Blowin' the Blues
The harmonica and the blues: The two seem to have been developed for each other. In fact they did develop around the same time.
The harmonica first appeared around 1820, but wasn't widely available until a German clockmaker, Matthias Hohner began mass producing them in 1857. The first harmonicas, with their diatonic tunings, were made for European folks songs but were perfectly suited to the blues as well. Their small size made them extremely portable, and the fact that high quality instruments could be mass produced, made them very affordable.
Prior to the availability of the harmonica, many Blues musicians played the quills, a pan pipe-type instrument made of differing lengths of hollow reeds. Few recordings of musicians playing quills exist, but they do exist. Someone remind me to post some in the future.
One of the first harmonica players to record was DeFord Bailey, an early country music star and the first African-American performer on the Grand Ole Opry. Baily was one of the early members of the Opry and one of it's most popular. He toured with many other Opry stars including Uncle Dave Macon, Bill Monroe, and Roy Acuff. He was a member of the Opry from 1927 until 1941, when due to licensing conflicts with BMI -ASCAP he was prevented from playing his best known songs on the radio and was fired by WSM. He spent the rest of his life shining shoes, cutting hair, and renting out rooms in his home to make a living. DeFord Bailey died in 1982 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
Noah Lewis, (on right in photo above) founder of Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers along with Gus Cannon, was known for being able to play two harmonicas at once. He would play one with his mouth and the other with his nose! I've discussed Cannon's Jug Stompers many times here before, including the fact that one of their tunes "Minglewood Blues" was a standard for the Grateful Dead. Noah Lewis was the composer of "Minglewood Blues", as well as many other tunes. He left the music scene in the 1930's as the popularity of Jug Bands was on the decline. Lewis died in 1961 near Ripley, Tennessee of gangrene brought on by frostbite.