The Ludwig legacy began in 1909 when William F. Ludwig Sr. and uncle, Theobald Ludwig, created the Ludwig & Ludwig Drum Company. The company was originally built around a bass drum pedal that the two brothers had invented for the working professional drummer. And by the 1920’s the Ludwig Drum Company had became the world’s largest drum manufacturing company.
William F. Ludwig II was born on September 13, 1916 in Chicago, Illinois, to William Ludwig, Sr. and Elsa Maria Gunkler. William Jr. had one sister, Bettie Ludwig, born 4 years later in 1920.
As one might expect, coming from a family of drummers, William Jr. quickly took a liking to the drums. His playing career began at the age of 8 when his father brought home a pair of drumsticks, a rubber practice pad and a large instruction book.
William Jr. played percussion throughout his grade school years and at the age of 16 won the National Solo Drum Competition. After graduating from Park-River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois, he went on to attend the University of Illinois. There he enrolled in the School of Business Economics and served as solo timpanist with the University of Illinois Concert Band as well as playing drums on weekends making $ 4.00 a night.
Around 1937, just eight years after the Ludwig & Ludwig Drum Company had been sold to Conn, William Ludwig, Jr. co-founded, along with his father Ludwig Sr., the W.F.L. Drum Company in Chicago. William Jr. became the Sales and Advertising manager for the W.F.L. Drum Company, designing his first Ludwig catalog in 1939 known as “Big Red” because it had a red cover. His second catalog was the 1940 catalog with a green cover. Both had Ray Bauduc of Dixieland fame on the cover.
In May of 1942, Ludwig Jr. was drafted into the Navy and went to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in North Chicago. He was welcomed by an old Ludwig & Ludwig banjo artist, Lt. Eddie Peabody. PeabodyPeabody utilized Ludwig’s skill to train drummers in the art of military drumming. Thousands of soldiers, in 12 drum corps, learned to march to the beat of drummers trained by Ludwig, who reached the rank of Chief Petty Officer. had been chastised by an Admiral for the poor marching habits of their recruits. For the next three years,
After completing his service in 1945, Ludwig Jr. returned to WFL Drum Company. He designed the 1947 WFL drum catalog which contained the new Classic line of lug casings and had a picture of Buddy Rich on the front cover.
In 1955 Conn exited the drum business and sold the Ludwig name back to the Ludwig family. Under William junior’s guidance, the Ludwig Drum Company once again became the world’s largest drum company.
A milestone in the company history came in 1964 when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show with Ludwig drums. The resulting demand for Ludwig drums forced the family to add a night shift at the manufacturing plant.
In 1970, William F. Ludwig II became President of the Ludwig Drum Company. The 1980 Ludwig catalog was the last Ludwig catalog written by Mr. Ludwig.
Ludwig Industries was sold to Selmer in 1981 and manufacturing was moved three years later to Monroe, North Carolina. Wm. F. Ludwig II worked as a consultant for the firm, and in his retirement spent more time perfecting his lecture/demonstration "A History of Drumming in America". The presentation included a demonstration of the sound effect devices used by theater drummers … and in his demo, Ludwig II utilized the effects actually used in theater drumming by his father, Ludwig Senior. In recognition of his educational efforts and general contributions to the arts, Capital University in 1987 awarded Ludwig an honorary Doctorate of Humanities degree.
In his retirement, Ludwig demonstrated how integral a part of the percussion world he really was. He auditioned annually for the Wheaton Community Orchestra, earning the tympani chair year after year and played timpani at his church each Easter Sunday.
Though he no longer had a vested interest in the drum company, Ludwig for decades acted as a goodwill ambassador. He appeared regularly at major industry events such as the Chicago Drum Show and Percussive Arts Society conventions. In 1993 PAS inducted him to the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. His father was already a member, having been inducted in 1972. Other than the Zildjian, they are the only father-son members of this elite group.
In 2001, Ludwig penned his autobiography, The Making Of A Drum Company, published by Rebeats Publications. He produced the first drafts of his book using the manual typewriter he’d used for his correspondence for over 50 years.
On March 22, 2008, at the age of 91, William F. Ludwig II died in Chicago of natural causes. He is survived by his son William F. Ludwig III of Chicago and daughter Brooke Crowden of Irving, TX.
William F. Ludwig II was recognized as a leading authority in the manufacturing of all types of percussion instruments. A guardian of the Ludwig family heritage, William F. Ludwig II had an extensive museum of early drums dating from the Revolutionary War, plus collected and cataloged every American drum and accessory patent ever issued by the United States Patent Office, beginning with the Zimmerman percussion patent of 1858.
William F. Ludwig II
It is with deep regret that we report the passing of the patriarch of the Ludwig Drum Company, William F. Ludwig II, respectfully known as “The Chief.” Bill was 91 years old and has been in declining health for a few years. The Chief passed from this Earth to his position as principal timpanist in heaven’s orchestra on Saturday, March 22nd, 2008. We can hear that thunderous roll now.
Bill Ludwig lived a long and productive life and was a mentor to so many percussionists and the music industry. He was a true leader that developed so many percussion products and marketing concepts to promote music and percussion education and further along the advancement of percussion instruments and performance throughout the world.
We are so blessed to have known and worked with this powerhouse of a man for his vision, dedication and passion for percussion. It is said that the greatest legacy that anyone can leave in this world is “making a difference.” Well, Bill Ludwig made a difference in our world of drums and percussion that is legendary and we are all the heirs to his accomplishments.
Thank you Chief. You inspired us to carry on from here. You will be missed, but always remembered and honored.
Jim Catalano - Ludwig
I wanted to thank you for getting the word out about Dad, and get a thank you message to all the many many drummers sending in there stories and recollections of Dad. It is truly overwhelming to see the volume of responses and tender feelings being shared. I never knew so many drummers slept with the catalog under their pillow! I hear that allot and now people are telling me they would see Dad and I before they went to sleep. Very touching and helps me through this lonely time. Thank you all !!!
William F. Ludwig III and family