The Ludwig family (no relation, as far as I know) emigrated from Germany to Chicago in 1897, moving into a small home on the west side. The father was a professional musician who played trombone and baritone saxophone. At the age of eight, his son William F. Ludwig Jr. watched a neighborhood parade headed by the drum corps of the First Regiment Illinois National Guard. William Jr. would recall later: “The corps made an impression that decided my future then and there!” Good-bye, violin lessons.
William Jr. eventually did become a professional drummer, playing with circuses and touring vaudeville shows, along with the occasional skating-rink gig. But work was irregular, so in 1909 William and his brother, Theobald, opened a drum shop in Chicago; they called it Ludwig & Ludwig.
The business started to prosper in the 1920s. Located then at 1611 N. Lincoln, the shop became a key source in providing drums for silent movie orchestras. By 1923 the Ludwig factory employed 240 workers; it was the largest drum manufacturer in the world.