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Zildjian Turns 400 This Year

Zildjian Turns 400 This Year

The Avedis Zildjian Company, simply known as Zildjian (/ˈzɪldʒən, -dʒiən/), is a musical instrument manufacturer specializing in cymbals and other percussion instruments. Founded by the ethnic Armenian Zildjian family in the 17th-century Ottoman Empire, the company relocated to the United States in the 20th century. Today, it is the largest cymbal and drumstick maker in the world.

The company was founded in Constantinople in 1623 by Avedis Zildjian, an Armenian. Zildjian is now based in Norwell, Massachusetts. Zildjian is the oldest manufacturer of musical instruments in the world as well as one of the oldest continuously operating companies in the world. Zildjian sells cymbals, drumsticks, percussion mallets and other drum accessories under the Zildjian, Vic Firth and Balter Mallet brands.

The first Zildjian cymbals were created in 1618 by Avedis Zildjian, an Armenian metalsmith and alchemist. Like his father, who was also a metalsmith, he worked for the court of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople. He made an alloy of tin, copper, and silver into a sheet of metal, which could make musical sounds without shattering. Sultan Mustafa I gave Avedis eighty gold pieces as a bequest, in addition to officially recognizing the surname Zilciyan or Zildjian, meaning "Son of a Cymbal Maker" or "Family of Cymbalsmiths" in Armenian (with zil being Turkish for "cymbal", ci meaning "maker", and ian being the Armenian suffix meaning "son of"). In 1623 the Sultan granted him permission to leave the palace to start his own business in the Armenian sector of Constantinople, called Psamatia.

Zildjian's shop manufactured cymbals for the mehter, Ottoman military bands consisting of wind and percussion instruments, which belonged to the Janissaries. Mehter ensembles, which were known in the West primarily for playing in battle, also performed courtly music for Ottoman rulers. The Zildjians also produced instruments for Greek and Armenian churches, Sufi dervishes, and belly dancers of the Ottoman harem, who wore finger cymbals.

After the death of Avedis, the business, and the secret for producing the metal, was handed down to several generations of male heirs. In the early 19th century, Haroutune Zildjian passed it on to his son Avedis II. In 1850, Avedis II built a 25-foot schooner, in order to sail cymbals produced in Constantinople to trade exhibitions such as the Great Exhibition in London, and to supply musicians in Europe. He died in 1865, and since his sons were too young, his brother Kerope II took over the company. He introduced a line of instruments called K Zildjian, which are used by classical musicians to this day. Kerope II died in 1909 in Constantinople.

Following Kerope’s death, the business returned to Avedis’s side of the family. The eldest, Haroutune II, had become a lawyer and held a high position in the Ottoman government, thus he was not interested, and being a bachelor, he passed it to Aram. He was involved in the Armenian nationalist movement and resistance to the atrocities of the ruling Sultan, Abdul Hamid II. This was a time of political upheaval when the Ottoman Empire was in decline. Abdul Hamid II, also known as the ‘Bloody Sultan’ for his massacres of up to 300,000 Armenians in the mid-1890s, had reasserted Pan-Islamism.  Before Sultan Abdul Hamid II was finally deposed, there were several attempts to assassinate him. After being implicated in a 1905 failed plot to assassinate the Sultan, Aram fled to Bucharest, where he set up a small foundry.

During Aram's exile, Kerope II's daughter Victoria oversaw the Constantinople factory. There are conflicting accounts, but it is thought that Aram returned there in 1926.

Haroutune II's son Avedis III had left Turkey for the United States in 1909, and settled in Boston, where he established a family and a confectionary business. In 1927, he received a letter from his uncle Aram, informing him that he was to become heir to the family business, and Aram came to the US. In 1928, Avedis III, his brother Puzant, and his uncle Aram Zildjian began manufacturing cymbals in Quincy, Massachusetts, and the Avedis Zildjian Co. was formed the following year in 1929.

Avedis III sought out jazz drummers like Gene Krupa to understand their needs. The new cymbals he developed were widely adopted by swing and later bebop musicians, laying the foundations of the modern drum kit and playing technique.

Sales of Zildjian cymbals dramatically increased after Ringo Starr used the product in The Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. This created an enormous backorder situation. In 1968, in order to address this backlog, a second plant, the Azco factory, was opened in Meductic, New Brunswick, Canada.

In 1975, Zildjian began making K. Zildjian cymbals at the Azco plant. These were made until 1979. Within four years (1980), all K Cymbals were being made in the Norwell US plant, because the Ks demanded far more oversight. Armand worked with friends, the drummers Elvin Jones and Tony Williams to relaunch the K Series.

In early 1977, Armand Zildjian was appointed President of the Avedis Zildjian Company by his father. Soon after, Robert Zildjian split from the company amidst conflict with his brother, Armand. In 1981, Robert started making Sabian cymbals in the Canadian Azco factory.

In 2002, Armand died at age 81. The Zildjian alloy recipe passed to his daughters, Craigie and Debbie (14th generation), both of whom continue to run the family business from the current headquarters in Norwell, Massachusetts.

In 2010, Zildjian acquired the Vic Firth Company and in 2018 acquired the Mike Balter Mallet company expanding the company's product offerings to include a full range of drumsticks and percussion mallets.

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