Antebellum piano makers; Chickering, Steinway, Knabe, Pleyel

Steinway grand piano

Steinway & Sons

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Steinway & Sons
Steinway-logo 4.jpg
Industry Musical instruments
Founded March 5, 1853

Steinway & Sons, also known as Steinway, (pronounced /ˈstaɪnweɪ/ ( listen)) is an American and German manufacturer of handmade[4] pianos, founded in 1853 in New York City, by German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (later Henry E. Steinway).[5] The company’s growth led to the opening of a factory and employee village in what is now Astoria, Queens in New York City,[6] followed by a second factory in Hamburg, Germany, in 1880.[7] Its early success has been credited both to the quality of its instruments and its effective marketing, including the company’s introduction of Steinway Halls (in German: Steinway-Häuser).[8]

Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg’s dedication was: “To build the best piano possible”.[9] He established at his company three basic principles: “Build to a standard, not a price”, “Make no compromise in quality”, and “Strive always to improve the instrument”.[10] Research and inventions by the company have earned it so far around 130 patents,[11][12][13] a greater number than any other piano company.[14]

After merging with the Selmer Company in 1995, Steinway’s current affiliates include the Boston and Essex lines of pianos. The Selmer Company, today named Conn-Selmer, is a subsidiary of Steinway.

Steinway holds 12 Royal Warrants,[15][16] including one from HM Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.[1

Foundation and growth

Steinway family members in 1890

Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, piano maker of the Steinweg brand, emigrated from Germany to America in 1850 with his wife and six of their seven children.[18] The son Christian Friedrich Theodor Steinweg remained in Germany, and continued making the Steinweg brand of pianos. In 1853, Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg founded Steinway & Sons. His first workshop was in a small loft at the back of 85 Varick Street in Manhattan, New York City.[19] The first piano produced by Steinway & Sons was given the number 483 because Steinweg had built 482 pianos in Germany before founding the company. Number 483 was sold to a New York family for $500, and is now displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.[20] A year later, demand was such that the company moved to larger premises at 82-88 Walker Street. It was not until 1864 that the family anglicized their name from “Steinweg” to “Steinway”.[21]

Steinway’s factory in New York City, United States, 1876

By the 1860s, Steinway had built a new factory and lumber yard. Now 350 men worked at Steinway, and production increased from 500 to 1,800 pianos per year. The pianos themselves underwent numerous substantial improvements through innovations made both at the Steinway factory and elsewhere in the industry, based on emerging engineering and scientific research, including developments in the understanding of acoustics.[22] Almost half of the company’s around 130 patented inventions were developed by the first and second generations of the Steinway family. Soon Steinway’s pianos won several important prizes at exhibitions in New York City, Paris and London.[23] By 1862, Steinways pianos had received more than 35 medals in USA alone.[24]


Sudden Mania to become Pianists created upon hearing Steinway’s Pianos at the Paris Exposition.
This lithograph by Amédée de Noé a.k.a. Cham conveys the wild popularity of the Steinway piano, the musicality of which has just been demonstrated by famed pianist Desiré Magnus, at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris.[147] (Harper’s Weekly, August 10, 1867, reporting on the world exposition)

The Steinway company and the family members have won numerous awards, including the following:[148][149][150]

  • In 1839, Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg exhibited pianos at the State Trade Exhibition at the Aegis Church in Brunswick, won top prize, and made a sale to the Duke.
  • In 1854, Steinway attended its first exhibition in the United States – the Metropolitan Mechanics Institute fair in Washington, D.C. Henry Steinway Jr.’s design won 1st Prize.
  • In 1855, Steinway exhibited at the American Institute Exhibition in The Crystal Palace at 6th Avenue and 42nd St. in New York City. There, it won its first Gold Medal “for excellent quality”. A reporter wrote the following: “Their square pianos are characterized by great power of tone, a depth and richness in the bass, a full mellowness in the middle register and brilliant purity in the treble, making a scale perfectly equal and singularly melodious throughout its entire range. In touch, they are all that could be desired.”
  • In 1855-1862 Steinway pianos received 35 medals in USA alone.[24]
  • In 1862, for the International Exhibition in London, Steinway shipped two square pianos and two grand pianos to England (two to Liverpool and two to London), and won 1st Prize.
  • In 1867, at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, Steinway won three awards – the Grand Gold Medal of Honor “for excellence in manufacturing and engineering pianos”, the grand annual testimonial medal, and an honorary membership in the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. These medals won in Europe increased the demand for Steinway pianos, thus the reason the family looked into opening a store in London. The 1867 Exposition Universelle established Steinway as the leading choice for pianos in Europe.[147]


