Cabarrus Businessman, Bascom Umberger, Financed Education Through Music

3 Apr 2015

Bascom Umberger in his office instructing a salesman. The office was upstairs on the corner of Union Street, S. and Barbrick Avenue.

The following article contains excerpts from the June 1974 issue of Progress Magazine, produced by the Concord Telephone Company. 

About 1905, an enterprising and ambitious young man by the name of Bascom Leonard Umberger established a new business in Concord called The Home Educational Company. He was vitally interested in education, and his new enterprise sold and distributed books and other educational materials in North Carolina and several adjacent states. Included in the activities of this new establishment was the promotion and sale of a stringed musical instrument known as the “Mandolin-Guitar Harp.”

The Mandolin-Guitar Harp has strings arranged so that the notes of chords occur in groups.

The Mandolin-Guitar Harp, a type of modern chord zither, was actually manufactured by the Phonoharp Company, of East Boston Massachusetts. In spite of its beautiful tone and appearance, and the ease in which it could be played, the harp was was not selling. About the time the manufacturer was considering its discontinuation, it was discovered by Bascom Umberger. Since he had sold books door to door during his summer vacations from college, the idea came to him that if he had salesmen to take this harp to the home and show how even the children could play tunes on it, the harp should sell.

After working out an arrangement with the manufacturer to be an exclusive representative, he set up a business in Concord under the name The Home Educational Company. His first move was to visit some of the colleges and engage students who would work on commission selling harps over summer vacation in order to finance their education. Soon the business grew and there were hundreds of men in the field each summer, in addition to a number of men who worked for the company the year-round. These sales representatives worked in various locations across the country.

Umberger family home “The Luberger Place.”

Bascom Umberger enjoyed successful and lucrative business until the tide changed in 1913. Mr. Umberger suffered an illness that hospitalized him in New York for some months. Although he recovered, 1914 proved to be a fateful year for The Home Educational Company. An economic slump occurred when World War I broke out in Europe. The draft then called the young men into service who otherwise might have been his sales representatives. These conditions along with the worsening physical condition of Mr. Umberger finally ended the existence of The Home Educational Company.

Bascom Umberger was born December 16, 1872 in Wytheville, Virginia. He was the son of Abraham Umberger, a Confederate Civil War veteran, and Elizabeth Martin Umberger. In 1899 he married the lovely Miss Jennie Bell Ludwig of Number 4 Township (now part of Kannapolis), Cabarrus County. Mr. and Mrs. Umberger built a beautiful home atop a ridge near Cook’s Crossing, Number 4 Township, and named it “The Luberger Place.” This home was destined to survive for more than one-half century and to be occupied solely by the Umberger family. The building was demolished in 1971.

Mr. Umberger was active in all phases of religious and civic life in the Winecoff community. He served as a member of the school committee and was very active in Mt. Olivet Methodist Church. He was gifted with a rich tenor voice and could play many musical instruments. His talents were in great demand. He was principal in the development of the Parkwood Community and was a member of the Citizen’s Bank & Trust Company Board of Directors. It is thought that he owned the first automobile in Cabarrus County and organized the first Boy Scout troop in the county (excluding the City of Concord). Along with Mr. C. J. W. Goodman and Mr. Will M. Barnhardt, Mr. Umberger was instrumental in securing the first telephone and electric service in the community.

Today, very few people in Concord have heard of The Home Educational Company, or even knew of its existence when at its height, because most of its operation was carried on in distant locations, and most of its salesmen lived elsewhere. Noted singer and musician Barbara Mandrell is known to own one of the mandolin-guitar harps, given to her from an admirer. Somewhere, sometime, it was sold by one of Mr. Umberger’s traveling salesmen.

Bascom Umberger died in 1929. Jennie Ludwig Umberger survived him until 1968. They, as well as other family members, are buried at Mount Olivet United Methodist Church Cemetery in Concord.

Cabarrus County Public Library, Lore Local History Room