Keyboard History

A Brief History of the Modern Piano

The piano is actually an instrument made up of compromises due to the fact that it is not capable of playing the full “chromatic” scale as it can be played on say, a violin. The piano utilizes a tuning format called “just intonation”, a system whereby we are able to command the expression of all the sounds that are required to be heard within the compass of an octave in order that the degrees of each and every possible scale may be correctly and exactly rendered. In order to create “true diatonic” sounds required for the necessary intervals in all scales, there would have to be 66 notes to an octave!

KEYBOARDS:

Vitruvius, in his work on architecture (1st century A.D.) , describes an organ with balanced keys. Next we learn that Emperor Constantine sent a musical instrument having keys to King Pepin of France in 757 A.D.

The great musical genius, Guido of Arezzo, applied the keyboard to stringed instruments in the first part of the 11th century. Guido’s diatonic scale, eight full tones with seven intervals of which two were semitones, was used in the first claivchords, which had 20 keys. There are no reliable records in existence, as to who applied the chromatic scale first. Giuseppe Zarlino added the semitones to his instruments about 1548, but instruments of earlier date have the chromatic scale, as for instance the clavicymbala, some of which had 77 keys to a compass of four octaves.

After the 15th century nearly all the makers of key-stringed instruments used the chromatic scale practically as we find it in the modern piano. The semitones in most of those old instruments are elevated and of a different color than the full tones. Since the development of the piano many experiments have been made with so-called “chromatic” keyboards, in which the semitones were on a level with the full tones. A Dr. Krause of Eisenberg constructed a keyboard in 1811, in which the semitones were not raised and all keys were of the same color. About 1789, Neuhaus, a piano maker of Vienna, constructed a concave-formed keyboard for his pianos. He aimed to follow the inclination of the human arm to move in a semicircle. As you can see, the modern keyboard has gone through many changes, however, the basic concept of the key lay-out has been fairly consistent. This is a result of the order in which the whole tones and semi-tones are arranged, and has evolved over centuries.

(The first section was taken from “Theory & Practice of Piano Construction” by William White, the second section is from “Pianos and their Makers” by Alfred Dolge.

A Chronicle of the Piano
Part II


As the 18th century drew to a close, the piano was firmly established as a musical instrument. It then had a five-octave normal range and sixty-one keys not eighty-eight as it has today. Mostly, pedals were worked by the knees but the foot pedal introduced in England was catching on. The framing was still wooden; the iron frame had not yet been thought of. The strings and hammers often broke. The tone and action was very light. In about 1800, Joseph Smith of England made a complete frame of metal for resistance to strains. It is only fair to say it did not much resemble the modern conception of a metal plate. About 1820, various makers used sections of metal for hitch pins, resistance bars and pin plank reinforcements.In 1822, the most famous of all piano actions was patented by the Erard brothers: the double escapement action. The purpose of the mechanism was the same as that of 1808, but while showing its descent from the Cristofori – Silbermann action, the function of each of its separate parts was worked out with still greater insight and ingenuity. Again the hammer did not fall back completely after its initial escapement, but returned to rest simultaneously on a check piece and a sprung, oblique lever which retained the hammer close to the strings. If they key was then raised slightly, the check released the hammer and it could be propelled against the strings once more, the movement of the key being transmitted to the hammer not by the hopper, but via the oblique lever. The action was noted at once for its remarkable lightness, flexibility and reliability. Its significance cannot be exaggerated since, with only small modifications of detail, it became the action to be fitted to the modern grand piano.

In the history of the grand piano, the advantages of gravity-operated over dampers were not so clearly appreciated as the superiority of up striking to down striking hammer mechanisms. In his earliest pianos, Erard had chosen the conventional over dampers of the English piano, but in his action of 1822, he opted for an under damper which his firm continued to use even until near the end of the nineteenth century.Alpheus Babcock of Boston, in 1830, cast a square piano – the first one-piece frame. While it was crude in design, it was the first. The evolution from this simple frame by Babcock to the carefully designed powerful frame of the modern piano was gradual; but by about 1860, was essentially what it is today and was capable of withstanding any strain that might be imposed by the piano maker.

