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La Crosse County Historical Society discovers, collects, preserves, and shares the history of La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

Object Record

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Object Name Bugle
Catalog Number 1984.100.27
Description 8" brass bugle made by J.W. York & Sons Grand Rapids, MI. Also stamped into horn is PHILA.DFPOT; SPEC.1152; CONT 2-10-17.
Other Name Military Bugle
Collection LCHS Military Collection
Date 1917
Material Brass
Dimensions H-8 W-4.5 L-8 Dia-3.5 inches
Length (in) 8
Height (in) 8
Width (in) 4.5
Dimension Details Diameter is the bugle opening
Inscription Type Manufacturer's Mark
Inscription Text J.W. York and Sons
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Phila. DFPOT
SPEC. 1152
CONT. 7-10-17
Inscription Location top of bugle opening
Search Terms Instruments
Boy Scouts
Featured in Things that Matter
Notes Featured in Things that Matter

"Brass bugles can make a racket. This one may be a diminutive 8 inches, but there is nothing diminutive about its sound.

J.W. York & Sons of Grand Rapids, Mich., made thousands of brass instruments at the turn of the century, including this one. Markings on the bell indicate this instrument was manufactured according to military specifications for a “trench bugle” in B flat in 1917, and it was probably issued to an infantryman, though bugles were common in all branches of service. The triple-twist bugle has eyelets for a leather strap that is now lost, as is the mouthpiece.

Bugles have played a role in the military for centuries. They are especially useful for signaling the daily routine to large groups of people — think reveille and taps — or to coordinate troop movements. The “trench bugle,” however, was not well-adapted to the style of warfare for which it was named. For troops in the trenches, priorities included being invisible, being silent and being unpredictable. The bugle made all three objectives difficult.

If this bugle has seen action, it is more likely that a Boy Scout wielded it than a soldier. The Army sold or donated thousands of surplus bugles to civic groups in the years during and after the World War I. The Boy Scouts, founded in 1910 in the United States, placed a premium on military-style discipline and scout uniformity, so bugles were a natural accessory.

Instrument manufacturers came to this realization as early as 1916 and began running ads for bugles such as this one in Boys’ Life, the official Boy Scouts magazine. For $5.50, a Boy Scout could make “martial music” to express “the spirit of VICTORY — to LIBERTY,” according to an ad in Boys’ Life in October 1918. The bugle was not particularly useful to a soldier in the trenches perhaps, but in a kid’s hands, it could serve its patriotic duty nonetheless."

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune.
Title: Trench bugles — and Boy Scouts
Author: Caroline Morris
Publish Date: August 1, 2015