After performing professional engagements with Sousa’s great band, Frank Holton opened up a small shop in Chicago in 1896, selling second hand instruments and his secret recipe of Electric Oil trombone slide oil. For the first two years, business was tight and Holton would spend evenings and weekends performing just to draw a salary to support his business. By 1898, business had sustained itself to the point that Holton could hire an instrument maker to begin making what he introduced as the “Holton Special” trombone. As business grew, his “Holton Harmony Hints” catalogue increased in size to include trombones, cornets, valve trombones, and mellophones by 1904.
Business continued to grow and Holton’s instruments became the choice of top professionals including Vincent Bach, first trumpet for the Boston Symphony in 1914 (before he began building his own instruments in 1918). In 1917, Holton signed an agreement with the city of Elkhorn, Wisconsin to build a factory. In the agreement, a provision was made that if Holton paid out $500,000 in wages over seven years to support the community workforce, he would be granted the title to the land and building. Holton met this obligation in 1920.
In June 1919, to inspire a stronger workforce to move from Chicago to Elkhorn, Holton bought seventeen acres and contracted 27 houses built to offer to his employees. Production of top line professional instruments continued to grow. In 1929, Holton introduced a complete line of school grade instruments under the Holton Collegiate name.
In 1939, Frank Holton sold his company to Fred Kull, a company employee. In 1942, Frank Holton passed away. Throughout World War II as most manufacturers did, the Holton Company turned to making components for the military. As the war ended, the Holton Company saw steady growth. In 1964, after pressures to offer a complete range of woodwind instruments, the Holton Company sold to G. Leblanc Corporation.
During Leblanc’s ownership, Holton would rise as a leader in low brass manufacturing. With the support of well known artists such as Philip Farkas and Ethel Merker; Holton’s French horns became increasingly popular. Manufacturing of Holton instruments was retained in Elkhorn, Wisconsin until 2008 when it was relocated to Eastlake, Ohio.