Written by: on January 25, 2021 @ 8:00 am

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
National Kazoo Day
January 28, 2021!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Our story begins in Macon, Georgia in the 1840’s. A gentleman named Alabama Vest and his buddy Thaddeus von Clegg invented the kazoo! They were trying to re-imagine an old African instrument called a horn mirliton or onion flute.  Mirliton, is a device in which sound waves produced by the player’s voice vibrate a membrane, thereby imparting a buzzing quality to the vocal or instrumental sound. It was popular during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The building materials of the horn mirliton were of a primitive nature. The tube was made from the horn of a cow and the membrane consisted of the eggshells of spiders. The African horn mirliton was used to distort voices at tribe gatherings. Similar to when an actor would put on a mask during a theatrical performance. 

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Thaddeus von Clegg

In the meantime, Alabama Vest and Thaddeus von Clegg presented their version of the mirliton to the world at the Georgia State Fair in 1852 as the “Down South Submarine.”

Later, a gentleman named Emil Sorg, who was a travelling salesman, came across a Vest and von Clegg “Down South Submarine” on one of his business trips. He showed great interest in it and may have been the first person to have coined the name “kazoo.”

He was eager to get this instrument into mass-production. With this thought in mind Emil Sorg travelled to New York. Here he became partners with Michael McIntyre, who was an iron smith. Together Sorg and McIntyre created the first production of the kazoo in the year 1912. McIntyre had now gained enough knowledge to maintain the production of kazoos all by himself. All he needed was a larger factory. In 1913 he separated from Emil Sorg and teamed up with Harry Richardson who owned a big metal factory. In 1916 McIntyre and Richardson renamed their partnership and turned it into a company called The Original American Kazoo Company.

As other manufacturers of kazoos tried to get in on the sales, the pressure of competition was rising. Therefore, McIntyre filed for a United States patent. It was a feeling of great satisfaction and pride when McIntyre received his product patent in 1923.

The Original American Kazoo Company in Eden, NY started manufacturing kazoos for the masses in a two-room shop and factory, utilizing a couple dozen jack presses for cutting, bending, and crimping metal sheets. These machines were used for many decades. By 1994, the company produced 1.5 million kazoos per year and was the only manufacturer of metal kazoos in North America. The factory, in nearly its original configuration, is now called The Kazoo Factory and Museum. It is still operating, and it is open to the public for tours.

Kazoo Fun Facts:
– The kazoo was played often in popular music in the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s
– Kazoos can be made of plastic, metal, wood, or other materials. Each has unique sound qualities.
– The tone quality of a kazoo is determined by the quality of the membrane or resonator
– You don’t blow into a kazoo; you HUM into it – HUM into the BIG end of the kazoo
– Kazoos are not toys – they are musical instruments in the mirliton or membranophone family

Check out these AWESOME Kazoo Tunes:
https://youtu.be/9zMbsDzNT90
https://youtu.be/TFEEmmYaqfA
https://youtu.be/xKyXMb3tcwM

If you’re feeling the “good vibrations” from your kazoo, check out our harmonica and roaring cup at-home experiments to create your own little music band! Find lesson plan, supplies, and tutorial videos here:

Roaring Cup
Lesson Plan: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/roaring_cup.pdf
Tutorial Video: https://youtu.be/N4IJ3-B6ySE

Harmonica
Lesson Plan: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Harmonica-REV-6-28-2018.pdf
Tutorial Video: https://youtu.be/drRSYw-p5fo

Sources:

http://www.edenkazoo.com/history.php
https://www.nationalkazooday.com/facts.html
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/kazoo-museum

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