Matthew Joseph Kennedy

Mini-Bio by Glenn Grabinsky

No story of the Automatic Musical Company or the Link Piano Company would be complete without a few words about Mr. M. J. Kennedy, who was probably responsible for selling more Automatic Musical Company or Link pianos than anyone else in the United States.

Matthew Joseph Kennedy was born on January 1, 1879, in Elkhart, Indiana, to Thomas and Sarah Kennedy, who were Irish immigrants. By the time M. J. Kennedy reached working age he got involved as a traveling insurance salesman based out of Elkhart. He quickly rose up the ladder, and in 1902 he moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he became the assistant manager of the Supreme Lodge Of The Columbian League, which was a large insurance company aimed at the multitude of fraternal lodges and organizations which populated the country at that time. By 1904 he had entered into the world of the furniture business, where he became the treasurer and manager of the Safety Folding Bed Company in Detroit, Michigan.

It would appear from all contemporary trade accounts that M. J. Kennedy was a salesman’s salesman. He appears to have been well liked by all and with connections all over the place, long before the term “networking” was ever dreamed of. It is worthy to note that during this era most working people belonged to fraternal lodges, and it was also very common for “commercial travelers” of that period to be very well connected nationwide through both these fraternal organizations and the extended stays they would make at hotels where many would gather.

At the age of 26 the young go-getter Kennedy moved to Chicago in March of 1905, where he would spend the rest of his career and life. Here he secured a position as the manager of Harley C. Kibbey’s new automatic piano and music enterprise, H. C. Kibbey & Co., which was located at 902 209 State Street (The Republic Building) in Chicago. The H. C. Kibbey & Company handled all sorts of automatic music, including the Automatic Musical Company's “Reliable“ nickel in the slot pianos, as well as all types of coin operated devices including slot machines. How Kennedy met Kibbey is not known, but it is easy to imagine them meeting at a lodge or some other gathering of sales oriented men such as a saloon (Kibbey’s early ads in the Chicago Tribune boasted of his wide connections to the saloon and arcade trade).

Kennedy’s first exposure to the world of automatic piano sales was with the Automatic Musical Company machines, which Kibbey’s company was representing. By October, 1908, Kibbey had left, expanding his business ventures into new horizons in the field of automatic music. At this point, M. J. Kennedy took over the business, and in the summer of 1908 Automatic Musical Company had officially incorporated in the state of Illinois (they had great plans of expanding production there). Kennedy continued as the head of the AMC Chicago branch until December of 1910, when he announced that he was leaving. The reasons for his departure are unclear, but most likely were due to the major upheaval that was occurring at Automatic Musical Company at this time and the Haddorff/Link take-over of control in Binghamton.

Matthew J. Kennedy, 1913.
Matthew J. Kennedy, 1913.

Right after the new year of 1911, M. J. Kennedy announced that he was now associated with Englehardt’s Peerless brand, and in January of 1911 he and a small group of investors incorporated the Peerless Piano Player Co. in Illinois. This association lasted until December of 1912. Then in January of 1913 Kennedy once again switched “sides” and now became involved with the new Link Piano Company (which was not yet incorporated -- privately held). Matthew Kennedy was made vice-president and general manager of Link, and was responsible for the Chicago office and all western US sales. The Link Piano offices and showrooms were at 339 South Wabash in Chicago (where his Peerless Piano Player Company had been located).

In 1916, when the official incorporation of Link Piano Company occurred, Kennedy stayed on as the exclusive agent and distributor for all Link products from Chicago and all points West. The only exception were the sales of Link organs and photoplayers, which were now controlled by the Photo Player Sales Company of Illinois (who were Fotoplayer distributors as well). Kennedy stayed on with Link right up to the end of their coin operated piano manufacturing. Over the years of its existence the Link Piano Company location in Chicago moved around, first back to the Republic Building, and then to 59 East Van Buren.

Like George Thayer, Matthew Kennedy also knew how to successfully deal with the changes that inevitably occur over time. He also was dealing with phonographs and other non-coin operated pianos such as players and straight pianos. By the late 1920s he had also come to embrace radio sales, and in 1928 he created the Sonora Music Shop, which dealt exclusively with radios.

In May of 1931 his wife Gertrude died, and in November of that year Kennedy closed his shop and joined the Kroehler Manufacturing Company in their radio division. On May 17, 1938, Matthew Joseph Kennedy passed away.

Over the years Matthew Kennedy received a tremendous amount of positive publicity in the various trade journals, such as Presto, the Music Trade Review, and various early radio journals. He had been the Secretary of the National Association of Music Merchants, the President of the Chicago Piano Club, President of the National Piano Travelers Association, and was involved in a host of other organizations throughout his career. Matthew J. Kennedy lasted over 20 years as a successful dealer in coin operated pianos;  not a bad track record for a young traveling insurance man from Elkhart who was the son of Irish immigrants and seems to have entered the business by chance.

Glenn Grabinsky
November 2012


Research and bio comments by Glenn Grabinsky.