The development of this plate was the greatest single invention in development of the modern piano with the exception of the Cristofore escapement. As it was with the development of the metal plate, so it was with the development of the action. There was more than one hundred years of continuous inventive genius put into it before Pierre Gerard came out with his so-called “double repeating action” for grand pianos in 1821. This action contained every essential of the modern grand action. It was the invention of the full metal plate that finally permitted makers to greatly increase diameters of strings as well as lengths and tensions which finally produced the modern piano tone. The iron frame was not developed in one swoop, but was a very gradual growth. The use of metal for added strength goes way back to the harpsichord.Until the early years of the nineteenth century, two types of piano appealed to professional pianists: the Viennese piano and the English piano. The action of the first was light, had little carrying power and needed very little pressure on the keys. The tone was round and flute like.

Compared to modern pianos, many of the earliest ones looked awkward. Most were like pieces of overwrought furniture thick-legged and heavily carved. It seemed unlikely that they could make delicate music. The designs were fancy and the outer-case decorations unbelievably elaborate. Some of the instruments were almost smothered by decoration – ivory and precious stones, silver and gold, colored glass and enamels. Many of the pianos had paintings and complicated inlay work inside their lids. The entire outside cases of some instruments were painted with fanciful designs in oils.Because the strings of many of these pianos were mounted vertically above and behind the keyboard, the instruments looked tall and top heavy. Some of these so-called pyramid pianos that were made in Prague even had clocks in their string towers. A similar skyscraper was a piano called the giraffe. The fanciest giraffes with the most ornate carving were made in Czechoslovakia. Another curious piano of those pioneer days was the metal pianoforte, made about 1815. It consisted of a normal piano with a keyboard for fingering, and a second legless instrument on which the first one stood. The keyboard of the lower piano was operated by the feet, like the pedals of an organ.

A Chronicle of the Piano
Part III


THE PIANO IN AMERICA The period of greatest development in piano construction lay between the years of 1760 and 1830 and then between 1835 and 1880. The first piano made in America was by John Behrent of Philadelphia in 1775

CHICKERING & SONS.Established in 1823, Chickering & Sons celebrated in 1923 the completion of a century of continuous manufacture of the Chickering pianos. This illustrious firm, the oldest piano house in the United States, has been at all times in the forefront and has received world-wide recognition for its part in developing the pianoforte on distinctive lines. Jonas Chickering, the founder, was born at Mason Village, New Hampshire, in April, 1796, where, after a sound schooling, he thoroughly learned the business of cabinet-making. Impelled by a restless ambition to seek a larger field, he went to Boston in his early twenties.

There he entered the factory of a well-known piano maker of those days and pursued a course of study in piano-making in its then primitive stage. It was not long before the genius of Jonas Chickering manifested itself, and he introduced a series of changes and improvements which have since become standard and which revolutionized the methods then prevailing. His name from the earliest times has been constantly linked with the Americanizing of the piano by methods of such importance and value that both America and Europe today admit their worth by universal adoption. To him must be ascribed the invention of the full iron plate for grand pianos recorded in 1837. This invention was accepted by the scientific world as one of far reaching importance; indeed, it proved to be the foundation of all modern piano construction, for without it the sonorous grands of today would not have been impossible. It successfully solved the problem of the proper support for the great strain of the strings and defined a new era in the history of piano-making.In 1843, Jonas Chickering invented a new deflection of the strings and in 1845 the first practical method for over stringing in square pianos, that is, instead of setting the strings side by side, substituting an arrangement of them in two banks, one over the other, not only saving space but bringing the powerful bass strings directly over the most resonant part of the sound-board, a principle which obtains to this day in the construction of all pianos, both grands and uprights. Until the year 1852, Jonas Chickering superintended each department of his business with his usual scrupulous care but was relieved of much of this responsibility upon his taking into partnership his three sons, all of whom had received under their father a practical training of the highest order. The genius of C. Frank Chickering as a “scale” draftsman soon became internationally know and acknowledged and to his extensive scientific research is to be attributed much of the renowned beauty of the Chickering tone. Not content with retaining this invaluable knowledge himself he imparted the secrets of his studies to those in the factory in whose gifts he had confidence, thus insuring their perpetuation. In addition to the many patents taken out by Jonas Chickering, his sons and their successors, various methods exclusive to themselves have also been employed and there are in constant use operations of an abstract character which may be described as mechanical subtleties possessing great value and which are an integral part of the Chickering system.

