Saturday, July 4, 2009

WFL Rope-Tensioned Field Drum

From the website of the Percussive Arts Society's Museum:

During the Second World War, restrictions were placed on the manufacture of musical instruments and other objects considered non-essential to the war effort in the United States. The metal components in these objects could constitute no more than 10% of the total weight.

In response to this law, Cecil Strupe, of the WFL Drum Company, revived an age-old design for tensioning parade drums using woven rope and leather ears. The single rope was strung through holes drilled in the solid maple counterhoops, which allowed the player to tune both heads simultaneously by pulling on the leather ears. The simplicity of the design and ease of use resulted in WFL being awarded a bid to the United States Army in 1942 for 4,000 drums—the largest single order for drums ever awarded to a manufacturer by the United States military.

This 15 x 14-inch drum is constructed with a lacquered, maple shell, two solid maple counterhoops, calfskin drumheads, woven rope, and leather tuning ears. A knurled-knob snare strainer, which lacks an instant “on/off” mechanism, is mounted by means of a wood bracket and used to tension the 12 gut snares. The drum features a gray aluminum badge: “W.F.L. DRUM CO. / Wm. F. LUDWIG / PRESIDENT / 1728 N. DAMEN AVE / CHICAGO.” Stamped inside the drum are the numbers “5 69 6,” the meaning or significance of which is unknown at present.

Acquisition of this unique drum was made possible through the Ralph Pace Museum Acquisition Fund. It was purchased from an organization that had received the drum as a fund-raising donation from a private collector who had rescued it from a “second-hand” shop.

Detail showing the aluminum badge. Picture of workers assembling rope drums at the WFL factory in 1942 (from The Ludwig Book, courtesy of Rebeats Publishing).

—James A. Strain, PAS Historian, and Otice C. Sircy, PAS Museum Curator and Librarian, with contributions by Rob Cook and Harry J. Cangany, Jr. We are grateful for the assistance of James Ellis of the Cooperman Fife & Drum Company, who donated the replacement batter head.

Detail showing the aluminum badge.

Picture of workers assembling rope drums at the WFL factory in 1942 (from The Ludwig Book, courtesy of Rebeats Publishing).


  1. Hi, I have one of these drums myself. I aquired it from it's original owner who carried it during WWII. He has since passed away. It's a beautiful piece. Are there many of these in tact?

    Fort Dodge, Iowa.

  2. Kris,

    We've seen a few come on eBay from time to time, and elsewhere. They are nice drums, sound pretty good, and a fun to have in a collection. After WWII, many were surplused to schools where they were used in school bands. So, often we'll see school identification markings, and sometimes names scratched by students. During the early 1960's I played on a more modern version (with rods rather than ropes) in a sea cadet drum & bugle corps (The American Bluejackets) in the Bronx, New York. I call them "brown drums". They don't have a large following and are fairly available so they don't command a big price. If you have one with some provenance, keep and cherish it.

    Ellis Mirsky

  3. Just got one in excellent condition from ebay... I was originally looking for a playable snare and thinking about getting a Cooperman, but then there was this Ludwig on ebay in seemingly good condition (needs a new head). Now I get to play my rudimental solos on a piece of drum history!

  4. Well, that's lovely. Enjoy it. Don't be surprised if you find that you need to replace the heads, ropes, tugs and snares. The drum is 70 or more years old. Cooperman does great work in that and other areas.

    Skin heads are appropriate. But don't think for a moment that you'll be able to play the new stuff on it. You won't. You need chops to play on such drums. Unlike the new high tension Kevlar head drums that do the work for you, this drum requires you to actually move your arms and elbows. Remember thise days? Connecticut Halftime and such will sound great.

    Ellis Mirsky

  5. i want one! how much would one of these cost me?

  6. I acquired a 1940's WFL Rope-Tensioned Field Drum. It has been abused over the years. I would like to restore it. Any suggestions?


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