This blog is dedicated to the sublime instruments called nose flutes and which produce the most divine sound ever. We have chosen to discard all the native models from S. Pacific and Asia, for they need fingering to be played. We'll concentrate on "buccal cavity driven" nose flutes : the well patented and trademarked metal or plastic ones, plus, by a condemnable indulgence, some wooden craft or home-made productions.

Sep 6, 2012

Nose Flute Pioneers : Nelson Ronsheim

With the "Nose Flute Pioneers" series, enters a little cycle of research. I hope it won't be too arid for a blog, but I really think that the facts I found have to be published. The sources : Google patents, US Census and an access to newspaper archives. But also, depending on the topic, correspondence by e-mail with descendants. Let's better say : internet searching tools available for a Frenchie not able to access US real paper archives.


You certainly remember the Snoot-Flute, which advertisement was presented here one year ago. Ans as we wrote at that time : « Dating of early 1960s (?), the Snoot-Flute was made by PAR Beverage Corp, Cincinnati, OH. This company was actually the predecessor of Kenner Toys (the prefix "PAR" were the initials of the company founder Joseph Steiner's associates : his brother Philip and Albert, and their cousin Robert).
PAR Beverage, and then Kenner Toys, produced many plastic toys, the Bubble-matic gun, the Give-a-Show projector, the Easy-Bake and the famous Spirograph.

The Snoot-Flute was designed by Nelson Ronsheim (1905-1981), and I retrieved his grandson, Mr. Michael Smith, who gently sent me a biography of Nelson, and also this picture of the actual Snoot-Flute with its packaging (Michael doesn't own himself a Snoot-Flute, and thus cannot send more pictures) :

Michael Smith also answered my question about PAR Beverage, the Cincinnati company which "signed" the Snoot-Flute : « Kenner didn't start out as Kenner, but as a number of different companies all run by Joseph Steiner, his brothers Philip and Albert and nephew Robert. These companies included PAR Beverage (Philip, Albert, Robert), Bromo-Mint, Grandpa Brands, and Cincinnati Soap Company, among others. When Kenner hit it big, they mostly were folded up, except for Grandpa, which was sold, and PAR, which my grandfather took over. PAR continued to make mostly humorous novelty items sold through the national travel chains, such as Stucky's. »

About the name "Snoot-Flute", Michael wrote :

« My grandfather, Nelson Ronsheim, was quite fond of classical music and had a large collection of recordings of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and Dvorak. It was with the intention, perhaps, of adding another instrument to the wind section of the orchestra that he invented the snoot flute.

Another possibility is that my grandfather "invented" this instrument as a bit of humor, he was somewhat of a jokester and enjoyed making a play on words. I'm not certain how "snoot" translates in French, Antoine, but in English it is a somewhat obsolete reference to one's nose, a bit like the word "keister" for the derriere.

However, take just one of the two "o"s out of "snoot" and you have "snot", which is a crude reference to the bodily fluid which resides in the nose and may be blown into a handkerchief. But that's not all; place an apostrophe in the word "snot" and you have "s'not", as in "s'not (a) flute" or, more clearly, "it's not a flute".

We do not contest Michael Smith's statement, but we would like to add that the name "Snoot-Flute" was however already used as a nickname for the nose flutes (notably for the plastic Humanatone). Here are 2 ads dating of 1950 (much earlier than the PAR Bev. Snoot-Flute) in which appears the name (Sedalia Democrat, Apr. 4 & 6+7, 1950):

Nose Flute Pioneers : Nelson Ronsheim

Nelson Ronsheim's self portrait (oct 1937)

About Nelson Ronsheim's life, the best is to quote Michael Smith writing :

Nelson Ronsheim (1905 - 1981) attended the Cincinnati Art Academy when still in elementary school, perhaps the youngest student ever to do so. After working a short while for an advertising firm, at the age of 23, Ronsheim set out on his own as a commercial artist.

Nelson Ronsheim (foreground) at the Cincinnati Art Academy (1922).

From his High School year book :

Though skilled with pen and brush, Ronsheim gravitated to photography as a means of artistic expression. From as early as 1923, he mastered the use of a complex camera to record life in Cincinnati. After acquiring additional photographic equipment in 1938, Ronsheim embarked on an intense effort to capture on film the familiar scenes of his native city. As a student of history, Ronsheim appreciated the transitional nature of the late 1930s and sought to preserve in photographs the city as he knew it, anticipating that these images would become more fascinating with time.

