Women of “That Great Gretsch Sound.” Generation 2: Charlotte
Gretsch’s First Lady during the decades of great growth.
Charlotte Gretsch was at her husband, Fred Sr.’s, side to help build the Gretsch Company into the nation’s largest musical instrument manufacturer in 1920.
Charlotte Sommer was born on December 16, 1880 in New York City to American-born parents who owned a successful grocery store in Manhattan. She was the sixth of eight children and grew up in a house with five brothers.
In January 1904, 23-year-old Charlotte married Fred Gretsch, Sr. in a small ceremony at her parent’s home. Charlotte most likely sailed with Fred to Europe on a business trip as part of their honeymoon. Annual musical instrument buying trips to Europe with her husband became part of Charlotte’s life.
On March 10, 1905, the first of three sons, Fred Gretsch, Jr., was born. A year later, William Walter (Bill) was born and in 1908, Richard (Dick) Gretsch was born. Bill was stricken with polio as a child which, no doubt, took more of Charlotte’s care and time than her husband’s expanding company. Fred Sr. and Charlotte exposed their children to the family business early. The brothers worked many Saturdays doing everything from packaging phonograph needles to picking up drum heads at the tannery.
The first two decades of the 1900’s were years of astonishing growth and innovation for the Fred. Gretsch Manufacturing Company. In 1916, the growing company expanded again and moved into the famous 10-story Gretsch Building in the Williamsburg District of Brooklyn at 60 Broadway. This landmark building was built by partners, Fred Sr., brother Walter, and their mother, Rosa Gretsch.
Shortly thereafter, Fred Sr. invented the industry’s first “warp-free” multi-ply drum lamination process. This revolutionary new construction method had tremendous advantages over the then-current method of steam bending wood. Drum shells and hoops were not only lighter, but were more perfectly round and stronger.
In April 1928 with her husband and oldest son, Fred Jr., in Europe on business, Charlotte became seriously ill and was admitted to St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, she lost a battle to ovarian cancer and died on May 12, 1928 at the age of 47.
Like Rosa Gretsch, Charlotte was a strong, loving, independent woman who played a key role in supporting and assisting her husband during a critical growth period of the Gretsch Company. She exposed her three sons to the family business at an early age and felt strongly that her sons should attend college (although Fred Sr. did not). She also took up golf when it became a big part of her husband’s life and helped Fred Sr. plan the first unofficial world golf championship in 1921 at the Soundview Club in Long Island. Like Rosa, Charlotte had a big heart and was involved with and supported Goodwill Industries. She was known to often visit stores and pay bills for less fortunate families.
Learn more about Charlotte at www.lookingoppositely.com.