Looking Backward: Wood & Brooks Company

by / Jan. 10, 2017 11pm EST

The Wood & Brooks Company was once the world’s largest manufacturer of piano keys. In this unattributed photograph taken from Kenmore Avenue and Ontario Street, Wood & Brooks employees assemble for a Liberty Bonds rally. Each year, the tusks of at least 1,000 slaughtered elephants made their way to the Buffalo plant to be fashioned into ivory piano keys. Ivory had been in use to cover piano keys since the early 1700s, but the barbaric practice—elephants must be killed to extract the tusks—fell into disfavor after the Great Depression. “New-fangled plastics,” noted a 1954 Buffalo Evening News story, “are even replacing the elephant in one unique Buffalo  industry.” The transition to plastic was “pretty much a price proposition,” according to Charles H. Wood III, grandson of the founder and executive vice president of Wood & Brooks. The United States banned the ivory trade in 1988, with the world following suit one year later. African elephants—poaching for ivory tusks still thrives in the black market—are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Wood & Brooks factory complex, located at the Buffalo border in the Town of Tonawanda, still stands.