that is very bright and articulate, so they........

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