Chickering and Sons was an American piano manufacturer located in Boston, known for producing award-winning instruments of superb quality and design. The company was founded in 1823 by Jonas Chickering and James Stewart, but the partnership dissolved four years later. By 1830 Jonas Chickering became partners with John Mackay, manufacturing pianos as Chickering & Company, and later Chickering & Mackays until the senior Mackay’s death in 1841, and reorganized as Chickering & Sons in 1853. Chickering pianos continued to be made until 1983.

Jonas Chickering made several major contributions to the development of piano technology, most notably by introducing a one-piece, cast-iron plate to support the greater string tension of larger grand pianos.

Chickering was the largest piano manufacturer in the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century, but was surpassed in the 1860s by Steinway. In 1867, Jonas’s son Frank Chickering had the Imperial Cross of the Legion of Honour, then one of the world’s most prestigious non-military awards, bestowed upon him by Emperor Napoleon III for services to the art of music, one of more than 200 awards the piano manufacturer garnered over the years. In 1843 he incorporated his concept for a cast iron frame in a concert grand piano, and an improved version of this piano received unparalleled praise at the first International Exposition held in 1851 at the Crystal Palace, London, winning the top awards.


Franz Liszt and Edvard Grieg endorsed and used Chickerings for their concerts and the virtuoso Louis Moreau Gottschalk would only perform on a Chickering, the piano makers were his number one choice.  A Chickering was first delivered to the White House in 1857.  It was on a Chickering grand that the blind, slave genius, Thomas Bethune “Blind Tom” thrilled President Buchanan in the White House.  Abraham Lincoln had a Chickering grand delivered to the White House.


Ignace Joseph Pleyel (June 18, 1757 – November 14, 1831) was an Austrian-born French composer of the Classical period.




Early years

He was born in Ruppersthal in Lower Austria, the son of a schoolmaster named Martin Pleyel. He was the 24th of 38 children in the family.[1] While still young he probably studied with Johann Baptist Vanhal, and from 1772 he became the pupil of Joseph Haydn in Eisenstadt. As with Beethoven, born 13 years later, Pleyel benefited in his study from the sponsorship of aristocracy, in this case Count Ladislaus Erdődy (1746–1786). Pleyel evidently had a close relationship with Haydn, who considered him to be a superb student.

Among Pleyel’s apprentice work from this time was a puppet opera Die Fee Urgele, (1776) performed in the marionette theater at the palace of Eszterháza and in Vienna. Pleyel apparently also wrote at least part of the overture of Haydn’s opera Das abgebrannte Haus, from about the same time.

Pleyel’s first professional position may have been as Kapellmeister for Count Erdődy, although this is not known for certain. Among his early publications was a set of six string quartets, his Opus 1.

Pleyel Museum and his birthplace, Ruppersthal, Lower Austria

In the early 1780s, Pleyel visited Italy, where he composed an opera (Ifigenia in Aulide) and works commissioned by the King of Naples.

Strasbourg 1783–1795

Attracted to the benefits associated with an organist position, Pleyel moved to Strasbourg, France in 1783 to work alongside Franz Xaver Richter the mâitre de chapelle at the Strasbourg Cathedral.[2] The Cathedral was extremely appealing to Pleyel as it possessed a full orchestra, a choir, and a large budget devoted to performances.[3] After establishing himself in France, Pleyel voluntarily called himself by the French version of his name, Ignace. While he was the assistant mâitre de chapelle at Strasbourg Cathedral, he wrote more works than during any other period in his musical career (1783–1793).[4] At the cathedral, he would organize concerts that featured his symphonies concertantes and liturgical music.[5] After Richter’s death in 1789, Pleyel assumed the function of full mâitre de chapelle. In 1788 Pleyel married Françoise-Gabrielle Lefebvre, the daughter of a Strasbourg carpet weaver. The couple had four children, the oldest being their son Camille. Maria Pleyel, née Moke (1811–1875), the wife of Camille, was one of the most accomplished pianists of her time.

