Heinrich Engelhard Steinway (1797-1871)

At the time Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg and his family left the Duchy of Brunswick for the United States in 1850, he was an independent craftsman of modest means, similar in many ways to others leaving the German states during that era. Within less than twenty years, the woodworker-turned-piano maker from the Harz Mountains in northern Germany established the Steinway firm, together with his sons, as one of the leading piano brands in the world.

Updated: October 10, 2013


At the time Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (born February 22, 1797, Wolfshagen, Duchy of Brunswick; died February 7, 1871, New York, NY) and his family left the Duchy of Brunswick for the United States in 1850, he was an independent craftsman of modest means, similar in many ways to others leaving the German states during that era. Within less than twenty years, the woodworker-turned-piano maker from the Harz Mountains in northern Germany established the Steinway firm, together with his sons, as one of the leading piano brands in the world. Fifty-three-years-old at his arrival and with no knowledge of the English language, his success cannot be explained without noting that Steinway & Sons was indeed run as a family business. A closer look at the collaboration of three of his sons — especially, C. F. Theodore (1825-1889), Henry Jr. (1830-1865) and William (1835-1896) — will reveal the workings behind what remained a distinctly German-American enterprise. By the time William Steinway died in 1896, he had become a renowned piano manufacturer, philanthropist, and real estate developer. After his death, the city of New York flew its flags at half mast, members of the famous Liederkranz singing society performed, and his friend Carl Schurz delivered the funeral sermon in German. As we will see, Steinway’s success story depended as much on family and ethnic networks as it did on New York opportunities.

Family and Ethnic Background

Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg was born in 1797, the fourth of eight children of a charcoal-maker living in the woods near the small village of Wolfshagen in the Duchy of Brunswick.[1] After poverty, war, and sickness had struck the family, he became an “orphan and penniless” at the age of fifteen.[2] Afterwards, he struggled against guild regulations to become first a cabinet-maker in Goslar and then an organ builder in the nearby town of Seesen, a trade in which he enjoyed some success. An autodidact in piano construction, he began building a handful of pianos per year in the late 1820s until he had completed a total of about four hundred instruments by the end of the 1840s. Remarkably, Steinway & Sons produced the same number of pianos in 1857 alone, a mere four years after they had established their business in New York.[3] Thus, family lore, upon which most of our knowledge of the earlier parts of Steinweg’s life depends, has it that he was fleeing German economic backwardness and political turmoil in order to fully exploit his talents and make his fortune in America. It is true that two basic aspects of German social and political history during the first half of the nineteenth century made for Steinweg’s difficult start. For one thing, Heinrich had himself fought in the Napoleonic Wars (at Waterloo), and this had kept him from taking up a proper apprenticeship. For another, the guild system did not allow him to cut his apprenticeship short and set up shop where he wanted. Nevertheless, we should be wary of the classical rags-to-riches story woven into the family’s account.

Why precisely did the Steinweg family emigrate, and was their economic outlook actually as dismal as it seems? Already during his time in Seesen, Steinweg had seized on a number of opportunities (both private and public) in order to become a moderately well-to-do craftsman. In 1825, he married Juliane Thiemer (1804-1877) and thereby joined the propertied Seesen bourgeoisie. In the same year, after a fire had ravaged the town, he was allowed to open a business in order to aid in reconstruction. Prior to this, the local church had offered him the chance to work as an organ maker. Both incidents testify to the guild system’s limited reach and flexible practices, aspects of the system that have been emphasized in recent research.[4] Another boost turned out to be the Brunswick state fair in 1839, where Steinweg exhibited a grand piano and two square pianos for which he received a gold medal and plaudits from the composer and Hofkapellmeister (court music director) Albert Methfessel. Steinweg’s limited output of pianos in Seesen seems to indicate a lack of public recognition, but the numbers appear small only in comparison to the few giants of the incipient piano industry such as Broadwood in London or Chickering in Boston. In fact, like Steinweg’s practices prior to New York, most piano production remained artisanal until the mid-nineteenth century. In 1825, even the prestigious Rhenish firm of Rudolf Ibach Sohn, for example, produced only 567 pianos in the first thirty years of its existence, and one of Steinweg’s immediate contemporaries, Gerhard Adam in Wesel, had reached an output of 500 in 1845, seventeen years after the company’s founding.[5] Such was the moderate level of successful piano production in the German states during that era.

Heinrich and Juliane Steinweg managed to procure the best education available in Seesen for their sons. The nondenominational Jacobson High School with its mixed Jewish and Christian body of students not only provided them with an enlightened approach to religion, but also, to the future emigrants’ benefit, with a proficient knowledge of English and French.[6] All this clearly shows that Heinrich Steinweg was on the road to respectability and did not try to escape from intolerable economic conditions. His decision to head to New York was rather a career move, most likely triggered by political and economic circumstances.

First, in 1842, the geopolitical landscape of the northern German states suddenly changed when the Duchy of Brunswick left the tax union it had formed with Hannover, Oldenburg, and Schaumburg-Lippe to join the Prussian-led Zollverein. This was done in the hope of securing future railroad connections, but for the time being it left the patchwork political entity of Brunswick surrounded by trade barriers as it lay interspersed in Hannoverian territory, and Hannover was reluctant to join the Zollverein – changing its position only in 1851.[7] For an instrument maker whose sales were particularly dependent on the access to towns and cities outside his small duchy, this must have posed a threat to business. Second, ever since the mid-1840s, pauperism and inflation had driven a rising tide of Germans to the United States. Between 1846 and 1849, during the first wave of German transatlantic mass migration in the nineteenth century, about 2,000 persons left the Duchy of Brunswick. This also meant that migration agents began to advertise locally and facilitate the passage. It is hardly a coincidence that the Steinwegs finally booked their trip on the Helene Sloman, thus choosing a ship operated by one of the first companies to engage an agent, Robert Miles Sloman, in the Brunswick area beginning in 1847.[8] Third, in 1849, the second son, Karl, who had run into trouble with the authorities during the aborted 1848 revolutions was sent to New York to obtain trustworthy information about local conditions.[9] Despite a disastrous cholera epidemic there, he reported favorably, thus encouraging the family in their plans.