A Chronicle of the Piano
Part IV


The outline of the significant importance of the Chickering system will appeal to the practical minded but to those who would know more of the romance and charm which the Chickering story holds for the student of America’s musical development. The significance and historic value of the Chickering in the development of the pianoforte in America is seen in the preservation at the Ford Museum at Dearborn of several important Chickerings including the very first instrument made by Jonas Chickering in 1823. Others are: the first Chickering upright made in 1830 and the first Chickering grand completed prior to 1850. Chickering & Sons have received upwards of 200 first medals and awards. These have been received from States and sovereigns, international expositions and learned societies in all parts of the world embracing every known method of honoring distinguished merit. C. Frank Chickering was personally vested with the Imperial Cross of the Legion of Honor at the hands of Napoleon 111. The significance of this high honor is the more appreciated because of its extreme rarity, very few such honors having been bestowed for accomplishments in the fine arts. In 1923 Chickering & Sons were the recipients of a remarkable tribute from musicians and persons of prominence in all walks of life who united in celebrating the Hundredth Anniversary of the founding of Jonas Chickering’s epoch making enterprises. A committee headed by the Hun. Calvin Coolidge (then Vice-President of the United States) carried to a successful and brilliant conclusion what was termed the Jonas Chickering Centennial Celebration, culminating in a banquet held at the Copley Plaza, Boston, at which Mr. Coolidge was the chief speaker. It marked in a most significant manner a century of musical achievement that is without parallel in the history of American piano making. The most famous virtuosi including pianists, singers and instrumentalists have exhausted superlatives in expressing their high admiration of the Chickering. The Handel and Haydn Society of Boston the world’s foremost oratory group, established 1815, has used the Chickering exclusively for more than a century. His name from the earliest times has been constantly linked with the Americanizing of the piano by methods of such importance and value that both America and Europe today admit their worth by universal adoption.

THE SQUARE GRAND PIANO

The Square piano was inspired by the desire to produce a piano taking up less space than those instruments then in use. In its early stage the Square Grand, as with all stringed instruments built previous to it , had a weak wooden frame. This meant that thin wires at low tension could only be used.

In 1825 Alphaeus Babcock of Boston invented the one piece full cast iron frame or plate as it is now called. This allowed pianos to be built with heavier wire at higher tension which caused the instrument to have a much fuller singing resonant tone than had heretofore been possible. This was one of the most important of piano inventions. Near the end of the 18th century, square grand pianos became widely used. Measuring 3-1/2 by 7 feet, in a rectangular case. The square piano would be replaced as the dominant piano for the home by the upright piano which gained increasing popularity during the second half of the 19th century.

The modern, streamlined vertical that hugs the wall of today’s compact apartment may be a far cry, socially and culturally, from the ornate upright that graced the parlor in 1900, but the piano remains above all instruments the one most worthy of esteem. As Busoni pointed out in his preface to the 1910 edition of Gottfried Galston’s Studienbuch, for all its “obvious, great and irremediable” disadvantages, “the piano’s excellencies and prerogatives are little miracles.”

No small credit for making these “little miracles” possible is due Henry Engelhard Steinway.

What’s in a name? Everything its possessor has been and done goes into whatever evaluation others may place upon his name. At birth, a name may be no more than an identification tag, or it may be something to live up to-or live down, but that is not important. What matters is that each of us is given a name, in trust, for a lifetime to pass on to the future, embellished, or tarnished, or unchanged.

A Chronicle of the Piano Part V

To inherit a good or noble name might seem to be an advantage, but history disproves this theory, for the temptation to bask in the glory of a predecessor’s credit is too strong for most great men’s sons. No benevolent despot can guarantee a succession of benevolent despots; no artist or musician can insure his progeny’s inheritance of talent. In the world of business, founders of empires are often grandfathers of paupers. Man can inherit neither goodness nor greatness. He may be exposed to their beneficent influence, but he must achieve them for himself.

