The Start of the T.B. Harms Era
T. B. Harms was founded in 1880 by Thomas B. Harms and his brother, Alec. The firm was much smaller than M. Witmark & Sons, and Alec soon left.
In the mid-1890’s a German immigrant moved to New York from Mississippi, where he had been working as a traveling salesman. He had a musical education and, at first, worked in New York with Paul Dresser and his brother Theodore. Theodore, a writer, used a different spelling (Dreiser) for his last name and is connected to the 1951 movie, A Place in the Sun.
In a few years, this young man from Mississippi left Dresser and obtained a position at Harms as a song “plugger,” which appears to be the starting rung for most new hires—arranging songs from composers under contract and playing them on a piano in public in order to sell sheet music. In the days before radio and disc jockeys, piano players had to go to some public spot in a city, such as a department store, and play sheet music for hours on end.
The name of the German immigrant was Max Dreyfus, and he would go on to become one of the guiding lights in the sponsorship of Broadway composers and orchestrators. By 1901, Max Dreyus had bought a minority interest in Harms and enlisted his brother, Louis, to join the Firm. By 1904, Tom Harms decided to leave the Firm and sold his remaining interest to the two Dreyfus brothers.