In short, when Heinrich Steinweg embarked on his voyage in 1850, together with his wife, his three daughters, and three of his sons, he was not forced to do so. He knew that such a venture could be undertaken successfully, and he was driven by incentives, both real and imagined.[10]

Business Development

During the early years in New York, until about 1855, Steinweg and his sons in many ways pursued the same strategy they had adopted back in Seesen for setting up an independent, medium-sized business. They settled in the Fourteenth Ward (today bounded by Houston Street to the north, Canal Street to the south, and Broadway and Bowery to the west and east respectively), where piano manufacturing was concentrated, and they learned local trade practices from working at established piano companies. Their main business strategy, however, primarily included two important aspects. Early on, most likely even before they founded their own business in 1853 and anglicized their name, the Steinways began producing quality instruments within an extended family unit. Although exact figures for output and workforce are scant during the early years, we know that production was both limited (not exceeding 112 pianos in 1855) and catered to American tastes. They extended the keyboard range from six to seven octaves and replaced the so-called Viennese action with the English action mechanism — which was heavier to play, but allowed for a more voluminous tone. While independent manufacturing based on a familial subdivision of labor remained the first cornerstone of Steinway’s business, the second was the successful bid for public recognition that came, just as in Brunswick twenty years earlier, by way of a gold medal at the 1855 American Institute Fair, New York’s version of the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. Again, this proved to be a breakthrough as piano sales tripled from 74 in 1854 to 208 two years later.[11]

Despite a brief period of employment at other piano makers, it is obvious that the Steinways must have acted like entrepreneurs from the start, manufacturing pianos on their own account and seeking opportunities to improve their product and put it on the market. Neither the financial assets they brought with them from having sold their business in Germany (amounting to roughly $780 — approximately $23,000 in 2011$) nor the below average wages of six or seven dollars a week Heinrich and his son Henry Jr. earned (let alone the three dollar pay Charles and young William made) could have enabled them to make the initial investment of $6,000 (approximately $180,000 in 2011$) that went into their business in March 1853, when the partnership between Heinrich and his sons was established and the company founded.[12] As one of their biographers, D. W. Fostle, has convincingly shown, the Steinways must have accumulated profits from their independent and unofficial piano production, which they commenced soon after their arrival in the United States, in order to obtain the capital necessary for the business.[13] Thus, it was not New World opportunities such as higher wages or mechanized production that enabled the Steinway family to make a good start in New York, but rather traditional, family-run piano making — a way of doing business that would have to evolve, both from workshop to factory and from local to transatlantic markets, before the next level of success could be reached.

Before inquiring into the reasons for its enduring success, we should first chart the growth of Steinway & Sons in the second half of the nineteenth century. The number of pianos produced per year (when averaged in decade increments) given in Table 1 indicates a steady increase, which is remarkable as it shows that neither the Civil War nor the depression years of the 1870s and 1890s could impede Steinway’s long-term expansion.

Table 1: Steinway’s piano production: annual average per decade based on serial numbers[14]


Average Annual Production














To be sure, this was the golden age of American piano manufacturing. It has been estimated that the industry as a whole grew at an even faster pace, producing about 20,000 pianos in 1860 and expanded dramatically to 374,000 in 1909. While this means that the growth rate in total piano production was about five times that of Steinway’s, we should not forget that Steinway produced for the luxury market. The company’s strategy was never to churn out cheap instruments by the tens of thousands each year, as Kimball or Cable did around 1910.[15] Within the market for high quality instruments, however, Steinway soon overtook its competitors. This deserves special notice because, contrary to what we might think, competition was already strong in this field in antebellum America. First and foremost, Jonas Chickering of Boston had been regarded as the nation’s leading maker of first-class pianos since the late 1830s. He had transformed the trade not only by embarking on industrialized production (putting out 1,000 pianos a year by 1850), but also by being the first to win international acclaim. Chickering, however, was not the only one to pursue this strategy. A growing culture of gentility and domestic refinement, in which the piano figured as a key symbol, provided opportunities to a string of excellent firms along the East Coast. New York developed into the hotbed of musical instrument production, and even surpassed Boston by mid-century.[16] The market for costly square pianos in the metropolis was dominated by Nunns & Clark, Lighte & Newton, and Bacon & Raven when Steinway arrived. Apart from Lighte (who had anglicized his German name Leuchte), there were at least two other German immigrant entrepreneurs involved in piano production: Albert Weber who had arrived in New York in 1844, and William Knabe whose Baltimorean company controlled much of the market in the American South. All of these firms had flourished in the 1840s and 1850s, but were overtaken dramatically by Steinway within approximately fifteen years of his company’s founding. According to an 1869 poll of the largest American piano houses, Chickering’s sales during that year netted about $820,000 ($14 million in 2011$), Knabe’s $380,000 ($6.5 million in 2011$). With $1.2 million ($20.4 million in 2011$) worth of pianos, Steinway sold as much as his two closest competitors combined, with other firms trailing far behind.[17]

The extent of the immediate success enjoyed by Steinway & Sons in New York is evident in the development of net capital as assessed in the company’s stock books (Table 2).

Table 2: Company’s net worth, 1856-65 (in US Dollar)


Net Capital in Business[18]

Relative Value in 2011[19]
































The real value of Steinway & Sons, even if measured by an estimated cost-of-living index, illustrates the economic power that the formerly modest family operation had accumulated a few years after their arrival. Its development also indicates that Civil War inflation led to stagnation in the company’s real assets. In fact, Steinway faced a number of such obstacles during this period. The 1857 banking crisis was followed by a brief, yet severe, recession. The draft riots of 1863 unleashed several days of street violence and plundering, replete with racist killings and demands for vigilante justice. Charles Steinway had to bribe the mob in order to safeguard the factory premises. Mounting labor unrest culminated in 1864 in a seven-week strike of 1,200 New York piano workers who had successfully organized themselves to bargain for wage increases. Yet, these were difficulties faced by New York piano manufacturers across the board. Given the general challenges, what remains to be explained is the steep rise in the company’s value.[20]

During the 1850s and 1860s, Steinway gained an edge over its competitors in instrument production, construction, and marketing. The principal business strategies in these fields reveal some of the reasons for Steinway’s preeminent position in the musical instruments industry. Steinway pursued a relentless course of expansion and innovation in instrument manufacturing. In 1860, after having accumulated several smaller facilities in downtown Manhattan as production sites, the partners invested $150,000 ($4.2 million in 2011$) in constructing a large, five-story factory on Fourth Avenue between Fifty-Second and Fifty-Third Streets. It was equipped with wood-working machinery, elevators (driven by steam engine), a telegraph line, and double-iron doors to contain possible fires. On the one hand, such a level of mechanization was unusual for New York piano makers, and Steinway was particularly quick to adopt the new technology. On the other hand, Chickering clearly figured as the role model for anything approaching large-scale production. His well-equipped, new factory in Boston, built in 1853 after a fire had destroyed the old one, was said to be the largest industrial building in the United States. More importantly, both Chickering and Steinway possessed technological advantages over their European competitors. In America, where wood was abundant and labor scarce, machines for planing, sawing, and lathing wood were more advanced than in Europe. In spite of this, making pianos remained labor intensive, given the complex design of the instrument, which lent itself to a high degree of labor specialization. Thus, in order to produce more, Steinway had to expand the workforce, which jumped from about 50 in 1855 to 400 in 1863. It has been argued that Steinway benefited from another comparative advantage by being able to attract German immigrant laborers who earned less than the skilled American worker. Yet, closer inspection of wage differentials has shown that this was not the case. Steinway granted his employees at least an average income when in comparison to other skilled workers. In short, the firm had left the world of the artisan shop behind, ten employees or fewer being the norm in mid-century New York, and now almost ranked among giant employers and members of the rising manufacturing elite such as J. Pierpont Morgan and Peter Cooper.[21]