When six generations successively honor and distinguish their common name, this is not only a family of a great man – this is a great family! A name thus honored and distinguished is Steinway, symbol and trademark of the world’s most esteemed piano. The secret of this rare and proud achievement is simply that the Steinway name has been accepted by each generation, not as an honor or advantage, but as a solemn trust and threefold responsibility, to the family, to the product which bears it’s name. and to the public it serves. Each new member, however, before being assigned a task best suited to his abilities in the hierarchy of the firm, must undergo a rigorous period of apprenticeship in the factory, where he is thoroughly grounded in all aspects of the art and craft of piano making.

The achievements and tenacity of the Steinway dynasty are all the more remarkable when we remember that at the turn of the century, and for a decade or more thereafter, there were at least a dozen, out of some 200-odd independent piano manufacturers in this country, competing for the quality market. Among them were such time-honored fallboard names as Mason & Hamlin, Chickering & Sons, Gildemeester & Kroeger, Knabe, Weber, A. B. Chase, Henry F. Miller, Ivers and Pond, and Everett.

We also learn that 97 per cent of all pianos made in the United States up to 1866 were squares. Sales of grand pianos, were “as scarce as angels’ visits.” In that year many piano manufacturers, began making uprights, instruments which by 1890 had supplanted the square as the favorite home piano. The upright held sway until the advent of the automobile and the radio sounded its death knell, as well as that of almost the entire industry. During 1896, the five largest piano manufacturers in the world were American, and more than half the pianos in the world were made here. During 1909, 374,000 pianos were made in the United States by 300 manufacturers.

The American piano, boasting innovations by firms like Chickering and Steinway, had become the premier instrument in the world, displacing Old World instruments, with their less penetrating sonic personalities. The piano was the instrument of a democracy, found in log cabins, parlors, brothels and the White House.

And by l9th century standards, it was big business. The stakes were so high and competition among manufacturers was so severe that fraud and bribery were common at piano exhibitions and in salesrooms.

“Those who have any knowledge about the piano trade,” wrote Music Trades magazine during the piano’s prime, “know that it is often conducted with an amount of vehement prejudice, animosity, abuse, slander and vilification, which transcends anything of the kind in any other trade I know.”

Today the piano hardly seems worth shouting about It has suffered one turn of the screw after another – the bicycle, the radio, the phonograph, the automobile, movies, television, the computer, pop music, video games. the digital keyboard – and has emerged thoroughly scathed. The number of pianos sold in the United States dropped from 282,000 in 1978 to 99,000 in 1994.

Recorded history shows that mankind has always tried to create music by mechanical means. The first big commercial development came with the Swiss music boxes of the late 1700s. In Switzerland and the Black Forest of Germany, artisans long famous for their precision watches created music box music of astonishing beauty on tuned steel combs plucked by raised pins arranged on a cylinder. These craftsmen produced inexpensive novelty music-boxes as well as elegant furniture-styled consoles affordable only by the super-rich.

A Chronicle of the Piano Part VI

The piano as a modern musical instrument experienced its greatest period of development in the 1800s, and it is not surprising that attempts to mechanize it were widespread. As in the case of so many devices, it is not easy to pin down just who should get the credit for the earliest piano playing machine. A Frenchman named Forneaux, who developed the first player operated on pneumatic principles, probably deserves the most recognition. He named his machine the "Pianista," and it was first exhibited in America at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876. It operated by means of a hand-crank which operated a vacuum pump; the vacuum in turn was used to operate little bellows or “pneumatics" that pushed the levers that played the keys of the piano.

It remained for a business genius by the name of H. B. Tremaine to bring about the commercial exploitation of the piano player on a big scale. Tremaine’s father had built a successful small business making hand-cranked table-top-sized mechanical organs, a very popular item in homes in the late 1800s. He founded the “Aeolian Organ and Music Company” around 1888; the firm achieved considerable success with larger instruments and organs. His son took over in 1899 and immediately set about to apply his own business acumen to the company’s affairs. With the newly perfected "Pianola", he launched an aggressive advertising campaign which was entirely new to the stodgy piano business. With four page color advertisements (almost unheard of in that day) published in the popular magazines, he literally stunned the piano industry with the message that here, indeed, was the answer to everyone’s prayer for music in the home! Tremaine and Pianola built an enormous business empire over the next thirty years .It wasn’t long after the turn of the century that it was deemed desirable to "miniaturize" the clumsy Pianolas and other similar, instruments so that they could be built directly inside the pianos. Within a few short years, the "push up" players disappeared from the scene.

