Orville Gibson started making guitars in Kalamazoo MI, 1894. He applied many of the concepts of the violin to guitars and mandolins. The archtop guitar was born and demand quickly outgrew Orville's capacity to produce. In 1902 he sold the rights to his name to a group of Kalamazoo businessmen who formed the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company, soon to become Gibson, Inc.
In 1944 the Chicago Musical Instruments Company (CMI) bought Gibson and continued making instruments in Kalamazoo. In 1957 CMI also purchased Epiphone and moved it from New York to Michigan. It wasn't until 1970 that Epiphone production was moved overseas.
Already famous for their hollowbody guitars, particularly the L-5 model, in 1952 Gibson created a solidbody guitar designed in collaboration with guitarist Les Paul. In the late fifties Gibson successfully launched some new designs (most notably the Explorer, the Flying V and the ES-335) and in 1961 the Gibson Les Paul was discontinued in favor of the SG (Solid Guitar). However, as the decade progressed British players like Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton gave the Les Paul wide exposure. It returned to production with a vengence in 1968 -- going on to become a rock-n-roll icon.
Soon thereafter CMI (and Gibson along with it) was taken over by the Norlin Company and Gibson production was divided between Kalamazoo and Nashville, TN. Production quality declined and financial problems mounted.
In 1986 Gibson and Epiphone were purchased by three Harvard business school grads, Henry Juszkiewicz, David Berryman and Gary Zebrowski. Their management probably saved the company. Gibson now manufactures in three US facilities located in Nashville, Memphis and Bozeman MT. Most of Gibson's designs from the fifties and sixties remain popular today.