Steinway took the next step in 1868 and began purchasing tracts of land in the Long Island village of Astoria, today part of Queens, across the East River from Manhattan. In 1870, another large storage and production site was opened there and the development of an adjacent company town for Steinway workers began. This further expansion displayed the industrialist mind-set of William Steinway, who was by now in charge of the company’s finances. Relatively inexpensive property acquisitions near the production facility contributed to improvements in the manufacturing process by providing room for shipping facilities and lumber drying, as well as space for setting up an iron and brass foundry to supply the company metal works. Thus, Steinway consciously tried to vertically integrate various stages of production, whereas European piano makers tended to make use of an increasingly specialized supply industry providing, for example, actions or strings. As real estate prices increased in the vicinity of Astoria, land development seemed like a promising venture for the firm. What is more, the real estate lots, once developed, could then be sold at a profit to the residents of the row houses Steinway erected. Fostering permanent employment and cashing in on urban development were the main ideas behind Astoria and were more important than any social disciplining effect that a company town could offer. While the idea of making workers docile through community institutions controlled by a patriarch entrepreneur may well have appealed to William Steinway, who continually quarreled with unionized employees, the firm was not an institution that loomed large in the everyday life of Astoria residents.

The final stage of productive expansion was reached when Steinway became an international firm by founding a factory in Hamburg in 1880. The company had been operating a showroom in London under a sales partnership since 1875, but five years later William and his brother Theodore risked $140,000 ($3 million in 2011$) of private capital to launch an overseas manufacturing and sales operation in Germany. Legally independent until 1889, the Hamburg Pianofortefabrik bought most piano parts ready-made from the New York production site and assembled them in Hamburg. Differences in the application of veneer and varnish on the piano case, though, made instruments from Hamburg more resistant to climatic extremes. There was a rationale behind the decision to expand overseas that related to the Steinways’ identity as German-American entrepreneurs. In the wake of the 1870s depression, labor unrest in the United States had grown, and there was a serious strike by Steinway workers in February 1880. The high domestic wages that Steinway was forced to pay its American workers in the 1880s began to compare less and less favorably to the low labor costs prevalent in the booming German piano industry. Theodore Steinway, in particular, who had only lived in New York since 1865 (when he reluctantly took the place of his deceased brothers Henry Jr. and Charles), was a hard-nosed employer with little sympathy for workers’ demands and an ingrained dislike of the American way of life. He took the first opportunity to migrate back to Germany (and after a while even moved back to Brunswick) and became head of the Hamburg business. The firm’s most important aim in becoming a multinational, however, was to secure a share of the growing world market for pianos that German companies had begun exploiting successfully. The free port of Hamburg offered itself as an export hub to South America and Great Britain where demand was increasing noticeably.[22]

While Steinway played a part in American industrialization and globalization, the company claim to fame rested, more than anything else, on technological innovation in piano design. Two of the brothers were indeed highly talented piano makers, always willing to experiment and improve the tone and quality of the instrument, and it does not come as a surprise that Henry Jr.’s seven patents and Theodore’s 41 patents (some of which had a lasting impact on the industry’s approach to piano construction) should have given Steinway a comparative advantage. Is it simply inventive genius, then, that ultimately accounts for Steinway’s success? Not quite, as the technological history of the piano, recounted by Edwin Good and others, shows that the constitutive elements of the modern piano had already been developed by 1850. What distinguished Henry Jr.’s inventions, inducing the firm’s breakthrough performances at the exhibitions from 1855 to 1867, was rather a unique ability to combine pre-existing features and make them more perfect. The singing and voluminous quality of tone that we are still familiar with in a modern concert grand was something Henry Jr. accomplished when he combined the cast-iron frame with “overstringing,” an arrangement of strings in two tiers in which the bass strings run diagonally across the upper registers. Before Steinway, Chickering had used the cast-iron frame (an 1825 American invention by Alpheus Babcock), and several patents on overstrung pianos had been issued in France and the United States since 1828, but the combination of these elements was a Steinway innovation. Older still were the crucial features of the modern piano mechanism — the agraffe, the double-escapement action, the felt covered hammers — which were invented by Sébastien Erard and Henri Pape during the first third of the nineteenth century. While these men deserve credit for their earlier inventions, Henry Jr.’s 1859 overstrung concert grand with a cast-iron plate and an improved action was innovative because “nobody had ever put it all together like this before” as Richard Lieberman, an expert on the company’s history, observes.[23] Public recognition by New York’s musical establishment followed suit, and at the world exhibitions in London (1862) and, even more so, Paris (1867), the jury testified to the supreme quality of Steinway’s grand pianos: “The pianist feels under his hands an instrument of the virtuoso, who wishes to astonish by the eclat of his execution…; in one word, they are at the same time the Piano for the Concert Room and the Parlor, possessing an exceptional sonority.”[24] A cartoon emphasized the same point when it exaggerated the impact Steinway had in Paris: a sudden surge of amateur musicians hoping to participate in artistic excellence by way of technology. However, while amateur players routinely failed to imitate Liszt or Thalberg, European makers were more successful in imitating the design and construction of Steinway pianos. German and Austrian manufacturers were particularly quick to adopt what was henceforth referred to as the “American system” — that is, ironically, a way of building pianos devised by a German immigrant family within nine years of their arrival in New York.[25]

Steinway’s rise to world renown was, from a technological point of view, the work of Henry Jr., and his premature death in 1865 constituted a real crisis for the firm. The family, however, was fortunate enough to recruit another inventive talent in Theodore who was persuaded to take on responsibility for the New York business. It turned out that Theodore’s contribution to the piano’s design was almost as impressive as Henry Jr.’s. Apart from patenting, among other things, the cupola frame and the sostenuto pedal that served to further enhance the instrument’s tone and pianistic options, Theodore transferred knowledge across the Atlantic — this time from Germany to the United States — that helped Steinway maintain its role as a technological pioneer. From early on, while still in Brunswick, Theodore had proposed to launch production of upright pianos, which had become popular in Europe due to limited space in the home.[26] Taking note of high New York City rents, he correctly predicted that the more space-consuming square pianos, which remained the norm in the United States well into the 1870s, would eventually run afoul of the rising price of urban property. Also, Theodore applied the emerging science of acoustics to the art of piano making by studying Hermann von Helmholtz’s Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für eine Theorie der Musik. Theodore’s invention of the duplex scale in 1872 — another subtle adjustment of the strings — directly conformed to the Helmholtzian discovery that sound hinged on the structure of overtones. Theodore was obviously better placed than his American competitors to correspond with the German physicist and read his major work, which came out in 1863 and was only translated into English in 1875.[27]