It was a great period in American history, when every backyard inventor saw the chance to reap his fortune by developing some new gadget, and the piano business provided a fertile field for the clever minds that thought along these lines. By the turn of the century, a number of piano playing devices had appeared on the Most of them took the form of an apparatus which sat in front of the instrument and played the keys.

The paper music roll business was thriving but disorganized until 1908 when the roll makers got together in Buffalo, New York, and agreed on a standard size- and-hole arrangement. All music rolls without expression made for regular player pianos since the "Buffalo Convention" are interchangeable. This constructive move resulted in the formation of over fifty new companies operating solely in the roll business in the United States. In contrast, however, the rolls of the three major expression reproducing piano companies were not compatible-and could only be reproduced on the pianos made specifically for that roll.

The peak popularity of the piano occurred in the early 1909 when an all time high record of 374,00 new pianos were sold. You can probably remember the old upright player piano that may have graced your grand fathers parlor, but you have little recollection about the reproducing piano, the digital computer technology of the day. Today, when we hear the words "digitally enhanced," we think of a highly-sophisticated disc electronic sound system replete with elaborate and costly loudspeakers, magnificent cabinetry tailored to fit properly into one’s home and all backed up by extensive marketing and advertising by numerous manufacturers. One wonders how anything could possibly sound finer.

Yet to many, the true ultimate in "digital piano" occurred when the reproducing piano reigned supreme in its ability to re-create "live" the performances of great keyboard artists right in the home. The ordinary player piano performs only one basic function, that of striking the notes. The reproducing piano added the ability to recreate the touch, the shadings, the nuances, of the original recording – all the expression characteristics, and making the difference between purely mechanical sounds and true artistry. The paper roll was obliged, therefore, to include extra perforations which carried the "expression information" in coded form. These codes, which bear a resemblance to the language of modern computers, were either captured at the time of the initial recording or added later in an editing process. The reproducing piano was equipped with apparatus to "read" these expression holes and to reconstruct the exact expression of a piece while other holes played the notes.

A Chronicle of the Piano Part VII

In 1903, the German firm of M. Welte & Sons in Freiburg introduced its "Welte-Mignon" piano player, and immediately set about to make recordings of all the great classical piano artists of the day. Made with typical Teutonic thoroughness, the Welte machines were not only magnificent in construction, but were enormously costly to purchase. It is extremely fortunate that this development came as early as it did, for keyboard giants whose works would otherwise be only a memory can come alive through the Welte -Vorsetzer; To mention just one example among many, Edward Grieg, the great Norwegian composer, made several piano roll recordings before his death in 1907. No other technology existed to capture his work for future generations. Now, right in our own homes, we can hear exactly how Grieg performed and enjoy his work as did those who heard him in person during his lifetime.

Edwin Welte and his able partner, technician Karl Bockisch, claimed the only "true" recording system and kept it a dark secret. Apparently the Welte system used a piano with a special keyboard containing a trough of liquid mercury beneath the keys. Attached to each key was a spring~mounted electrical probe which would dip into the mercury a distance proportional to the force with which the key was struck by the pianist. The electrical resistance to a current passing through the probe was thus variable, and this was then translated to the proper holes in the paper. These holes would, in turn, control the amount of pneumatic force applied to the keys which played the resulting roll.

The message of the reproducing piano was not lost on American builders. It wasn’t until a full decade after Welte’s introduction of their machine, however, that a home-grown reproducing system appeared on the market. It was put out by the Aeolian Corporation, and named the Du-Art. It was fitted into such fine pianos as the Weber, the Steck, and even the prestigious Steinway under an agreement whereby that firm made pianos with specially designed frames and cases. In those days, the reproducing piano was a very costly item, within the reach of only the wealthy. For example, in 1929 a typical Steinway Grand Piano model "L" was around $1,600, a reproducing-grand piano cost some $4,500 which was, in those days, half the price of a nice home! The rolls were costly, too: one of Josef Hofmann playing Rachmaninofl’s Prelude in G, for example, sold for $4.00, the equivalent of $20 or $25 in today’s purchasing power. For companies that made and sold the rolls, it was a period of great prosperity and the business was enormously profitable. But then, in the 1920s, almost everyone had a chance to be wealthy, if only on paper.

