In 1864 George Washburn Lyon and Patrick J. Healy were sent to Chicago by Oliver Ditson to set up his Mid West musical instrument wholesale business and among their suppliers was C F Martin.
In 1880, frustrated with the lack of volume available from some of the makers, including Martin, they broke away from Ditson, and in 1883 set up a manufacturing business which included banjos, mandolins and a few guitars to initially suppliment the instruments they distrubuted for others.
The business grew very quickly and George B Durkee, superintendent of what had become the huge Lyon & Healy factory in Chicago, Illinois, designed the Washburn range of banjos, mandolins and guitars, made and sold by the company.
One writer has said “they let S S Stewart do all the donkey work before they started making banjos which, at first, were copies of Stewart’s range”.
In 1889 Lyon retired from the business (the year after Oliver Ditson died) but Healey continued to improving the quality of the range of products the business was making. In January 1915 they advertised “The New Improved Washburn Banjos (Patented)” which they described as “the latest thing in banjo construction”. This instrument incorporated patents taken out by William D Bowen who sold the manufacturing rights to Lyon & Healy.
It is interesting to note that this firm made zither banjos probably for export to England as some were advertised in the “for sale” columns of the fretted instrument press of the day and for a time S A Halfpenny (the notable English zither banjo virtuoso) played a Lyon & Healy instrument.
At one time Lyon & Healy stress that every part of the “Washburn” banjos –brackets, pegs, rims, fingerboards etc. was their own make.
In March 1922 they were offering the patented “Van Eps Recording Banjo” - “with the internal resonator and outward curved dowel or cross piece” but made it clear that they were only the distributors and not the makers.
... they appeared to cease manufacturing during the depression.