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The Secret History of the Gibson Guitar Factory

Although the classic Gibson guitar, used by such greats as Prince, Keith Richards, Johnny Cash, and B.B. King, might bring to mind its current Nashville home, the guitar’s roots are actually in the Michigan city of Kalamazoo. Built in 1917, the Gibson Factory there created some of the most iconic guitars ever made. But beyond the instruments, the factory was also home to the “Kalamazoo Gals,” a group of over 200 women who kept the guitar manufacturer going during World War II.

Started by local mandolin designer Orville Gibson in 1902, the Gibson company was the place for discerning mandolin players to get their instruments. The only thing that slowed the company down during its first decade was World War I. As men were being shipped off to battlefields, the demand for the instrument began to diminish. And although it had been popular with both men and women, the country’s attentions were decidedly not focused on the mandolin anymore.

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