In 1791, the French Revolution abolished musical performances in church as well as public concerts. Seeking alternative employment, Pleyel traveled to London, where he led the “Professional Concerts” organized by Wilhelm Cramer. In this capacity Pleyel inadvertently played the role of his teacher’s rival, as Haydn was at the same time leading the concert series organized by Johann Peter Salomon. Although the two composers were rivals professionally, they remained on good terms personally.

Just like Haydn, Pleyel made a fortune from his London visit. On his return to Strasbourg, he bought a large house, the Château d’Ittenwiller in nearby St. Pierre.

With the onset of the Reign of Terror in 1793 and 1794, life in France became dangerous for many, not excluding Pleyel. Pleyel was brought before the Committee of Public Safety a total of seven times due to the following: his foreign status, his recent purchase of a château, and his ties with the Strasbourg Cathedral.[6] He was subsequently labeled a Royalist collaborator. The outcome of the Committee’s attentions could easily have been imprisonment or even execution. With prudent opportunism, Pleyel preserved his future by writing compositions in honor of the new republic. All were written in Strasbourg at times surrounding the Terror. Below are the pieces composed with dates of publication and details:[7]

  1. La Prise de Toulon (“The capture of Toulon“) for solo and 3 voice choir with piano accompaniment. (19 February 1794)
  2. Hymne de Pleyel chanté au Temple de la Raison (“Hymn sung in the Temple of Reason”) for choir with piano accompaniment. (1793 or 1794; dates disputed)
  3. Hymne à l’Être Suprême (“Hymn to the Supreme Being”) two part cantata (performed 8 June 1794)
  4. La Révolution du 10 août (“The Revolution of August 10“) for soloists, choir, and orchestra (10 August 1794)[8]

Most of these compositions debuted at the Strasbourg Cathedral. However, during the Terror, churches were outlawed and the Strasbourg Cathedral was known as the Temple de l’Être Suprême (Temple of the Supreme Being). He became a naturalized French citizen and thus came to be known as Citoyen (citizen) Pleyel.[9] With his involvement in artistic propaganda and loyalism to the new regime, Pleyel can be seen as the ultimate musical champion of Strasbourg republicanism.[10]

In addition to composing the above works for the Strasbourg public, Pleyel also contributed to the Parisian music scene during the Revolution. One example is Le Jugement de Pâris , a pantomime-ballet by Citoyen (Citizen) Gardel and performed with Pleyel’s music (along with that of Haydn, and Étienne Méhul) on 5 March 1793.[11]

Pleyel as businessman

Pleyel moved to Paris in 1795. In 1797 he set up a business as a music publisher (“Maison Pleyel”), which among other works produced a complete edition of Haydn’s string quartets (1801), as well as the first miniature scores for study (the Bibliothèque Musicale, “musical library”). The publishing business lasted for 39 years and published about 4000 works during this time, including compositions by Adolphe Adam, Luigi Boccherini, Ludwig van Beethoven, Muzio Clementi, Johann Baptist Cramer, Johann Ladislaus Dussek, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Georges Onslow.

Pleyel visited Vienna on business in 1805, meeting his now elderly mentor Haydn for a final time and hearing Beethoven play.

In 1807, Pleyel became a manufacturer of pianos; for more on the Pleyel piano firm, see below.

The French piano firm Pleyel et Cie (“Pleyel and Company”) was founded by the composer Ignace Pleyel (1757-1831) and continued by his son Camille (1788-1855), a piano virtuoso who became his father’s business partner as of 1815. The firm provided pianos used by Frédéric Chopin, and also ran a concert hall, the Salle Pleyel, in which Chopin performed his first — and last — Paris concerts. Pleyel’s major contribution to the development piano was the first use of a metal frame in a piano.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the Pleyel firm produced the first chromatic harp. In the early 20th century, at the behest of Wanda Landowska, it helped to revive the harpsichord. Pleyel pianos were the choice of composers such as Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, de Falla and Stravinsky and of the pianist and teacher Alfred Cortot.[1]

[edit] History

Pleyel pioneered the player piano with the Pleyela line of pianos. These were often very small pianos of a very unusual design.