Marketing was the third pillar that Steinway relied on throughout its company history. It clearly fell into William’s province, and even though the modern concept of marketing did not exist at the time, he pursued a variety of sales techniques in such a strategic manner that the term seems appropriate. Once more Steinway was able to exploit options created earlier by other piano makers, but he did so more vigorously than any other competitor. Marketing via cultural patronage was a crucial ingredient in boosting the company’s prestige in the eyes of the musical elite, as well as the wider public. In 1866, Steinway Hall was opened, a marble-clad, two-thousand-seat concert hall which hosted all kinds of cultural events and had audiences pass through showrooms full of Steinway pianos before entering the hall. Before Carnegie Hall became New York’s prime venue for musical stardom in 1891, Steinway Hall staged performances by leading orchestras and virtuosi. Such cultural patronage was not without European precedent. Beginning in the 1830s, the piano houses of Erard and Pleyel in Paris had demonstrated that their own concert halls were ideal places for image production. There, Liszt and his rivals frequently drove audiences to ecstatic admiration, which reflected positively on the instruments used by the musicians.[28] Steinway also associated their pianos with well-known musicians of the era. In 1872, Steinway engaged Anton Rubinstein, celebrated internationally for his pianism and charisma. His concert tour of more than two hundred spectacular performances brought the name of Steinway to the Midwest and earned Rubinstein eighty thousand dollars (or about 1.5 million dollars in 2011$). A similar promotional deal was struck with the equally worshipped Ignace Paderewski, who committed to playing Steinway pianos exclusively on his tour from 1891 to 1893.

Apart from investing heavily in venues and concerts, William disseminated financial support among the musical establishment of New York City, supporting all kinds of music associations, renting out pianos, and sometimes turning a blind eye on matters of payment from well-heeled customers such as Frank Leslie, whose Illustrated Newspaper frequently reported on the company.[29] At the same time, Steinway subscribed to a European way of advertising luxury goods that made use of lavishly decorated catalogues, showrooms, and testimonials by royal customers. This was a century-old tradition going back, at least, to English pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood and his Queensware, and it worked in a democratic society, too. The world exhibitions, finally, provided the greatest publicity opportunity for the firm. They served as both indicators and drivers of the company’s progress. William assumed rightly that it would pay off to spend large sums on the press, the jurors, and the general public attending the exhibitions. For the seminal 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris, Steinway and Chickering, vying for the gold medal, each spent eighty thousand dollars on promotion. Exposition juries tended to heap praise on several rivals, which inevitably led to a “piano war,” in the words of contemporaries, over the interpretation of who had actually won. Steinway engaged in such altercations with Chickering in 1867, with Weber in 1876, and with Chicago piano makers on a slightly different matter in 1893. Such conflicts meant that the company’s name received additional, widespread attention in the press. There can be no doubt that Steinway benefited tremendously from such an aggressive sales policy. Other examples include the introduction of the school piano (1871) and releasing instruments to the public on loan and via installment plans to create demand. The production of the upright and a smaller grand piano for city apartments, both serving to differentiate the market, further contributed to enticing demand.[30] Comprehensive as the marketing was, its strategies were not unique to Steinway, and they cannot be understood without appreciating traditions of cultural patronage and the emergence of a musical public sphere in mid-century New York.

Social Status and Immigrant Entrepreneurship

While Central and Western Europe remained the uncontested epicenter of nineteenth century classical music, especially when it came to canonical composers and musicians, it would be erroneous to underestimate the extraordinary liveliness of music making, private and public, in New York which was the product of commercial, intellectual and, most of all, migratory developments.

The New York Philharmonic, for example, had been founded in 1842, the same year as Vienna’s. Many venues existed, such as the Academy of Music, Niblo’s Garden, Castle Garden, the Tabernacle, and the Stadttheater, staging everything from classical art music to minstrel shows and other popular pieces.[31] German-born Theodore Thomas, violinist and conductor, who had come to New York in 1845, gave regular outdoor performances with his orchestra and quickly managed to become one of the pillars of concert life in the city. According to music historian Joseph Horowitz, he was a veritable “musical captain of industry”.[32] Another major figure was Carl Bergmann who, among other things, conducted the Germania Musical Society, a group of emigrant compatriots who successfully toured American cities until 1854. Both Bergmann and Thomas collaborated with pianist William Mason for a famed chamber music series that attracted the bourgeois establishment. Mason, like other important New York musicians such as Ureli Correlli Hill (the Philharmonic’s founding director) and pianist Sebastian Bach Mills, had studied in Germany and continued to praise it as “by far the most musical country in the world”.[33] Willing to confer a superior prestige on all things musical invested with supposed German qualities, Mason, Hill, Mills, and others also agreed to advertise for Steinway pianos as early as 1860.[34]

By the 1850s, musicians and music promoters began to recognize that considerable money could be made from the boom in musical interest. Phineas T. Barnum, an early tycoon of mass cultural entertainment, promoted Jenny Lind’s American tour in 1850 by guaranteeing the Swedish soprano superstar a thousand dollars ($30,000 in 2011 dollars) for each of 150 concerts. During the 1840s and 1850s, Barnum and other impresarios such as Louis Jullien, Max Maretzek, and Bernhard Ullmann had helped to create a market for a new style of musical entertainment with broad public appeal. The style combined high artistic quality of performance with a popular appeal in terms of repertoire, venues, and marketing. Such blurring of distinctions between highbrow and lowbrow culture happened in New York more commonly than anywhere else, and it was conducive to selling pianos as well. The sale of luxury instruments like Steinway pianos depended on an ability to establish ties between the virtuoso and the amateur, the concert hall and the parlor. Long before Rubinstein and Paderewski, promoted by Steinway, worked in this direction, other pianists had broken the ground. When, during the second half of the 1840s, Leopold de Meyer and Henri Herz impressed audiences on their tours across the United States, piano makers vied for their endorsement. As so often, it was Chickering who first made an arrangement with a true pianist celebrity, Sigismund Thalberg, supplying him with instruments on his 1857-1858 tour.[35]

The growing demand for music, in general, and for pianos, in particular, sprung not only from the work of music professionals, both commercial and artistic, but also from a flourishing musical culture at the grass-roots level of amateur associations. A host of singing societies — the Liederkranz, the Arion, and the Teutonia being among the most famous — were the quintessential cultural expression of the expanding German community of New York. William Steinway himself was an ardent singer and connoisseur of the opera. His diary, which he kept from 1861 until his death in 1896, provides a unique glimpse into the importance of the Liederkranz throughout his life.[36] He participated in it as an active member, often several times a week, and served as president approximately every other year between 1867 and 1887. It would be hard to overestimate the Liederkranz as a networking institution and transmitter of cultural capital. The frequent practice of rehearsing and performing (collaborating at times in ambitious opera productions) integrated the German and German-American families. Giving concerts and throwing fancy dress balls, they reached out to the otherwise fragmented New York bourgeoisie. Through participating in the Sängerfeste, at which German singing societies from Baltimore to Cincinnati occasionally convened, they established, by way of musical practice, “descent communities” that could be exploited commercially.[37]

William Steinway’s role as a leading figure for about three decades in one of the city’s most vibrant German singing clubs is of more than just anecdotal significance. Although immediate commercial or marketing considerations probably played no role in his participation, the piano business could have only benefited from the developing taste for classical music and, especially, vocal music as championed by the Liederkranz. People’s increasing desire to play and sing the most popular pieces at home, to which the piano lent itself most perfectly, drove sales of Steinway’s product. In the nineteenth century, a significant portion of sheet music for the piano consisted of song accompaniment, as well as transcriptions and excerpts from operas. Such was the craze for the works of Weber, Lortzing, and, increasingly, Wagner that William’s diary recorded 117 opera attendances (hearing sixty different productions) within ten years beginning in 1861.

