Pepper and Penn Commemorate the Life of James Welsh Pepper


It was over 140 years ago that James Welsh Pepper first started the company that still carries his name. Setting up shop in 1876, he saw great potential in the burgeoning musical culture of centennial America, and in the city he called home – Philadelphia. His life’s mission was cultivating music education and building relationships with the community he served.

One of those relationships was with the University of Pennsylvania Band, which Pepper supported at its founding in 1897. Now, 100 years after his passing, we have joined the University of Pennsylvania Band in honoring that relationship, the values Pepper held dear, and the good works Penn’s program has done and continues to do.

The Founding of the Penn Band

The University of Pennsylvania Band was founded by two young men, A. Felix DuPont and John Ammon, who gathered together 27 fellow musicians to form what quickly became one of the most in-demand organizations on campus. The group played at student rallies, parties, parades, and twice for then President William McKinley. They also quickly became an important part of Penn’s robust football tradition at Franklin Field.

The original University of Pennsylvania Band, 1897

At the time of the band’s founding, the Pepper company headquarters was located across the city at 8th and Locust. In support of the new music group, Pepper presented them with their first uniforms, as well as a sterling silver and rosewood drum major mace. The mace became a centerpiece of the band until it was lost. Its whereabouts are still unknown.

Further Connections: The Moore Building

Throughout his time working in the music business, Pepper operated out of a number of buildings. One such building, erected at 33rd and Walnut, became the new company headquarters in 1910. It was built to facilitate Pepper’s increase in instrument manufacturing and named the Howard E. Pepper building after James Pepper’s son.

Howard became president of J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc. following his father’s death on July 28, 1919. Five years later, Howard decided to discontinue instrument manufacturing and moved the company to a more modest retail location.

Howard Pepper Building
Howard E. Pepper building, now the Moore School of Electrical Engineering.

The University of Pennsylvania jumped at the opportunity to acquire the building. It stood on the edge of the University’s campus, but their reasons for purchasing it went far beyond location. Its design was perfect for the University’s budding engineering school, which was looking for a home. Funded by an endowment from Alfred Fitler Moore, the University was able to buy the building.

The building was renamed after Alfred Moore and still bears his name today. Over the years, it has been the site of many great advancements in engineering. Perhaps the most significant was the ENIAC, the world’s first large-scale general-purpose digital computer.

Continuing the Values of James Welsh Pepper

In the 100 years since the passing of J.W. Pepper, the company he founded has striven to uphold his values of both musical excellence and service to the community. The University of Pennsylvania Band has continued to be a beacon of these values as well, engaging in a number of activities beneficial to the music community – especially in Philadelphia.

One specific event, a week-long music camp held annually, is a perfect example of how the University Band has continued to be a service to its community and advance the cause of music education. Known simply as the Penn Band High School Summer Music Camp, it brings in students from around the Philadelphia area to take part in music clinics, special activities, and concerts. Conducted in partnership with Musicopia, which brings interactive music education and performance opportunities to thousands of students in pre-K through 12th grade annually, the camp is able to provide scholarships to many underserved and disadvantaged student musicians to come and learn with collegiate musicians and staff.

As the 100th anniversary of Pepper’s passing approached, the company looked for a fitting way to honor his memory. We found the perfect opportunity in the Summer Music Camp’s closing concert. Assistant Band Director Dr. Kushol Gupta graciously offered to help celebrate Pepper’s legacy by playing The Liberty Bell March, which was first played at the Chicago World’s Fair where Pepper won an award for his instruments. Dr. Gupta also put together a short presentation about Pepper’s work.

A Renewed Relationship

New mace presented to the University of Pennsylvania Band by J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc.

Chief Marketing Officer Kathy Fernandes was on hand at the concert to present Dr. Gupta and the University of Pennsylvania Band with a brand-new drum major mace in honor of the band’s continued service to the community as well as their past relationship with Pepper. It was our pleasure to celebrate the great work of the University Band, and to continue the legacy of our founder, James Welsh Pepper.

Inscription on the new mace: “Presented by J.W. Pepper & Son in recognition of over 100 years of musical excellence and community service.”

We look forward to a continuing relationship with the University of Pennsylvania Band for many years to come.

Brendan Lyons
Brendan Lyons
Brendan started at Pepper in 2012 and currently works in the Marketing department as a copywriter. A graduate of Villanova University, Brendan has been a musician for over twenty years. He is also an author, using his talents at Pepper to bring the knowledge of our experienced staff to our customers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here