Two or three years later, the American Piano Company introduced its device to the market and called it the Ampico. It was based on the designs of an eccentric mechanical genius, one Charles Fuller Stoddard. Stoddard, whose home was a maze of new-fangled contraptions of his own design, spent the last few years of his life entertaining the world’s greatest piano virtuosos who would record on his unique Ampico recording piano. Ampico reproducing systems were eventually installed in such fine pianos as the Mason & Hamlin, the Knabe, the Chickering, the Beale in Australia, and the Willis in Canada.

In the mid-twenties, the Ampico Corporation engaged a scientist, Dr. Clarence Hickman, to completely re-engineer the Ampico reproducing system and roll making process. His work resulted in the so-called "Model B" Ampico pianos which represented the highest possible standards of technology available at the time. Hickman developed the famous "spark chronograph" method of capturing expression characteristics of individual pianists and today, the "Model B" Ampico pianos are in great demand by collectors, and at prices that go right through the roof, $100,000 to $200,00 in mint condition. Hickman recognized that the best way to measure expression is in terms of the energy imparted directly to the piano strings by the piano’s hammers. He devised a scheme by which the velocity, and hence the energy, of each hammer could be measured just prior to hitting the string. This information was then directed to a recording device and the coded expression holes were adapted directly to the master production roll. Hickman was also a renowned expert on explosives, and he is responsible for the development of the tank~busting recoilless rifle, the "bazooka," which helped the United States secure victory in World War II. The bazooka is named after still another musical instrument, but that’s another story.

The years from 1900-1935, saw a revolution in the piano business. The invention of the automobile and the radio had a tremendous influence on the way people lived. No longer able to afford living in spacious homes, they moved to small apartments. The whole social pattern of living took a mighty flip-flop. One result was that the old upright went out like a light, to be replaced by the spinet-type piano. During the depression we developed the two sizes of verticals one 40,’ high, the other 45"-which we manufacture today. The trend turned all manufacturers to making spinets. Today, by units, about 95 per cent of the market are small verticals. The market for grands has remained fairly stable and in the last few years has been on the increase. With the tremendous changes it has brought about in our way of living has come a terrific competition for the few luxury dollars that are left over. There is a constant pressure to buy this, that and the other thing. The social evolution changed the piano business.

And the piano business changed the world !

A Chronicle of the Piano Part VIII

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PIANO
CHRONOLOGICAL SUMMARY

1843
Chickering patents one-piece metal frame for grands

Antoine-Jean Bord invents capo tasto bar (downbearing bar at tuning-pin end of strings)

1847
Gaveau Company established, Paris

1848
Debain invents an automatic mechanical piano, Paris

1849
Ed. Seiler Company established, Liegnitz/Kitzingen

1850
Heintzman Company established, Toronto

1851
"Great Exhibition" displays state-of-the-art pianos, Erard favored, London

1852
Mathushek Company established, New York

Weber established, New York

1853
Steinway & Sons, New York, Carl Bechstein, Berlin, and Blüthner, Leipzig, established

Chickering builds new factory, second largest building in U.S., Boston

1856
Wurlitzer Company established, Chicago

1857
George Steck Company established, New York

1859
Henry Steinway, Jr. patents cross-stringing for grands

August Förster Company established, Lobau, Germany

1860
Julius Feurich established, Leipzig

Broadwood & Sons make their last square; uprights dominant in European homes

1862
At London Exposition, Steinway wins a medal with cross-strung grand

1864
Petrof Company established, Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic

1865
Grotrian Company established as successors to Theodore Steinway, Braunschweig, Germany

1882
Louis Renner Company founded to make piano actions, Stuttgart, Germany

1885
Schimmel Company founded near Leipzig

Aeolian Organ & Music Co., later Aeolian Co., founded to make automatic organs, later automatic pianos