Pleyel was the first to introduce the upright piano to France[citation needed], adapting the best features of pianos built in Britain. They introduced these pianos by 1815. Their pianos were such a success that in 1834 the company boasted 250 employees and an annual production of 1000 pianos.


Chopin preferred to play only on a ‘silvery thin-toned’ French Pleyel.

Piano Glossary terms from


Accelerated Action – A technical feature in Steinway grand pianos, in which the key balances on a rounded surface, rather than a flat surface.

Action – The internal mechanism of a piano, consisting of several thousand moving parts made of a wide variety of materials. action consisting of a system of levers that move a felt hammer to strike the strings when a key is depressed.

Action Regulation – The adjustment of action parts to their proper specifications.

Agraffe – Small brass fittings, with holes through which the strings pass, screwed into the plate of some pianos to keep the strings perfectly spaced.

Art-case piano – The term for a one-of a-kind, specially decorated or embellished piano; often made by a noted designer or artist.


Bass Sustain Pedal – The middle pedal that sustains the bass notes only.

Belly Department – The part of the piano factory where the soundboard and iron frame are installed into the wooden rim of a grand piano.

Book Match – A decorative technique where two pieces of veneer with the same grain formation are placed side by side to obtain a figured pattern.

Bridge – A wooden structure (between the strings and the soundboard) that transmits string vibrations to the soundboard.

Bridge Pin – A small metal pin embedded in the top of the bridge against which the string presses; there are two for every string in a piano.

Bushing – A peice of cloth that acts as a buffering between metal hardware and surrounding metal or wood.


Capo d’astro – A metal bar attached to the underside of the iron frame of the piano, used in place of an agraffe in the treble notes to hold the strings in place evenly.

Case – The externa cabinet parts of a piano.

Center Pins – Small pins that form the precision pivot points of moving action parts.  There are over 600 center pins in a piano action.

Clavichord – An intmate and quiet-sounding stringed keyboard instrument in use from approximately 1500 until the early 1800’s and again in recent years.

Closed-grained – The term for lumber with tiny, or non existent, pores. Can be finished without the use of pore fillers.

Color Matching – The process of staining by which the shade of the wood of the various parts of a natural-finish piano are made to match.

Crown – A slight dome given to the soundboard in order to withstand the down-bearing pressure of the strings and maintain its proper shape.


Damper – A felt cushion attached to a lever assembly that stops the vibration of the strings.

Diaphragmatic (soundboard) – A thinning of the edges of the soundboard so as to increase the potential for vibration where it attaches to the case.

Digital Keyboard Pianos – Electronic musical instuments that electronically reproduce authentic piano sounds.

Duplex Scale – A scale design in which the ends of the strings (usally muted with cloth) are allowed to vibrate, adding tonal color.



Flitch – A complete section of tree trunk that has been sawed into thin pieces of veneer and is shipped as one unit.


Gray Iron – The mixture of iron ore and composite materials that is melted together and poured into a mold to create a piano’s metal fram; also known as cast iron.

Grey Market Pianos – Pianos originally made for and the sold in Japan, then later sold as used pianos in America.


Hammer – The mallet that strikes the piano strings, made of very dense felt wrapped around a wooden core.

Hammershanks – The thin wooden levers on which the hammers are mounted.

Hammer Filing – The process of reshaping the hammers and removing worn layers of felt.

Harp – An alternate name for the iron frame fastened to the piano’s inner rim to which the strings are attached; it enables the strings to be held under tremendous tension.

Harpsicord – A stringed keyboard instrument, forerunner of the piano, first described and still in use.

High Gloss Finish – A mirror like finish. (Also referred to as “Polished”)

Hitch Pin – The metal pin at the terminal end of the piano string that holds the strings in place.


