The history of S. M. Frank & Co. spans nearly a century and half of pipe making, supporting its claim as the "oldest pipe house in America." S. M. Frank, as it exists today, is a combination of some of the biggest names in pipe making from the early part of the 20th. century. The pipe names Kaywoodie, Yello-Bole, Reiss-Premier, William Demuth Company, Medico, Heritage (Heritage Pipes Inc.), and Frank are familiar to generations of pipe smokers.
Early History of Kaywoodie and Yello-Bole
Kaywoodie was the name a pipe offered by Kaufman Brothers & Bondy Company (KBB), first appearing in February of 1919. The Dinwoodie pipe, also by KBB, appeared in November of 1919. Sometime before 1924, the Dinwoodie had been discontinued and the Kaywoodie name was beginning to be used on an extensive line of pipes that ultimately would be the name of the company. The origin of the name Kaywoodie is a combination of the K from Kaufman and wood, as in briar. Not much is known of the original KBB company other than it was started in 1851 by the German born Kaufman brothers when they opened a small pipe shop in the Bowery section of New York City. In the back room of this shop, they made their first pipes. From this meager beginning, the Kaywoodie name and organization was to emerge.
When one of the men from the New York office got "gold fever", he carried a large supply of pipes with him to California that he sold along the way. This early "national distribution" did much to build the reputation of KBB. By the late 1800's, branches of KBB were opened in Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and St. Louis with family and friends acting as agents. The trademarks, for the inlaid cloverleaf and the cloverleaf with the KBB initials inside, were issued in 1881. KBB's pipes became more popular and were in constant demand by the end of the century. Orders were streaming back east and KBB needed to move to larger manufacturing facilities. By 1915 the move was made to larger facilities in the old Union Hill section of Union City, New Jersey. The salesroom offices were located at 33 East 17th. Street, New York. When the Kaywoodie pipe was first introduced by KBB it came with a hand cut rubber mouthpiece fitted with an aluminum Inbore Tube. This device was to "assure a clean, cool smoke." Other KBB pipes such as Ambassador, Heatherby and Melrose also had the Inbore tube. The early Drinkless Kaywoodies from 1924 through 1931 had push bit stems. In 1931, after three years of research, the new Drinkless Kaywoodies with the synchro-stem, (threaded drinkless screw-in mouthpiece) were introduced. The drinkless attachment was advertised as cooling the smoke from 850 degrees in the bowl to 82 degrees when it entered the mouth. By the mid 1930's, all Kaywoodie's came with the screw mounted Drinkless attachment. (Export Kaywoodies, available briefly from 1950-1955, had push bit stems and were available in all the same shapes and finishes as the drinkless versions.)
Again, demand for KBB pipes and especially Kaywoodie prompted another move for both the manufacturing facilities and the corporate offices. In 1930 the corporate office moved into the Empire State Building on Fifth Avenue in New York. By 1935, the manufacturing operations moved from Union City to 6400 Broadway in West New York, New Jersey which, at the time, was touted as the largest pipe making facility in the world. At the height of production, there were 500 employees producing up to 10,000 pipes per day.
The corporate offices were relocated in 1936 to the International Building, Rockefeller Center, 630 Fifth Avenue, New York. The invitation to visit the new office reads, "Kaywoodie is now on display at the world's most famous address - Rockefeller Center. Here Kaywoodie takes its place among the leaders of industry and commerce." The move to Rockefeller Center coincided with The Kaywoodie Company's emergence as a subsidiary of KBB. All of the pipes manufactured by KBB including the Yello-Bole line were also on display here. By 1938 Kaywoodie had opened an office in London to meet worldwide demand. Kaywoodie of London was jointly owned with another famous pipemaker, Comoy's of London.
The Yello-Bole line was introduced in 1932 and was an outlet for lower grade briar not used in Kaywoodie production. Yello-Bole's were manufactured by Penacook, New Hampshire subsidiary, The New England Briar Pipe Company. Advertising from the 1940's, pictures the Yello-Bole "Honey Girl" and urges the pipe smoker to smoke the pipe with "a little honey in every bowl." Honey was an ingredient of the material used to line the inside of the bowl. It was said to provide a faster, sweeter break-in of the pipe.
