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Arthur Wales, The King of Piano Tuners


They called him the “King of Piano Tuners,” and he was known as the best man to tune pianos in North Dakota many decades ago. His name was Arthur Wales and he came to Fargo in 1891 to keep the pianos in Dakota in tune. In that era, a piano was often the center of entertainment in the home, and families used to gather around the piano to play and sing their favorite songs at holidays and get-togethers.

Piano-tuner Arthur Wales established a circuit along the line of the Northern Pacific Railway, stopping at Jamestown, Bismarck and other places. His full name was Albert Edward Arthur Wales. Born in Tennessee and raised in Baltimore, Mr. Wales moved to Minneapolis in 1869 and studied music, playing several instruments. In the 1880s, he got involved in tuning pianos in Minnesota for the W.J. Dyer Company, a music dealer. In the 1890s, he took on the route into North Dakota.

Arthur Wales lived in Fargo for a time and then took residence in Grand Forks, from there following the Great Northern Railway on a piano tuning circuit that took him to Devils Lake, Cando, Fort Totten, and Niagara.

While he took the train between cities, he traveled by bicycle when going from house to house, finding pedaling to be a “great time saver.” Mr. Wales had a bicycle of his own invention, propelling it by a “combination of hand and foot power.” He said he could zip along at “twenty miles an hour on good roads and with far less effort . . . than the ordinary style machine.”

It was on this date, in 1898, that the Grand Forks Herald described Arthur Wales’s unique bicycle, revealing that it was very heavy, weighing 38 pounds, making it very slow to get started, but once he got momentum, it would take a “fast train to keep up with it.” Newspapers described it as having over 100 gears, a feature that made it noteworthy wherever he went.

Arthur Wales kept on fine-tuning pianos until his untimely death, at age 55, in 1907. People remembered his musicianship and his unusual bicycle, and they might have found it logical that this piano-tuner could avoid getting flat-tires on rough Dakota roads, for it was a matter of: “C sharp or B flat.”

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Prof. Arthur Wales’ Bicycle,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, August 25, 1898, p. 4.

“Albert Edward Arthur Wales,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, June 27, 1899, p. 35.

“Prof. Wales Is Dead,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, December 28, 1907, p.4; “Arthur Wales Is Dead,” Williston Graphic, January 2, 1908, p. 1.

“Arthur Wales,” Jamestown Weekly Alert, December 29, 1893, p. 5; Jamestown Weekly Alert, October 1, 1896, p. 5.

“Prof. Arthur Wales,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 27, 1898, p. 17; June 1, 1892, p. 5; August 16, 1895, p. 3; April 8, 1893, p. 8; August 21, 1892, p. 5; January 3, 1891, p. 4; February 4, 1900, p. 2; August 9, 1892.

“Arthur Wales,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, June 10, 1892, p. 4.