Inner Rim – The wooden structural part of a grand piano rim to which the soundboard and iron frame are attached.



Keybed –  A wooden panel to which the keyboard and action are attached; it slides in and out of the piano for easy access.

Keylid – The curved, hinged wooden cover that pivots down to protect the keyboard when a piano is not in use. Also known as the Fallboard.

Key Bushings – Felt or leather bushings glued into mortises in the keys that enable them to move quietly.

Key Covering – The visable surface of the key usually made of ivory, ebony, or plastic.


Lacquer – A varnish used to coat a wooden surgace for an especially hard, glossy, durable finish.

Lamination –  The process of bonding multiple layers of thin strips of wood (laminates) into one integral piece. Also, applicable to the use of veneer.

Lyre – The grand piano part that decends from the case of the piano and hold the pedals.


Music Desk – The horizontal cabinet part that holds the prited music upright for pianist.


Node – The exact point between vibrations of partial segments of a string, ocurring at measurable intervals along a string’s length.


Outer Rim – The external portion of a grand piano’s wooden rim.

Overstrung Scale – A design scheme where the bass and treble strings cross over each other, adding length and creating a larger sound.

Overtone – A higher tone faintly heard above the fundamental pitch of a note, resulting from the vibration of a partial segment of the string.


Pianoforte – The orginal name for an early version of the piano, in use from approximately 1700 to 1850.

Piano Rebuilding – The process of replacing major parts of the piano or sets of parts. This may also include case refinishing.

Piano Reconditioning – Restoring the condition of exciting piano parts and their functions.

Piano Strings – The steel and copper wires that produce the musical tone in a piano. There are three strings per note throughout most of the piano range.

Piano Tuning – is the act of making minute adjustments to the tensions of the strings of a piano to properly align the intervals between their tones so that the instrument is in tune.

Pinblock – The wooden structure that holds the tuning pins in place. Also known as a wrestplank.

Pitch – The highness or lowness of a sound, corresponding to the frequency of vibrations.


Quartersawn – Refers to lumber milled axially against the grain; produces the most durable, strongest boards.


Regulation – Process of making adjustments to the action to compensate for chandges due to wear and enviromental changes.

Repitition – A small assembly of wooden levers, springs, felt, buckskin cusions that is part of the grand piano action. There are 88 repetitions in an action.

Ribs – Wooden bracing glued to the soundboard to strengthen it and support the transmission of sound across the grain.

Rim – The curved, laminated wooden structural framework that supports the soundboard, iron frame, and keybed, etc., in a grand piano.


Satin Lustre – The name for the least reflective buff finish available. This finish is found most commonly on the Steinway Crown Jewel pianos.

Scale – In apiano, the basic layout of the strings, bridge, and hammers relative to one another and to the overall size of the instrument.

Soustenuto pedal – The middle pedal that sustains only those notes beign played at the moment the pedal is pressed.

Soundboard – A large, thin, wooden diaphragm that amplifies the vibrations of piano strings.

Speaking Length – The principal segment of a piano’s string, whose vibration gives the instrument the greater part of its sound.

Stencil Piano – Piano bears the decal different from the company that actually manufactured the piano.

Sympathetic Vibration – A natural phenomenon where a string will vibrate when a nearby sting is excited, even though it has not been struck itself.


Technician – A person who tunes and repairs pianos.

Tubular Metallic Action Frame – A metal armatue to which the individual action mechanisms that transmit the pressure on the keys to the strings are fastened.

Tuning Pin – The treaded steel shaft that keeps the strings at the proper tension. There are nearly 250 tuning pins in a piano depending on the piano.



Varnish – A broad term for a number of different kinds of smooth coatings applied to a wooden surface, which can be built up into an attractive, durable, protective film.

Veneer – Thin wood sheet cut from the circumference of a log.

Voicing – Adjusting the shape, density, resilience of the individual hammers for desired tonal quality and uniformity.


Whippen – The cintral action part that allows the hammer to fall from the strings after striking them.

Wrestplank – The laminated wooden plank that sits at the keyboard end of the piano in which the tuning pegs are embedded; also know as the pinblock.