Steinway’s key position in the musical establishment mirrored a development that arguably formed the most important condition for the immigrant business to succeed. During the company’s rise to prominence, music in New York fell squarely into the hands of Germans in terms of both commercial and artistic production. As we have seen, leading musicians were likely to be either of German origin or to have studied music at conservatories in Leipzig or Berlin. When Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a native of New Orleans and the first widely-acclaimed American virtuoso, complained that “all the musicians in the United States are German”, he may have exaggerated only a little.[38] In 1875, for example, four out of five musicians at the New York Philharmonic were of German origin whereas, at the time of its founding, the number had been “only” two in five. According to a state census of the same year (1875), almost forty percent of all professional musicians in New York came from Germany, while people of German descent accounted for merely 7.8 percent of the city’s overall population. Similarly, Germans figured most prominently among New York musical instrument makers. In 1855, more of them came from Germany (39 percent) than from the United States itself (34 percent), with England trailing a distant third (8 percent) among countries of origin. Roughly the same ratio applied to the piano workers’ union in which two-thirds of the members were foreign-born, the vast majority of them coming from Germany.[39] At Steinway & Sons, immigrants remained such a large portion of the workforce that William conducted talks with strikers in both English and German as late as 1882. The most important employees, those in managerial positions, such as Charles F. Tretbar and Arthur von Holwede were not only compatriots, but quite often natives of Brunswick.[40]

The social context of producing and marketing pianos in New York was thus strongly shaped by German immigrants and their descendants. Yet, this situation did not lead to the development of an ethnically defined niche market. The customers’ names in the company’s sales books clearly indicate that demand was not limited to Germans. Steinway pianos appealed to a broad section of the city’s upper strata. In mid-century New York, classical music and its commercial institutions provided a rare example of an elite culture dominated in its musical manifestations, from material culture to social practice, by an immigrant minority.[41] There were two preconditions for this. First, in the second-half of the nineteenth century, an increasingly entrenched elite emerged when traditional merchants, as well as ascending industrialists and bankers, began to participate in the same cultural institutions, to canonize classical music, and to monopolize concert life around the opera, in particular. German classical music thus worked as social glue that could bind bourgeois New Yorkers together and contribute to the formation of class identity.[42]  Second, German musical experts, whether conductors or ordinary piano teachers, understood themselves as “rooted cosmopolitans” — as historian Jessica Gienow-Hecht has recently noted.[43] They claimed successfully to have privileged access to an allegedly universal musical culture by virtue of partaking in a particular German cultural heritage. While the singing societies certainly forged social ties in Kleindeutschland and created sites of emotional belonging, German music served not simply to integrate the diaspora. More importantly, musicians, instrument makers, critics, and concert promoters reached out to the wider public. The cultural network they formed, and in which William Steinway became a key figure, displayed a missionary zeal to spread culture in America. By creating a market for musical entertainment and instruments imbued with the ideals of German romanticism, they reiterated, at the same time, the type of cultural nationalism that had gained prominence in German ideologies since the early nineteenth century.

The Steinways, who had belonged neither to the old merchant elite nor to the new magnates of industry and finance, made their way into the higher echelons of society as immigrant entrepreneurs in luxury manufacturing. In spite of anglicizing their name and extolling the land of opportunity as William did, their careers did not entail complete cultural assimilation. Instead, they secured social capital by exploiting a cultural network dominated by Germans and by enshrining a national tradition and inscribing it into American elite culture. Again, we might turn to William’s diary. The rare day-to-day account of an immigrant newcomer’s entry into bourgeois life in New York shows how the bedrock of co-ethnic social relations and German cultural habits remained intact as William accumulated remarkable public prestige through his engagement in city planning and philanthropy. Sometimes it even appears as if he had been confined to the sphere of ethnic sociability, judging by the frequency of his singing, beer and wine drinking, and Skat playing. Both his wives — William filed for divorce from his first wife, Regina, in 1876 — came from successful German immigrant families and the vast majority of his private dealings were with people of German origin.[44] Of the many clubs where bourgeois New Yorkers met, William mostly frequented German associations such as the German Club, the German Press Club, and the German Athenaeum Club, apart from his favorite Verein, the Liederkranz.[45]

All this would seem to confirm that, apart from differences in the sheer size of wealth, there were, indeed, ethnic barriers that kept the Steinways from mingling with the likes of native-born Americans such as the Rockefellers, Astors, and Morgans. Yet, if William did not reach the pinnacle of wealth and prestige (such that marrying into the highest families was not a possibility), it did not keep him from acting like a full-blown and public-minded capitalist. In terms of conspicuous consumption, he abandoned the ascetic virtues of many a self-made man with a career in manufacturing when he bought the steam yacht Mozart and a thirty-eight-room “splendid Chateau” on Long Island in 1870.[46] As a philanthropist, too, William distributed money widely, funding the Protestant Union church, library, and kindergarten in the emergent company town of Astoria, giving money to hospitals and other charity institutions in New York, but also donating to his home town of Seesen and to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. The pecuniary commitment to Protestant churches most likely did not stem from any profound personal faith, though, because religious practices are hardly ever mentioned in William’s personal diary. The bits of factual information he provided on his dealings as trustee of the “Steinway Union Church” in Astoria betray the businessman rather than the believer. William’s total amount of benefactions, however, is impossible to assess since he did not keep records properly, but, from the 1880s, at least his reputation must have exceeded his assets as he repeatedly complained in his diary about being “pestered almost to death” by an “interminable stream of beggars”.[47]

