The Eden kazoo factory is a blast from the past in more ways than one.
Kazoos are nostalgic on their own, but a factory that makes toys?
Weren't those all shipped off to China years ago?
Nope, turns out the Original Kazoo Co. has been cranking out kazoos on Main Street in Eden since 1916.
What's more, the little metal instruments are still produced in almost exactly the same fashion as they were when Woodrow Wilson was president. The factory even uses the same die presses that were installed in 1907 for a previous sheet metal workshop, using one 10-horsepower motor to power more than 20 machines, connected with overhead jack shafts and leather belts.
The kazoos are stamped from strips of sheet metal, with the tops, bottoms and caps formed separately, then joined together by machines. Each kazoo's resonator, the round part that makes the buzzing noise, is made with mylar glued to fiberboard. The kazoo itself is made without any welding or soldering; it's just crimped metal.
Kazoos are inspected several times along the line, and each one is finished off by hand. A worker places a resonator inside the round housing on top of the kazoo, tightens its childproof cap by hand, then wipes it clean and places it into a carton for packaging after it's stamped with a date.
In addition to its original fluted kazoo, the company makes kazoos shaped like trumpets, French horns and trombones; even airplanes, racecars, trains and tractors. Production volume varies depending on how many orders the company receives, but last year it made more than 30,000 kazoos.
Today, the Original Kazoo Co. is owned by a nonprofit rehabilitative services agency called sasi. It acquired the shop in 2003, incorporating it into its employment program, which provides meaningful jobs to people with disabilities. It employs 15 workers at the factory.
Karl Lindner of Gowanda, a sasi client, has worked at the Original Kazoo Co. for 14 years. He's trained on several different machines and, each day he works, he tries to beat his previous shift's output.
"I want to give sasi my best," he says. "I'm here to work."
The Kazoo Boutique gift shop in the front of the factory, where factory tours can be arranged, is owned and operated separately by Eden resident Karen Smith. Tours of the factory are available (call ahead if you'd like a guide) and visitors can even assemble their own kazoo.
Though kazoo-like instruments have been traced back hundreds of years to Africa, the first kazoo on record looked more like a sawed-off recorder and was patented by Warren Herbert Frost in 1883.
It was a Buffalonian, George D. Smith, who patented the first modern kazoo in 1902 – a kazoo that looks like the ones made in Eden today; submarine-shaped and made of metal.