History of Steinway and Sons and the Steinway Piano

For those taking a brief look at the history of the Steinway & Son manufacturing history the following notes may be of interest.

In 1850 the piano world had many well known names, but the name of Steinway and Sons was unheard of.

By 1880 Steinway had revolutionized both the way pianos were made and marketed, in 30 years they had become the world's most renowned piano - how did they do it?

Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg a piano maker from Seesen near Brunswick, Germany since 1825 sent his son Carl to America to explore the business possibilities there in 1849.

On June 29th, 1850 , Heinrich and his wife, accompanied by three daughters and three of his five sons joined Carl for a new life in a new land. Heinrich, a respected piano maker was 53 when he left his homeland and his imaginative sons encouraged him to take this brave move despite the prosperity enjoyed so far, New York City it appeared offered more...

From the outset they Americanised their name and first took jobs with established piano makers to learn the way of the New World. On March 5th, 1853 the firm of "Steinway and Sons" was formed and square pianos were initially produced at the rate of about one a week from a small shop at 85 Varick Street, New York City. 1860 saw them producing about 30 square pianos and five Steinway grands a week from a modern new factory on Fourth Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets, where some 350 men were employed.

By 1880 the firm, making pianos in both New York and at a newly established plant in Hamburg, Germany were making every part of their instruments and boasted facilities to cast their own plates and produce sawn timber from their extensive supply of lumber.

Elegant showrooms at 107, 109 and 111 East 14th Street in New York displayed the companies range of pianos incorporating all the latest patents. On the second floor an audience of 2,000 could hear the remarkable new sound from the Steinway patent grand, a sound almost unthinkable of some three decades previously.

What drove the Steinways to reach these new dimensions in piano construction?

By the mid-nineteenth century leading composers of the day such as Chopin and Liszt were producing repertory that was taking the limits of piano construction beyond realistic hope. This piano technique demanded greater levels of power and projection, more refined pedal possibilities - a piano that would sound like an orchestra. A review of the day following a concert by Liszt cited,

'Liszt stands there like a victor on a battlefield, like a hero at a tournament. Daunted pianos lie around him: torn strings wave like flags of truce; frightened instruments flee into distant corners'

When the Steinways arrived in America they brought with them a vision to build a piano better and stronger than so far seen or heard.

Henry Steinway and his sons William, Henry Jr. and Charles battled hard to become the best known piano maker in America, facing stiff competition at the time from Chickering. One of the most signicificant developments for the grand piano was patented by Henry Jr. in 1859 - the overstrung scale - and this set Steinway on the road to success after success. Theodore Steinway, Henry's eldest son had remained in Germany at first to look after the family interests there and many interesting letters were sent to and fro formulating the ideas that have today become standard practice in piano building.

The pre-eminence of the firm and the efforts needed to reach this took its toll though and tragic deaths in the family were overcome in time. The devastating effects of two world wars and in between the great depression of 1929 did its best to halt the production of Steinway pianos. There has no doubt been times when it must have been touch and go for the family owned firm to survive, but survive it has and today some 585,000 pianos later it remains... 'The Standard Piano of the World'.