If philanthropy conferred elite status, so did William’s political entanglements. Although he declined to hold public office on several occasions — as alderman and as mayor — his rallying behind the scenes in support of the Democratic Party and his service in organizations such as the Rapid Transit Commission were quite typical of bourgeois New Yorkers’ public engagement, which increasingly shifted from party political machines to civil society groups during the 1880s and 1890s.[48] Steinway’s backing was regularly sought after by New York mayors as well as by Grover Cleveland, the only Democratic president in an era of Republicans, not due to the economic power that the piano dynasty wielded, but because William was considered to be a spokesman of the German-American community and because he maintained close relations with many of its advocates. Among his friends were Oswald Ottendorfer, editor of the influential New Yorker Staats-Zeitung, Interior Secretary Carl Schurz, and Hugo Wesendonck, founder of the Germania Life Insurance Company.[49] His ethnic affiliations, therefore, did not fence him off from the political establishment, but instead promoted his inclusion. In 1889, he was one of the key figures in the illustrious Manhattan Club’s preparations for the centennial celebrations of George Washington’s inauguration — an event of utmost symbolic significance.[50]

As long as William relied on his cultural capital as a self-made businessman and patron of the arts, his standing in the public sphere and, especially, its celebratory domain, remained uncontested, and as a result he enjoyed semi-political benefits such as regular press coverage and patronage networks. Both the financial success and the political leverage reached their outer limits when William strove to become more than the leading piano manufacturer of his time and began venturing into real estate, public transport, and city planning ventures. He initiated a series of risky and mostly unprofitable investments beginning in the 1870s with significant real estate purchases on Long Island. The Steinway Railway Company monopolized all trolley lines in the western part of Queens, and a separate company operated ferries on the East River. The land development company, however, failed to attract enough workers and property buyers in Astoria to make the venture profitable. In 1898, an official appraisal of William’s holdings came to the conclusion that much of his equity investment in real estate and transport was of “nominal” value at best. Only the Bowery Bay Beach amusement park, opened in 1886 and in operation until Prohibition, turned out to be somewhat profitable.[51] During the 1880s, William’s projects grew ever more ambitious, diverting most of his attention away from the piano business, until his ambitions reached the point when piano sales could hardly make up for the temporary losses incurred by other investments. Two commitments, especially, turned out to be spectacular failures. Both arose from an indelible trust in the long-term success of new technologies. In retrospect, William’s tenacious attempts at a subway construction in New York and his deal with Gottlieb Daimler to launch the internal combustion engine (and thus the age of the motor vehicle in America) seem incredibly foresighted. Yet, in the early 1890s, the decisions were premature, because William overrated the financial assets available at a time of depression (1893) and because he underestimated the vested interests of the New York railroad barons in the existing system of aboveground railway lines. In any case, the visionary projects failed to achieve results at the time. Work on the East River tunnel, fueled by Steinway money, came to a halt. The auction of a franchise for building the subway according to a plan drafted by the Rapid Transit Commission, over which William had presided with the greatest energy, brought no result. In 1896, after eight years of trying to reap profits from the Daimler licenses he held, he “curse[d] the Daimler Motor Co. for its draining me of money + resolve to stop it”.[52] This was certainly not the balance sheet of the universally successful Gilded Age industrialist that William Steinway strived to become. When he died in 1896, the public celebrated William as a New York luminary, which was due mostly to the mark he had made on the cultural economy of the city together with his iconic role as a successful German-American entrepreneur. Two years after his death, a court case against the family revealed that he, a man who had always failed to distinguish clearly between his private investments and the company assets, was virtually bankrupt. Company shares had to be sold and much of the property liquidated in order to resolve the debt he had accrued. The piano business, however, continued to grow once the depression years of the mid-1890s were over.


It is quite remarkable that during the second half of the nineteenth century an American piano company, Steinway & Sons, developed into one of the world’s most prestigious brands in musical instrument making. At a time when European arbiters of taste were unwilling to treat American contributions to the arts as worthwhile, an expert jury at the Paris exhibition of 1867, made up of conservative critics and competitors, acknowledged the superiority of American piano construction as represented by Steinway and Chickering. Although classical music was the epitome of European high culture and the source of much snobbery, the “American” instruments lived up to the expressive potential desired by Romantic virtuosi and aspiring amateurs. The “Steinway system” of building pianos was soon copied on the Continent, but many of the established piano houses in England and France, which rested on their laurels, had begun to lag behind by the time of the Fin-de-Siècle piano boom.

Such extraordinary success is hard to explain because we do not know exactly what prevented competing manufacturers from pursuing the same production and marketing strategies as Steinway. After all, many details of piano design, such as overstringing and the cast-iron frame, had been used before and were hardly business secrets. The same was true for the marketing strategies behind building concert halls and making exclusive contracts with pianist celebrities. While we cannot say why other firms did not combine these features earlier, it is possible to identify three conditions that prompted Steinway & Sons to innovate and succeed.

First, the firm was a family business. The division of labor among the family members proved beneficial from the time of immigration, when Heinrich Steinweg’s children came of age and began to contribute to the family income, until William Steinway’s death in 1896, when his nephews, well trained in the family tradition, stepped in at a point of financial crisis. At first, the men of the family who became partners in 1856 — namely, Heinrich, Charles, Henry Jr. and William — all built pianos in the artisan tradition of the trade. Soon, however, they were able to specialize according to their talents with Charles in charge of sales, William increasingly taking care of advertisement and finances, and Henry Jr. concentrating on technical innovations. Heinrich’s wife, Juliane (as secretary), and his daughter Doretta (as saleswoman, sometimes offering free piano lessons), had active roles, too. Upon the death of Charles and Henry Jr. in 1865, when the family suddenly lost its inventive genius, the company was fortunate enough to recruit another gifted piano designer in Theodore. He first had to be convinced to leave Germany and later chose to return to his homeland, thereby aiding the company in branching out because he helped run the Steinway factory in Hamburg. The company’s fortunes depended so much on the family working together smoothly that the possibility of unruly offspring and spouses became a veritable Achilles’ heel. William, who took on the role of the patriarch early, ruthlessly fought anyone who claimed a part of the family fortune, as Henry Jr.’s widow seemed to do when she remarried. Also, charges against the partners’ way of doing business, brought forward by one of Charles’ sons, were rigorously rebutted in court. Yet, on the whole, family in-fighting remained the exception. While many owner-managed enterprises in manufacturing were eventually disrupted by internal divisions, the continuity of family control at Steinway & Sons’ lasted for generations.

