Old Photos: Jenkins Music Company

Pretty interesting article about a local (now-defunct) piano seller. It’s notable how in 1940 people didn’t think twice about the phrase “salesman lures the farmer’s daughter into the truck

To find out what manner of people the 100,000 or more purchasers of pianos this year (1940), LIFE sent a photographer to the Jenkins Music Company in Kansas City, Mo. This company, with nine branch stores spread over Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, sells more than $1,000,000 worth of pianos a year.
One of their most successful schemes is a “truck operation”. About twice a week a Jenkins truck, several pianos and a salesman go cruising around the nearby farm territory. At a likely farmhouse it stops and the salesman lures the farmer’s daughter into the truck to try out one of his pretty pianos. He then talks the prospect into moving the piano into the farmhouse “to see how it looks”. Once inside, it seldom comes out again.

A Jenkins Music Co. truck wearing three different liscense plates.© Time Inc.George Strock

A woman testing the keys on the piano.© Time Inc.George Strock

Farmers speaking to business man out in the field.© Time Inc.George Strock

Men moving a $255 piano into the house.© Time Inc.George Strock

Two little boys playing the piano.© Time Inc.George Strock

Children taking free piano lessons.© Time Inc.George Strock

A little girl, with a broken arm, playing the piano while her brother plays with his toys.© Time Inc.George Strock

A woman playing a new grand piano costing $425 for a group of people in a mansion recently acquired by Kansas City Realtor J.H.Edwards.© Time Inc.George Strock

Kansas City Police bought a $110 pianette for their barbershop chord quartet. Rehearsals, with piano are held in the soundproof rifle range in the basement. William Johnson, bass, tallest (6ft 8 in) cop on any force, is also a drum major of police band.© Time Inc.George Strock

  • I bought a Gibson LG1 guitar at Jenkins; it was left behind in North Carolina at a pawn shop, but you didn’t hear that from me. Later I bought a Gibson Dove guitar there, which I sold way too cheap because I didn’t know good guitars increase in value as the age; who knew? However, it turns out that Gibson was making crappy guitars around that time.
    Ah, memories.

  • Melanie

    I remember the old Jenkins very well. During the years I took piano lessons, my teacher arranged for us to have our recitals in their recital hall there several times. My husband’s family’s business in DT Kansas City also used to rent window space in a Jenkins Building as well to display their western wear for the old Copeland’s Army Western Store, on Walnut. A KC fixture in the Downtown landscape for 60 years. Now, how the western apparel and pianos related to one another… beats me.

  • My Dad used to get sheet music there for me to play on the piano… or, sometimes I would go myself. You could also buy Starlight tickets there which I did for dates.

  • I travel for JOOLS

    I didn’t realize Barney Fife was a real policeman !

  • Lena

    I bought my first piano, black “Belarus” only after I graduated college. And while I was in college, I would stay late almost everyday to practice. It is a good thing my major was violin.

  • Terry Weeks

    I used to spend a lot of time at Jenkins warehouse and Mr. Collier would give me a nickle to ride the freight elevator up to buy a ZERO candy bar. That was in the late 50’s’

  • Suzannejones1955

    I have the piano pictured in photo number 5.  What should I do with it?

  • Chris Astle, Jr

    My father was a piano-organ salesman at the Oklahoma City Store from 1947-53. Was transferred to the Tulsa store where he got promoted to store manager around 1955. He is still alive (almost 96) living in Richmond Virginia. –Chris Astle, Jr.

  • UnholyMoses

    My great grandfather was the accountant at Jenkins way before this LIFE piece — probably in the … sheesh, 20s or 30s. My folks even have a few group pics with all of the employees at the time. It’s so strange how they sold those door to door …

    ADDING: The pic says “Jenkins and Sons” it’s that old.

  • Ken Parker

    I took violin lessons in the ’50’s (I started when I was 7 years old) at Jenkins Music in Kansas City from noted violinist-composer-teacher Russell Webber. I still have dreams about him and his studio. His wife Margaret, a noted piano teacher there, accompanied me sometimes.