History of Steinway and Sons and the Steinway Piano

For piano lovers, Steinway is a household word and the hallmark of pianos across the world. We can credit Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg and his family for bringing it to homes and concert halls across America.

Since 1825, Heinrich and his family lived in Seesen, Germany, where he enjoyed success as a piano maker. In 1849, he sent Carl, one of his five sons, to America for the purpose of exploring opportunities for the family. Heinrich, his wife, three daughters, and three more sons left Germany to join Carl in New York on June 29, 1850.

Upon entering the States, the family changed their name from Steinweg to a more American version, Steinway. They found work with piano makers before forming their own company, Steinway and Sons, in 1853. In their Manhattan shop at 85 Varick Street, New York, they manufactured one piano per week. By 1860, production increased to 30 square pianos a week and 5 grand pianos each week, necessitating a move to a larger facility on Fourth Avenue in Queens, NY, where they had about 350 employees.

Fast staking their fame as quality piano makers, Steinway and Sons opened a second plant in Hamburg Germany in 1860. In both facilities, they manufactured all of the components, parts, and even the wood housing for their pianos in house. The various Steinway models, including new patents, were displayed and demonstrated to admiring audiences at their showrooms, located on East 14th Street in New York.

Their success was not easy and not without competition from existing piano makers, specifically a company called Chickering. However, ingenuity won over when Heinrich Jr. developed and patented the overstrung scale, which set the Steinway far above the competition. The strides in piano manufacturing made by Steinway were largely due to the projection and increased power demanded by complex pieces composed by Chopin and other composers. Until that time, pianos were limited in their capability. Steinway observed those limitations and purposely answered the call, building a piano with sound capabilities so great that it was compared to the sound of a full orchestra.

Steinway and Sons has since been renowned as the master of pianos. The company has survived the Great Depression, economic recessions, and two world wars since its inception. However, today the Steinway piano is the leading piano maker in the world. Every piano is made by hand, making it unique and individual. Since 1857, Steinway and Sons has been the leader in piano innovation and has been granted over 125 patents. Every year, the New York and Hamburg locations each manufacture and assemble about 1,000 grand pianos and 250 standard pianos.

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Photo credit: Steinway – an American Story