Second, Steinway & Sons found itself in the right time and location to expand commercially and take advantage of cumulative innovations. Since the 1770s, piano making had made considerable progress. After a period of experiments in piano construction affecting the instrument’s range, volume, sound, and robustness, a point of technological “closure” was reached by the mid-nineteenth century. That is to say, the relevant social group — musicians and critics, above all — considered the relevant problems resolved.[53] In this case, the problem that stood out was to obtain a piano sound that would suit a concert hall. Once the English action, the cast-iron frame, the overstringing, and the other features of the modern piano had been invented, they were waiting for someone to put them together. Steinway accomplished this task most perfectly. However, the 1850s were miracle years for piano manufacturing in general. Many of the most prestigious brands — Weber, Mason and Hamlin, Bechstein, Blüthner, and Feurich — were founded between 1851 and 1854 and Steinway had to distinguish itself from a crowded field through its technology and marketing practices. If the firm’s timing was good, so was the choice of location for production. The abundance and quality of American timber were important assets, just as important as the transport facilities of the port city by the Hudson River. In turn, highly-developed woodworking machinery and relatively high labor costs encouraged mechanization, even though the emergent piano industry would always remain labor-intensive. Even more important, therefore, was the stream of immigrant workers that kept arriving from the 1840s onward, so that the ratio of German employees in the musical instruments trade reached 39 percent in 1855.[54] Finally, New York harbored a burgeoning, commercially-organized music scene. For the same reason that London had become a center of European piano production in the late eighteenth century, New York now developed into a creative hotbed for musicians and music dealers.[55] The purchasing power of an expanding and culturally ambitious bourgeoisie stimulated demand for public and private entertainment and for symbols of refined taste. This was arguably the most essential of conditions for a piano company to succeed.

Third, ethnic German affiliations ran deep in the cultural economy of the city. They provided employment opportunities to immigrant piano makers like Heinrich Steinweg who could not speak English. Later, too, personal acquaintances with first- and second-generation immigrants could be used for recruiting shop-floor staff and maintaining dealer relations. Furthermore, many of the leading personalities in the rich infrastructure of classical music in New York, from impresarios to conductors, were of German origin. By the late nineteenth century, the unparalleled prestige of German composers and musical institutions had helped to shape a market for music available through public concerts and for use at home on parlor pianos. In New York, where a traditionally fragmented bourgeoisie was beginning to consolidate itself by, among other things, investing in the trappings of elite luxury culture, Steinway & Sons found a willing and able class of consumers. The general interest in music was further nourished by a great number of singing clubs dominated, once again, by German immigrants. William Steinway expertly used these networks for decades, thus enhancing the company’s image in the public eye. As president of the Liederkranz, as concert promoter, and as host to one of the city’s prime venues for cultural events, Steinway Hall, he was accumulating social and cultural capital. Donating to individual artists, opera companies, and the like, he was called “Prince Bountiful” by musicians. This term of address gives us a sense of his place in the cultural life of Gilded Age New York.[56]


[1] The information on Heinrich Steinweg’s origins is mostly based on Richard K. Lieberman, Steinway & Sons (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995); D. W. Fostle, The Steinway Saga: An American Dynasty (New York: Scribner, 1995); Cynthia A. Hoover, “The Steinways and Their Pianos in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 7 (1981): 47–64; Alfred Dolge, Pianos and Their Makers (1911; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1972); Schlegel’s German-American Families in the United States, vol. 1 (New York: The American Historical Society, 1916). On his date of birth I follow instead the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, vol. 36, 1893, s.v. “Steinweg, Heinrich“, as it is based on church records. It also states that his father’s death was most likely caused by impoverishment and not, as family legend has it, by stroke of lightning in the woods.

[2] Lieberman, Steinway, 9.

[3] According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. vol.  24, 2nd ed., s.v. “Steinway”, 344-346, here 344; Lieberman, Steinway, 12. Fostle, Steinway, 31-32, contends that no more than 150 pianos could have been built in Germany, but provides little evidence.

[4] See Heinz-Gerhard Haupt, ed., Das Ende der Zünfte: ein europäischer Vergleich (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002).

[5] On the production figures cf. Hubert Henkel, Lexikon deutscher Klavierbauer (Frankfurt/M.: Erwin Bochinsky, 2000), 15, 278.

[6] See Illustrated Pamphlet on the Founding and Development of Steinway, N.Y. (date unknown), 20 (http://americanhistory.si.edu/steinwaydiary/ (accessed September 5, 2012).

[7] See William O. Henderson, The Zollverein, 2nd ed. (London: Cass, 1968), 123-127.

[8] Cf. Cornelia Pohlmann, Die Auswanderung aus dem Herzogtum Braunschweig im Kräftespiel staatlicher Einflußnahme und öffentlicher Resonanz 1720-1897 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2002), 32, 212.

[9] The 1848 revolution, however, was not the initial reason that the Steinweg family left Europe. According to Ronald V. Ratcliffe, Steinway & Sons, trans. and rev. by István N. Vértes (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1992), 18, family documents suggest that Karl had already inquired about emigration in 1845.

[10] There may have been another son with them, Hermann, but it is not entirely clear whether he died immediately before departure. Cf. Fostle, Steinway, 12; Hoover, “The Steinways”: 56.

[11] Lieberman, Steinway, 20; Fostle, Steinway, 15-33;

[12] See Lieberman, Steinway, 16-17; Fostle, Steinway, 12.

[13] See Fostle, Steinway, 26-27.

[14] Serial numbers are taken from the company’s website:  http://www.steinwaypianos.com/service/how-old-is-my-steinway (accessed September 5, 2012).

[15] Cf. Cyril Ehrlich, The Piano. A History (Rev. ed) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 129 (Table 6), 139 (Table 8).

[16] The Census of the State of New York for 1855 “claims thirty-eight pianoforte manufacturing ‘establishments’ in Manhattan and twenty-eight elsewhere in the state”. Quoted in Fostle, Steinway, 555. On domestic culture see Richard L. Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992).

[17] Cf. Dolge, Pianos, 269-99; Fostle, Steinway, 21-25; Gary J. Kornblith, “The Craftsman as Industrialist: Jonas Chickering and the Transformation of American Piano Making”, The Business History Review 59.3 (1985): 349-368. The poll’s figures are according to the New York Times, March 15, 1869, quoted in Nancy J. Groce, “Musical Instrument Making in New York City during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”, Ph.D. diss. (The University of Michigan, 1982): 70 (Table 1).

[18] Taken from the Production Inventory Book, 1856-1876, Box 040 333, Steinway & Sons Collection, La Guardia and Wagner Archives (LWA), Queens, New York. In 1856, the inventory was taken in May, in consecutive years it was done in January.

[19] Nominal value multiplied by the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index from 1856-1865 to 2011, as offered by www.measuringworth.com (accessed September 5, 2012).

[20] See Lieberman, Steinway, 34-41; Aaron Singer, “Labor-Management Relations at Steinway & Sons, 1853-1896”, Ph.D. diss. (Columbia University, 1977): 26-42.

[21] On wages Singer, “Labor-Management Relations”: 47, 61, is more convincing than Fostle, Steinway, 42-43. On the factory and mechanized production see Susan Goldenberg, Steinway. From Glory to Controversy (Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press, 1996), 22-23; Edwin M. Good, Giraffes, Black Dragons, and Other Pianos. A Technological History from Cristofori to the Modern Concert Grand (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1982), 178-180.

[22] On Astoria cf. Singer, “Labor-Management Relations”: 87-109. On the 1870s slump and on Hamburg see Lieberman, Steinway, 87-98; Fostle, Steinway, 325-38. On German manufacturers’ rise in the world market see Ehrlich, The Piano, 68-87.

