Helvetia Records: Unrealized Ambitious Dreams

(Courtesy Jim Leary)

With the recent acquisition of Helvetia 1002, our upcoming set, Alpine Dreaming, will now have every known release put out by the small Helvetia label in the early 1920s. Thanks to Eric Gallinger for contributing that record to the effort. Eric found the disc at an estate sale in Oregon and, inspired by his wife’s Swiss ancestry, picked it up as an extraordinary type of record. We found him and his kids on their YouTube channel, JEC&T 78’s, and the result is as complete a telling of the Helvetia story as is possible at this point.

Ferdinand Ingold, a Swiss immigrant to Monroe, Wisconsin (the Swiss cheese capital of America) operated a novelty and import company, specializing in post cards such as the lovely and unusual embossed lace postcard shown here. By the mid-1910s he saw a need to supply his like-minded customers of the immigrant community with recordings from their homeland and was able to procure many titles from Switzerland for resale in the U.S. Then Ingold got the idea to start his own record company to make and sell records by the community for the community.

Local heroes Otto Rindlisbacher (accordion) and Karl Hoppe (violin) would travel to New York to make the first recordings in late 1920, and somehow Ingold connected with a prize-winning yodeler from New Jersey, Charles Schoenenberger, to make both Swiss-German and English-language yodel records—both solos and duets with a partner, Louisa Schneckenbuehl. Selections made by these individuals comprise the bulk of the recordings.

But perhaps most audacious of Ingold’s plan was his ambition to fill out entire series of recordings. His eyes were set on developing an expansive and thorough list of a variety of musical types, but in the end eighteen discs and thirty-six tracks are all we have. The series Ingold established are as follows (the known number of released discs follows in parentheses):

  • 100 series:  folk jodellied—i.e., songs in the native Swiss-German and German languages (9)
  • 300 series: English-language jodellied (2)
  • 500 series: instrumental dance tunes (4)
  • 700 series: trios (presumably)—this is an art song jodellied interpretation with orchestral accompaniment (1)
  • 1000 series: quartets, both male and mixed (2)

Most but not all of the known recordings were released in 1921, with a scant few following in the year or so after. The operation went on long enough to support two slightly different label types and a few pressing anomalies (such as at least one unpublished pairing of the same songs). By 1924 it was all over, when Ingold filed for bankruptcy. In 1926, he died at the age of 65.

But his dream lives again.


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