A Historic Martin Ukulele Visits the Arctic and is Signed by Edison, Coolidge, and Lindbergh

From the Summer 2017 issue of Ukulele | BY TOM WALSH

The most carefully examined ukulele in the world is on display in the Martin Guitar Museum and Visitor Center in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Known as the “Konter” ukulele, this unassuming Martin Style 1K ukulele is autographed by a veritable who’s who of 1920s personalities.

Kontern Martin Full Body shot historic vintage rareThe ukulele was owned by Richard Konter, the recreation director for Admiral Richard Byrd’s crew on the expeditions that led to Byrd’s flights over both the North and South Poles. Konter was known as “Ukulele Dick” and wrote two ukulele method books in the 1920s before setting sail with Byrd and his crew in 1926 on their expedition to the North Pole. Konter snuck the ukulele aboard the plane that Byrd and his pilot Floyd Bennett flew over the pole. After Konter got the ukulele back, he began to get it signed by everyone involved in the expedition, including Byrd and Bennett. He also got the signatures of fellow explorer Roald Amundsen and his crew, who reached the North Pole just days after Byrd. When Konter returned to New York, he continued to gather signatures of important people all over the ukulele. Signees include President Calvin Coolidge, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker, Charles Lindbergh, Lowell Thomas, and Thomas Edison.

In 1952, Konter gave the ukulele to C.F Martin III in exchange for a new Martin dreadnought guitar and it has been in the possession of the company ever since. In recent years, Martin’s Dick Boak has been working with archaeologist Larry Bartram to identify and document every signature on the ukulele. The ukulele was imaged at the Smithsonian using multi-spectral processes to allow identification of signatures that had faded from visibility under normal lighting conditions. Expect to hear more about the Konter ukulele, as Boak and Bartram are planning a book about this special instrument.


Click on the image to read more about the Smithsonian’s research into the Konter uke.
Konter Uke with Igloo the Dog
Konter with Igloo. Photo from Author’s Collection.
Byrd expedition pilot Bennett presents Konter with his ukulele after the historic 1926 Arctic flight.