Kalamazoo Gals - A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson's "Banner" Guitars of WWII (Paperback)
It's a haunting image. At least it was for author John Thomas. Some seventy women sit in four rows in front of the Gibson Guitar factory in the mid-1940s. Conventional wisdom and company lore had it that Gibson had ceased guitar production during World War II, with only seasoned craftsmen too old for war doing repairs and completing the few instruments already in progress. What were these women doing there? The image so bedeviled Thomas that he eventually set out to find at least one of the women in the photograph. He found a dozen. Along the way he would discover that despite denials that endured into the 1990s, Gibson employed a nearly all female workforce to build thousands of wartime guitars, each marked with a small, golden banner containing the slogan Only a Gibson is Good Enough. The banner appeared on the guitars at the moment those women entered the factory in January 1942 and disappeared when the war ended at the end of 1945. On his personal journey Thomas tracks Orville Gibson from his birth in upstate New York to the founding of his namesake company in Michigan, and finally to his untimely death in a mental hospital. He takes us to meet these women in Kalamazoo and to time travel with them through the Great Depression and into World War II. He wanders the hallways of the abandoned Gibson factory in search of the ghost of its founder, Orville Gibson, steps into an imaging clinic to seek radiographic evidence of sublime quality of the Gals' craft, and tracks the Banner Gibsons from Kalamazoo into the hands of their first owners. Along the way he leads us straight into the hearts of the Kalamazoo Gals.