Reiss-Premier Pipe Co. was also a pipe making concern that was part of the Kaywoodie organization. Pipes made by this company had the pipes name stamped inside an elongated diamond on the shank of the pipe. KBB, Kaywoodie and Reiss-Premier were all located in the West New York manufacturing plant. Rudolph Hirsch, the first president of The Kaywoodie Company from 1936 until at least 1950, was also president of Kaufman Brother's & Bondy when Kaywoodie was formed and was a vice president of Reiss-Premier.
During World War II, getting briar imported into this country was not easy. Italian and French briar couldn't be had until very late in the war. Kaywoodie was able to import 1400 5-gross bags of briar (about 1,000,000 blocks) out of North Africa in 1943 after the German army was defeated there. Early in 1941, Kaywoodie embarked on a project of domestically grown briar wood, called Mission Briar or manzanita. This wood is botanically the same as Mediterranean briar. The Pacific Briarwood Company, a KBB subsidiary, began harvesting the burl type wood growing on the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. However, the smoking characteristics were not quite as good and the project was abandoned after the war. After the war, pipe production returned to new heights with many new pipe smokers coming out of the armed services.
Early History of S. M. Frank & Co.
In early 1937, the City of New York notified S. M. Frank of their intent to take by eminent domain, part of the land on which the companies pipe factory was located. This was being done to widen two of the adjacent streets. As a result of this, S. M. Frank entered into negotiations to purchase the Wm. DeMuth & Co.'s pipe factory in the Richmond Hill section of Queens. It was agreed upon that DeMuth would become a subsidiary of S. M. Frank and all pipe production of the two companies would be moved to DeMuth factory. New Corporate offices were located at 133 Fifth Avenue, NYC.
In October 1943, Sam Frank Sr.'s passing marked a change of leadership of the company. Herbert Schloss, longtime friend and fellow salesman was named President, Ferdinand Feuerbach was Vice President and Treasurer, Charles Dietsch (Sam Frank's nephew) was Vice President of Sales. William Feuerbach Sr., who joined the company in 1937, was named Assistant Treasurer. Sam Frank Jr. joined the company in 1948, after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during the war. He worked in factory operations until 1950 when he was transferred to sales, covering various territories.
Kaywoodie, Yello-Bole bought by S. M. Frank
In March of 1955, S. M. Frank & Co., Inc., headquarter at 133 Fifth Avenue, New York, with manufacturing facilities located in the Richmond Hill section of Queens in New York City, completed the purchase of The Kaywoodie Company, Kaufman Brothers & Bondy, Reiss-Premier Corp. and The New England Briar Pipe Co. There are a few years prior to this that things are a little fuzzy. It is thought that aforementioned companies were purchased by another company in 1952. The name of this company is not known by us. This interim owner was not a pipemaker and after only 3 years was looking for a buyer. When this unknown company bought Kaywoodie in 1952, the Rockefeller Center corporate office was closed and moved to the West New York plant. Sam Frank Jr. was put in charge of Manufacturing and Purchasing of the newly acquired West New York facility. (Later in 1964, he would be elected President and Chief Executive of S. M. Frank. In 1968 he assumed and was later elected Chairman of the Board, replacing Herbert Schloss, who passed away in January of '68 after 60 years of employment with S. M. Frank.)
In 1956, S. M. Frank purchased the New Jersey Briar Pipe Co., a pipemaker that produced mainly closeout and promotional pipes as well as private label. This company continued as a subsidiary until December 31, 1972.
In 1957, S. M. Frank formed Medico Pipes (Canada) Ltd, to distribute Medico products in Canada. Offices were located in Toronto. In December of 1971, the subsidiary was renamed KYM Pipes (Canada) Ltd. and continued distributing all three lines there until it was sold to Brigham Pipes, Ltd. in 1985. Sometime in the early 1960's, another subsidiary was set up in Livorno, Italy called KYM (Europe) Srl. This location still operates today and acts as a warehouse and distribution facility of Medico products in Europe, Africa, and the Mid-East.
