George Russell Thayer

Mini-Bio by Glenn Grabinsky

If nothing else can ever be said about George Russell Thayer, it is that he was survivor, and if it were not for him there never would have been a Link coin-operated piano for us to enjoy today. George’s career in automatic music (if you count his later jukebox industry days) spanned over half a century from 1904 until 1956, when he sold his successful jukebox and music business.

George was born on November 14, 1886 in Georgetown, New York, a small community about halfway between Binghamton and Syracuse, New York. He was born into a family of teamsters and hostlers. Both his father, Louis, and Uncle Frank were teamsters, as was their father before them. George only had one sibling, a younger sister Anna.

In around 1890, Louis and Frank Thayer moved their families into the urban environs of Binghamton, New York, which was gaining the reputation as a city of opportunity in the Southern Tier area of New York state. Young George received his education in the Binghamton public schools and when he was about 15, in 1901, he entered the work force as a clerk in the Rourke Brothers Drug Store.

In July of 1902, George’s life took on a tragic moment when his mother, Dora, was killed in July by a freak accident due to a gasoline explosion, which occurred while she was filling a stove at their home. His younger sister, Anna, was also badly burned and almost died as well.

Sometime in early 1904 , or even possibly 1903, George became an employee of the Harris brother’s Automatic Musical Company (AMC) concern. He must have shown some early mechanical aptitude since his position was that of a machinist. His sister, Anna, also got a job there, and both were on the role call at the July, 1904, Automatic Musical Company picnic. 1904 was also the year that young George got married to Jessie Luddington, a girl his same age who came from Pennsylvania and was working as a domestic servant in Binghamton at that time. They became mates for life, and their union lasted more than half a century.

For reasons yet unknown, sometime in late 1906, George Thayer, his wife Jessie, and sister Annie left Binghamton for the great western metropolis of Chicago. Here George teamed up with Charles H. Hamilton (how they met is still unknown), who was 17 years older than him and had a background in the shoe trade. They formed the company of Hamilton & Thayer and both were issued two patents jointly Hamilton & Thayer were listed as makers of pianos and piano players, but what exactly they produced or made is unknown at this point in time. However, it must have been something of some significance, because they were able to attract investors later and were fully incorporated in July of 1908 in Chicago with the backing of three high profile members of the Chicago Bar (one was a judge). Possibly the move to Chicago by Thayer was due to conflicts with Frederick R. Goolman, or quite possibly it was just a case of two guys with a better idea hoping to make a go of it.

The second patent which Hamilton & Thayer were granted (US #937,933) was filed on May 18, 1908. This was for the horizontal, top mount roll hopper for the Automatic Musical Company pianos. Thayer and Hamilton had assigned the patent to AMC, which indicates that Thayer still had ties or allegiances to AMC, even though he now had his own company. It is also interesting to note that at approximately the same time that Hamilton and Thayer had incorporated their concern in Illinois, Automatic Musical Company also incorporated in the state of Illinois as well.

Hamilton and Thayer’s initial horizontal roll frame was the one immediate chance of salvation for the Automatic Musical Company, considering the bitter Englehardt/AMC lawsuit which had been raging for the last few years. It is quite possible that Hamilton & Thayer were modifying existing AMC Reliable pianos in Chicago with their new top horizontal roll unit. What is known for sure is that by sometime in early 1910 Hamilton and Thayer had moved to Binghamton, were in the employ of AMC, and by the beginning of June Matthew J. Kennedy in Chicago was unveiling the first of the officially released AMC pianos with the new top horizontal roll frame. The horizontal roll unit was a large leap for AMC, but it was still a cumbersome affair with the roll feeder fingers and a not fully perfected roll frame -- the “Link” roll unit as collector’s know it would not arrive until a few years later with the purchase of the Thomas patent by the Link Piano Company.

George Thayer stayed on with AMC first as the shop foreman then factory superintendent. He transitioned into the 1912 takeover by Edwin Link, Sr. [then President of the Schaff Piano Company], and Johnson and Peterson [officers and founders of the Haddorff Piano Company], and the following unincorporated Link Piano Company. When the Link Piano Company was finally incorporated at the end of March, 1916, George R. Thayer was one of the three original incorporators along with Edwin A Link and his wife Katherine M. Link.

George R Thayer became the Vice President of the Link Piano Company, although it appears he chose to use the term Superintendent of the Factory in most instances.

Around 1927, when it became apparent that the coin operated piano trade was dying off, Thayer spearheaded the attempt of Link to enter the coin operated phonograph market with the multi-turntable Autovox coin operated phonograph. Like the early Seeburg Audiophone coin operated phonographs, the Link Autovox also contained pneumatic controlled components. The Autovox never achieved any success outside of the local area, and was not enough to keep the Link Piano Company going. A second attempt to enter the coin operated phonograph market followed in early 1931 with the introduction of another machine called the Autovox. This was a compact selective coin operated phonograph which shuffled the records. It was not a Link designed machine, but rather one designed by Technidyne.

Finally, in December of 1931, George Thayer decided to part ways with the failing Link Piano Company, and he set up his own business in Binghamton, known as the George R. Thayer Company. This company was to deal in coin operated phonographs and devices. (It appears that for a very short period Thayer continued the manufacturing of the small Link/Technidyne phonograph, replacing the Link name plate with a Thayer plate -- or possibly he just bought up the unsold units from Link after the bankruptcy).

In the early 1930s Thayer became a dealer and route operator for Wurlitzer jukeboxes, switching to the Packard line after WW2. It is unknown if Thayer repaired or operated any coin operated Link pianos after he went into his own business, but it is entirely possible that he did for at least a few years.

The Thayers seem to have been very popular and social people in the Binghamton community. The Thayer name constantly appeared in the social chit-chat columns of the local newspapers, and both George and Jessie seem to have been involved in many social and civic circles throughout their lives. Both George and Jessie were also avid golfers and had served as officers at the Kalurah Golf Club (including George as President) over the years.

George’s coin operated phonograph business flourished over the years and was often cited in trade journals such as Billboard magazine. He was also a pioneer of canned “Muzak” services in the Binghamton Tri City area, starting this in the 1940s.

Thayer sold his business in September of 1956 and finally retired from five decades in the automatic music business. George passed away on June 11, 1957, at the age of 70. His wife, Jessie, lived almost another 15 years, passing away in 1972.

Glenn Grabinsky
November 2012


Research and bio comments by Glenn Grabinsky.