[23] Lieberman, Steinway, 29. On the technical development see Hoover, “The Steinways”: 63; Good, Giraffes,166-98.

[24] François-Joseph Fétis, for the jury, quoted in Hoover, “The Steinways”: 59.

[25] To be sure, the “American system of manufacturing” was a term popularized in British political-economic thinking around the mid-nineteenth century. In a highly influential 1855 report on industrialized production in the United States, piano manufacturing is also mentioned briefly: “In the manufacture of the pianoforte and the melodion, a building similar to an English cotton mill is set up, with steam-engines and special machinery applied to the production of every part, both wood and metal.” While this must have referred to Chickering’s factory, the American system of piano making was later mostly identified with Steinway’s innovations. Cf. The American System of Manufactures. The Report of the Committee on the Machinery of the United States 1855 and the Special Reports of George Wallis and Joseph Whitworth 1854, ed. Nathan Rosenberg (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1969), 175.

[26] C.F. Theodor to his parents, August 21, 1857 (?), Steinway Family Letters, Box 040 261, Folder 21, LWA.

[27] Cf. Good, Giraffes,196-97. The personal connection to Helmholtz was, in turn, used for marketing purposes as a testimonial letter in the company’s advertisement shows. See H. Helmholtz to Steinway & Sons, August 13, 1873, German Dealer Books, Box 040 116, Folder 7, LWA.

[28] See Alan Walker, Franz Liszt. The Virtuoso Years 1811-1847 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 161-163. Steinway Hall, however, was much larger than its forerunners in Paris and London which housed no more than 300 to 600 people. The New York venue was thus conducive to pianos with a more voluminous sound as constructed by Steinway himself. See Arthur Loesser, Men, Women, and Pianos. A Social History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954), 378.

[29] On Frank Leslie cf. Fostle, Steinway, 60-61. In 1881, the New York Evening Post wrote about William: “Every orchestral or chamber music association was backed by him, nor did he overlook even the opera companies.” Quoted in Lieberman, Steinway, 47.

[30] Cf. Lieberman, Steinway, 47-58, 67-72, 87, 108-14.

[31] On German stages, in particular, see John Koegel, “Adolph Philipp and Ethnic Musical Comedy in New York’s Little Germany,” American Music 24.3 (2006): 267-319.

[32] Joseph Horowitz, Classical Music in America: A History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), 36.

[33] U.C. Hill cited in Ibid., 148. On the Germania Musical Society see Jessica C.E. Gienow-Hecht, Sound Diplomacy: Music and Emotions in Transatlantic Relations, 1850-1920 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), 68-70.

[34] Cf. Hoover, “The Steinways”: 55.

[35] Cf. R. Allen Lott, From Paris to Peoria: How European Piano Virtuosos Brought Classical Music to the American Heartland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Horowitz, Classical Music, 125-26, 242-53; Fostle, Steinway, 38-39, 59, 67-70.

[36] William Steinway’s diary (hereafter ‘WS diary’) has been made available online by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History: http://americanhistory.si.edu/steinwaydiary/ (accessed September 5, 2012). On the Liederkranz see also History of the Liederkranz of the City of New York 1847 to 1947, and of the Arion, New York, Compiled by the History Committee of the Liederkranz (New York: The Drechsel Printing, 1948).

[37] The term was coined by musicologist Kay Kaufmann Shelemay, “Musical Communities. Rethinking the Collective in Music”, Journal of the American Musicological Society 64.2 (2011): 349-390, here 367-370. On the singing societies see Christopher Bruhn, “Taking the Private Public: Amateur Music-Making and the Musical Audience in 1860s New York,” American Music 21.3 (2003): 260-290, here 270-275. A typical Sängerfest program can be found in The American Art Journal 5.11 (1866): 164-168.

[38] L.M. Gottschalk quoted in Horowitz, Classical Music, 216.

[39] On the Philharmonic see Ibid., 149; on the census: Fostle, Steinway, 178-179; on instrument makers: Groce, “Musical Instrument Making”: 116 (Table 2); on piano workers: Singer, “Labor-Management Relations”: 25.

[40] Cf. Lieberman, Steinway, 59, 93, 96.

[41] The minority was a strong one, though. German-born inhabitants amounted to fifteen percent of New York City’s total population (1860-1880), cf. Stanley Nadel, Little Germany. Ethnicity, Religion, and Class in New York City, 1845-1880 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 22 (Table 1).

[42] On New York elites of the latter half of the nineteenth century, in general, and on the role of culture, in particular, see Sven Beckert, The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 237-272; Horowitz, Classical Music, 148-157, 242-253.

[43] The term is Kwame Anthony Appiah’s , borrowed by Gienow-Hecht, Sound Diplomacy, 67.

[44] On William’s wives, Regina Roos and Elizabeth Ranft, see Fostle, Steinway, 86 f., 185-208, 300-302.

[45] WS diary, passim.

[46] Ibid., July 11, 1870.

[47] Ibid., June 14, 1884; July 12, 1895. On donations see Fostle, Steinway, 408-410.

[48] On the political context see Beckert, Metropolis, 315-320.

[49] Cf. Lieberman, Steinway, 104 f., Fostle, Steinway, 339-341.

[50] Cf. WS diary, April 24, 1889.

[51] Cf. Fostle, Steinway, 280-291, 315-318, 415-421.

[52] WS diary, March 18, 1896. On the Daimler and the subway involvements see Fostle, Steinway, 319-324, 343-345, 415 f.

[53] Sonja Petersen, Vom ‘Schwachstarktastenkasten’ und seinen Fabrikanten. Wissensräume im Klavierbau 1830 bis 1930 (Münster: Waxmann, 2011), 54, adopted the term of technological “closure” from J. Trevor Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker, “The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts”, in The Social Construction of Technological Systems, eds. Wiebe E. Bijker et al. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987): 17-50.

[54] Groce, “Musical Instrument Making”, 116, Tab. 2.

[55] See only Cyril Ehrlich, The Music Profession in Britain Since the Eighteenth Century. A Social History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985).

[56] The nickname is mentioned in Schlegel’s German-American Families, vol. 1, 70.


Cite this Entry

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"Heinrich Engelhard Steinway." (2017) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved April 25, 2017, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship: http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=147

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Torp, Claudius. "Heinrich Engelhard Steinway." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute. Last modified October 10, 2013. http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=147

MLA Style

"Heinrich Engelhard Steinway," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2017, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 25 Apr 2017 <http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=147>

Heinrich (Henry) E. Steinway standing next to a table, Manhattan, 1850

  • Exhibition of scientific devices to the public at Steinway Hall
  • Orchestral performance at Steinway Hall
  • Cartoon reflecting Steinway & Sons' success at the 1867 Paris Exposition
  • The members of the House of Steinway and Sons

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