From the time of S. M. Frank's purchase in 1955 until 1972, Kaywoodie and Yello-Bole were run as a separate companies, as divisions of the parent. The Kaywoodie Company was re-named Kaywoodie Pipes, Inc. Through this period, Kaywoodie and Yello-Bole had its own officers, sales force and maintained the production facilities in West New York. In the early 1960's the corporate offices were re-located to S. M. Frank's office at 18 East 54th Street, New York, NY. Medico and DeMuth pipes continued to be made at the Richmond Hill plant. Through the 1960's, demand for S. M. Frank pipes exceeded the available supply. One of the reasons for this was the first two Surgeon General's reports on cigarette smoking and the health dangers. This report also said that if you wanted to smoke, smoke a pipe instead. By the late 1960's, S. M. Frank was looking for larger facilities to house the manufacturing and office space. In 1968, Kaywoodie's sales office moved again, to 745 5th Avenue. This office was only open a few years until the search for a new building was completed.
In May of 1960, S. M. Frank started a subsidiary company called Heritage Pipes. The Heritage pipes were an upscale line of push bit pipes meant to compliment the Kaywoodie line. Although not hugely successful, Heritage produced some fine pipes that are still in the collections of many pipe smokers. This company was dissolved on December 31, 1971.
In 1966, S. M. Frank developed a synthetic material called Brylon as a cheaper alternative to briar. The material, a high temperature resin mixed with wood flour, was cheaper than briar, more resistant to cracking, chipping, charring and burnouts. However to some there are some drawbacks, heavier in the mouth, hotter when smoked quickly, and also simply put, "wasn't briar." Millions of these pipes have been sold in the 3 decades since and continue to be part of the Yello-Bole and Medico lines. Two Brylon lines in Kaywoodie, Marmont and Impulse, were briefly tried and abandoned in the late 80's.
The Wm. DeMuth Company, met its official end as a subsidiary company in 1972. DeMuth's mainstay pipe, the Wellington continued to be offered in the S. M. Frank catalog until 1976. In the mid-80's, the Wellington made a brief return as a direct to the consumer offer. The Kaywoodie office in London was sold by S. M. Frank in the early 1970's along with the trademark for Kaywoodie in England to Comoy's of London (Cadogan), pipe makers since 1825. Comoy's and The Kaywoodie Co. (US) were 50/50 owners of Kaywoodie (London). Today, Comoy's continues to produce several different styles of London made Kaywoodies.
In 1972, S. M. Frank constructed a new building to serve as production facility and corporate offices on Horse Block Road, Yapank, Long Island. (Around this time Kaywoodie and S. M. Frank's other pipe brands started appearing in catalogs together.) The new building housed molding equipment for mouthpieces, filter making equipment, briar block inventory and the beginning operations of pipe making; frazing, first selection of the wood's grade, roughing (first sand papering) and second selection. Because pipe making requires a skill that takes years to learn, the finishing operations, from mounting the mouthpiece to the stummel to completion, continued to be done by the workers at the Richmond Hill plant. At this time the production facility in West New York was closed and moved to Richmond Hill.
The thought was that skilled pipe craftsmen would be trained at Yapank and the finishing operations would gradually be shifted there. Through the 70's the demand for pipes started to fall and as a result, the Yapank plant was closed in 1977 with S. M. Frank temporarily moving all operations back to the Richmond Hill plant.
In 1980, S. M. Frank & Co. moved to its present location in Peekskill, NY, a small city 50 miles north of New York City on the east shore of the Hudson River. With the closure of the Richmond Hill plant in the early 80's, pipes were produced by several Italian pipe makers. The quality of these pipes were not up to our standards and soon this arrangement ceased in favor of a domestic pipemaker, an ex-employee who had started his own pipe business. In 1992, S. M. Frank purchased their domestic supplier to maintain better control of quality and production. All briar Kaywoodie, Yello-Bole, and Medico pipes, as well as private label pipes, are produced at our manufacturing facility in Tampa, Florida. All of S. M. Frank's Brylon pipes are manufactured in Peekskill.
In September of 1997, S. M. Frank released the "Gold Series" of Kaywoodie pipes, marking the first new release in over a decade. This new series is 8 different finishes with push bit type mouthpieces, without the "drinkless screw attachment" or other metal condensers. The pipes are made of larger, extra quality briar with rubber or lucite mouthpieces. With this addition to the line, Kaywoodie pipes are available in 18 different finishes with about 12 twelve different shapes per finish. Medico is made in 13 finishes, 6 Brylon and 7 briar. Yello-Bole is made in 9 finishes, 5 Brylon and 4 briar.
- You may also enjoying listening to Brian Levine's interview of S. M. Frank president, Bill Feuerbach, on the Pipes Magazine Radio Show