1888
Steinway & Sons makes its last square; other Americans continue making them

1891
D. H. Baldwin Company, Cincinnati, making pianos

1895
Story & Clark Company making pianos, Chicago, later Grand Haven, Michigan

Aeolian Company making automatic pianos, New York

1896
Kohler & Campbell Company established, New York

1899
Torakusu Yamaha begins making pianos, Hamamatsu, Japan

1900
E. S. Votey, Aeolian Company, patents pneumatic piano player, the "Pianola"

Baldwin wins grand prize at Paris Exposition

1901
Welte-Mignon invents a player-piano mechanism, Freiburg, Germany

1901
Piano Manufacturers Association founded, later PMAI

1903
Winter & Co. established, New York

1904
American piano manufacturers make bonfire of square grand pianos, Atlantic City

1905
Hupfeld makes the "Dea" reproducing-piano mechanism, near Leipzig

1906
Gulbransen Company established, Chicago

1908
American Piano Co. founded, incorporates Chickering, Knabe, Weber, Haines Brothers, and others

1910
Steinway & Sons moves its factory entirely from Manhattan to Astoria, Long Island

1913
Aeolian Co. patents "Duo-Art Reproducing Piano," New York

American Piano Co. makes "Ampico" player mechanism, New York

1919
156,000 pianos, 180,000 player pianos manufactured in U.S.

1927
Kawai Company making pianos, Hamamatsu, Japan

1928-30
Neo-Bechstein, electric piano with electromagnetic pickups to amplify struck strings

1929
Great Depression seriously limits piano manufacture everywhere

1932
American Piano Co. and Aeolian merge to form Aeolian American Corporation

1933
Challen Company makes the largest (11-foot-8-inch) grand ever made, London

1935
Alfred Knight Company founded to make uprights, Essex, England
1939-45
World War II effectively halts piano manufacture everywhere

1953
Liberace wins 2 Emmy Awards for network television programs with Baldwin pianos.

1955
Guangzhou-Pearl River Company established, Guangzhou, China

1958
Samick Company established, Inchon, S. Korea

Shanghai Piano Co. established, Shanghai

Beijing Piano Co. established, Beijing

1960
Harold Rhodes develops the electric piano (Fender-Rhodes)

1961
Pleyel, Erard, Gaveau merge

1966
Bösendorfer, Vienna, acquired by Kimball, Chicago

1968
Young Chang begins making pianos, Inchon, S. Korea

1969
Japanese piano production exceeds that of all other countries

Yamaha Japan’s largest producer

Astin-Weight patents larger soundboard design for uprights, Salt Lake City

1971
Schimmel acquires Pleyel, Erard, Gaveau

1972
CBS buys Steinway & Sons

1974
Baldwin buys Bechstein, Berlin

1980s
Development of computerized player pianos, Bösendorfer, Yamaha, Baldwin, and others

1980
Fazioli established, Sacile (Portenone), Italy

1985
A group of Boston businessmen buys Steinway & Sons from CBS

Aeolian Corporation disbanded

Wurlitzer buys Chickering name

1987
Baldwin sells Bechstein back to employees

1988
Klavins builds a 12-feet-high experimental upright, Bonn, Germany

1990
Young Chang buys Kurzweil Music Systems, American maker of electronic keyboards

PianoDisc (Music Systems Research) established, Sacramento

1991
Boston Piano Company established as Steinway subsidiary, New York

1993
Darrell Fandrich patents new upright action design, Seattle

1995
Steinway and Selmer merge into Steinway Musical Instruments

Baldwin buys Wurlitzer and Chickering names

1996
Music Systems Research takes control of Mason & Hamlin, Sohmer, and Knabe

Young Chang opens factory in Tianjin, China

1999
Pearl River Guangzhou-Pearl River Manufactory, Guangzhou, China builds over 100,000 pianos, most of which are for Yamaha.

2001
Dr. Indrek Laul becomes the sole owner of Estonia Piano Company, sets high standards for his pianos. (full disclaimer, the owner of Piano World owns an Estonia L-190 grand piano).

Today

Note: Mason & Hamlin, PianoDisc, and Wessel Nickel & Gross are all now owned by the same company based out of California.
Mason & Hamlin pianos are now being crafted in Haverhill, MA. We (Piano World) have taken a number of our piano forums members on tours of the Mason & Hamlin factory.

Pearl River now makes their own Pearl River pianos and is the largest manufacturer of pianos in the world.

If anyone would like to help us catch this list up to the present, I’d be happy to have the help. Frank/at/PianoWorld.com


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