When the London melodrama “The Romany Rye” made its way to New York in 1882, word quickly spread that the elaborate play had staging challenges well beyond the scope of the day’s theatre rigging. In Syracuse, at the Grand Opera House, young stagehand John Clancy knew his basic hardware store pulleys didn’t have the capacity to fly the fantastically complex and heavy scenery the production required. As opening night approached, he labored in his home workshop, ultimately devising a series of heavy-duty pulleys, sheaves, and other inventions that would not only make the scene changes possible, but reinvent theatre rigging as we know it.
Soon a new reputation was spreading of how the brilliant young inventor “saved the show.” Letters requesting his specialized rigging poured in from theatres across the country. In 1885 John Clancy left the opera house to found J. R. Clancy, Inc., which would rise to become the leading theatrical rigging company in the United States and one of the largest manufacturers of stage rigging equipment in the world.
By 1887 J.R. Clancy’s catalog was already jammed with new products and eye-opening ideas that solved many age-old rigging problems. The company introduced gas lighting systems right away, and later new electric lights in 1891. John Clancy was a known zealot for safety and quality, promising his customers “...the greatest care being exercised in the selection of materials used, and only skilled workmen being employed.” In 1903, after more than 600 people died in the Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago, Clancy immediately created the fire line and self-closing fire curtain, which remain the basis for fire curtains today.
Innovation after innovation followed throughout the years, even after John Clancy became a United States congressman in 1913. The founder’s big thinking was embraced throughout the company and remains the essence of J.R. Clancy today. As the industry demanded more and more complex and creative rigging solutions, J.R. Clancy continually rose to the challenge. Two-hundred-plus hoist systems in the 1970’s showcased the incredible possibilities of motorization. At the turn of the last century, as a new breed of designers reimagined how theatres could be built, J.R. Clancy helped fulfill countless visions with specialized rigging solutions and next-generation controls. Breakthroughs like PowerLift automated hoists define the company’s unparalleled 21st century thinking and capabilities.
In 2011, J.R. Clancy joined forces with Wenger Corporation, the world-wide leader in innovative, high-quality products and solutions for music and theatre education and performance. Both companies share a long history of collaboration and a proud tradition of market-leading innovation, safety, and customer service. Like John Clancy, Harry Wenger was a passionate visionary who understood the challenges faced by his fellow music teachers and band leaders. With more than 200 years of experience between them, Wenger and J.R. Clancy bring a synergy of quality solutions never before available.
Throughout its history, J.R. Clancy has been instrumental in helping live theatre continue to thrive. Today we offer theatres of all kinds and sizes the same commitment to quality, safety, and success introduced by John Clancy those many years ago.