This period of intense photographic activity lasted just four years, brought to an end by World War II's rationing of fuel and raw material. Yet Ronsheim created roughly 800 images of Cincinnati during this time. Ronsheim entered photographs in the Master Photo Finishers of America annual contests in 1939 and 1940 and each year received several awards.


Here are some (beautiful!!) pictures by Nelson Ronsheim. You can watch at much more of them on these pages.

The Immigrant - 1938

Moonlight - 1941

Barrels of Drum - 1939

Winter on the River - 1940

As a commercial artist, Ronsheim was successful and well regarded. Baby-boomers who acquired Kenner toys in their youth may have admired Ronsheim's work, as he provided all the artwork for Kenner's packages, advertisements and instruction material. Ronsheim, in fact, is credited with naming the company, albeit unintentionally. When dispatching art proofs to the firm's office on Kenner Street, Ronsheim wrote the address "1026 Kenner St.", later shortening it to "Kenner St." and finally just "Kenner", the name that stuck. Ronsheim was mechanically minded and his tinkering resulted in a number of patents. He also authored and illustrated several children's books.

Indeed, here are 2 patents filed by Nelson Ronsheim. The first one, in collab. with Charles Metzler, for a mount for films, and the second, as assignor to Peters & Russell Inc., for a cleat :

Nelson Ronsheim in 1958 :

Fellow Cincinnatian Henry Levison, founder of Permanent Pigments Co. and developer of Liquitex high-viscosity acrylic artist's paints, invited Ronsheim to create paintings demonstrating the advantages of acrylics over traditional oil paints. Having just retired, Ronsheim accepted Levison's challenge and between 1970 and 1974 produced over 160 paintings, including the "Genesis Series" featured in the Sunday Enquirer Magazine of September 21, 1975 and a "Best of Show" winner in the 1977 Ohio governor's senior citizens art contest.

Nelson Ronsheim in 1962, and his commercial sign :
A lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ronsheim encouraged appreciation of the city's beauty in features large and small, both natural and manmade. A script he wrote near the end of his life to accompany a photo presentation begins: "Herein speaks the camera, in phrases bright and terse; it supplants the illustrator's brush, his picturing to disperse, and supplements the author's pen, for better or for verse."

in 1976 :

Nelson Ronsheim is elected to The Nose Flute Hall of Fame !


On the same topic :

- The Rare, Amazing and Ugly Snoot-Flute


- Nose Flute Pioneers: William G. Carter - Part I
- Nose Flute Pioneers: William G. Carter - Part II
- Nose Flute Pioneers: William G. Carter - Part III
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Ernest W. Davis - Part I
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Ernest W. Davis - Part II
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Nelson Ronsheim
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Garrett J. Couchois



  1. It appears to me that any builder or creator of nose flute actually is multi-talented to a high degree!

    So was Nelson Rondheim: the owner of several patents, a creative genius, a superb and awarded draftsman, painter and photographer. Did he as a lover of music also play any instruments himself?

    Somehow this type of character always seems to be ahead of his time, as with his archive on city photography, and on the forefront of innovation, as with the introduction of acrylic paint.

    Another Nose Flute Hall of Famer and quite righteously so! Yet another highly interesting article of great content!

  2. Well, I don't know if Carter was a multi-telented man... but you're right regarding E. Davis and N. Ronsheim!

  3. Wonderful and joyous additional photographs of Mr Ronsheim in the latter stages of his life, making him look more 'real'.

    As for Mr Carter: as the inventor of the urban nose flute, he surely must have been quite a character!

  4. Cool site! But wanted to clarify the Par Beverage info. Par was actually a pre-war drink brand originally called Vanti Pa Pi A and renamed to Par Beverage in 1940 by the Hecker Corporation (NY) that used to own it. The Steiner brothers that started Kenner were in the soap and drink business before toys and bought the Par brand in 1944 to add to their existing drink business. Later on they marketed several novelty toys under the Par name, but that was still during the Kenner days not prior to. Those early days they did things under their various companies and Bromo Mint is another one. The Par products were novelty items although the original version of the Kenner-branded 1965 Whiz Fizz was the Candy Soda Fountain in 1950 marketed under Par Beverage. All of this occurred all under the Kenner Products roof at 912 Sycamore St. Do a Google book and patent search if you want to verify this all for yourself, but that's the story. Take care.

    1. Dear Chris, Thank you very much for this correction and complement of info! All the best