Hunleth Music Company (1901-1974) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Hunleth Music Company (1901-1974)

Historical Note:

After 27 years as proprietor of the Standard Pulley & Foundry, Frank J. Hunleth, sold his shares in the company and opened the Hunleth Music Company in 1901, at the encouragement of his son, Joseph F. Hunleth. Frank J. Hunleth purchased a building located at 9 South Broadway, Saint Louis, Missouri, which was previously owned and occupied by A. T. Walo's Music Company. In 1908, Frank J. Hunleth's sons, Joseph F. Hunleth and Alois J. Hunleth, assumed management of the store. The Hunleth Music Co. moved to a larger building at 516 Locust Street in 1915, where it remained for nearly 40 years. Joseph F. Hunleth traveled to Europe yearly to buy music and instruments for the Hunleth Music Co., introducing Midwest musicians to music published outside the country. He bought sheet music in such a high volume that U.S. publishers would show him scores before deciding whether to publish them to guarantee sales. After the Locust building was purchased by First National Bank in 1952, the store moved to 415 North Broadway, where it remained until it closed in 1974. Joseph and Alois Hunleth operated the company as partners until Alois's death from a heart attack in 1959. Joseph continued to operate the company as sole owner until his death in 1968, when ownership of the company passed to Joseph's widow, Violet B. Hunleth. She retained ownership until the company's closure in 1974. The building housing the music company was demolished to make way for the Mercantile Center between 1975-1979, a redevelopment project that was never completed.

The Hunleth Music Company's store consisted of five floors of music instruments and sheet music, making it an important hub for the music trade in the Midwest. Hunleth Music Co. also dealt in rare instruments and specialized in imported violins from makers in Germany, Italy, and France. It carried Victor, Columbia, and Brunswick sound recordings; Victorolas; and radiolas; and it had its own radio department, indicating that the store not only served musicians but also music listeners. The store also sold tickets for concerts and performances for acts like Bily May and Count Basie at the Casa-Loma Ballroom in Saint Louis connecting the store to St. Louis local music scene. Hunleth Music Co. was the gathering site for musicians both unknown and well-known, such as Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, Yehudi Menuhim, and Rudolph Ganz. According to a long-time employee, it had "the gemutlicheit of the easy-going business" that attracted customers to the "wonderful family-like organization." In its heyday the Hunleth Music Co. held over a million copies of sheet music and the largest collection of 78-rpm sound recordings in St. Louis.


"Advertisement, Billy May." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), May 15, 1953: 5D.

"Advertisement, Count Basie." St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Everyday Magazine (St. Louis, MO), Mar. 3, 1939: 8G.

"Advertisement, Hunleth Music Co." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Evening, Dec. 21, 1909: 9.

"Advertisement, Hunleth Music Co." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Dec. 10, 1925.

"Advertisement, Hunleth Music Co." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Evening, Dec. 20, 1927: 21.

"Advertisement, Hunleth Music Co." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Dec. 1, 1935: 2F.

"Aloys Hunleth Funeral Will Be On Wednesday." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Oct. 26, 1959: 7B.

"Frank J. Hunleth." In Centennial History of Missouri (The Center State): One Hundred Years in the Union 1820-1921, Volume III. The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company: St. Louis, 1921.

"Funeral for Alois T. Walo, Ex-Music Store Operator." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Jun. 30, 1951: 5A.

"J. F. Hunleth Dies; Owned Music Store." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Jan. 18, 1968: 12D.

"Music Company Leases Building On Locust Street." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Morning, Oct. 3, 1915: 10.

"Musical---." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Morning, Dec. 12, 1897: 35.

"Scott Gardner to Manage Hunleth's Radio Department." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Morning, May 21, 1933: 11A.

Weil, Richard K. Jr. "Landmark In Music Draws Its Last Crowds." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Feb. 24, 1974: 3B.

Note Author: Allison Repking and Jessica Lapinsky

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