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An Estey Organ advertisement from the Victorian era.

The Arts

Words Project roundtable looks at impact of Estey Organ Co. on consumer culture

The Roundtable Discussion Series is presented by the Brattleboro Words Project, a multi-year collaboration between the Brattleboro Historical Society, Brattleboro Literary Festival, Write Action, Brooks Memorial Library, and Marlboro College and is backed by a National Endowment for the Humanities matching grant. The Project is creating a “Brattleboro Words Trail,” a podcast about the history of words that will lead listeners on walking, biking, and driving tours of the area. For more information, visit www.brattleborowordsproject.org.

BRATTLEBORO—The Brattleboro Words Project’s next monthly Roundtable Discussion will examine the history of Jacob Estey and how the famous Estey Organ Company helped shape American consumer culture and promote Brattleboro internationally.

Dennis Waring, author of Manufacturing the Muse: Estey Organs and Consumer Culture in Victorian America, will lead the discussion. It will be held at the Estey Organ Museum, 108 Birge Street, on Thursday, June 14, at 6 p.m.

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

“Jacob Estey’s use of period imagery was the most influential element in his advertising,” Waring said, “but 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 will also discuss Jacob Estey’s progressive ethos, which helped shape the image of Vermont itself. He was recognized not only for business acumen but for his commitment to the town of Brattleboro and care and concern for his workers. 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 came from Europe to work for Estey.

Jacob Estey’s progressive views towards his workforce extended to female employees. Estey believed women had the right to do any work of 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 also underwrote the first building in the U.S. intended specifically for the higher education of black women, in Raleigh, N.C.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #461 (Wednesday, May 30, 2018). This story appeared on page B3.

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