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STEINWAY, Henry Engelhard (1797-1871)

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STEINWAY, Henry Engelhard, orig. Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (1797-1871).

Henry lost most of his family when he was young. Several brothers were killed during the Napoleonic and he lost his father and remaining brother at age 15. Although he had no musical training, he displayed a talent in building musical instruments. The first instrument he built was a zither. In 1818, he started work in an organ builder's shop, learned how to play the organ, and became a church organist. He built his first piano in his kitchen in Seesen, which he presented to his bride Juliane Thiemer in February 1825 as a wedding gift. They later had seven children. The uprisings of 1848-19 in Germany did not leave the Steinweg family untouched. The business suffered and so he left for America in 1850, one year after his son Henry left for the new world.

Upon arriving in America, he and his sons worked in a piano factory. He then founded Steinway & Sons on March 5, 1853. The first factory was located at 81 Walker Street, in Manhattan. A new factory was founded in 1859 at Park Avenue and 53rd Street, the present site of the Seagrams Building, where it covered a whole block. All the children, with the exception of Christian Friedrich Theodor (1825-1889), who had remained in Germany, worked in the business. Chistian Friedrich Theodor came to the US in 1865 to help manage the family business, which shortly afterwards moved to Astoria, Long Island, where it now comprises an enormous complex on Steinway Street. When he returned in 1870 to Hamburg, he opened and managed a Steinway plant in Germany. The firm prospered swiftly with new improvements in pianos, including overstrung scale an cast-iron frame. They also built the first upright piano in 1866.

The Steinways were not only piano builders. They also had an impact on the culture and structual developement of New York City.

In 1866, they founded Steinway Hall on 14th Street. The acoustics were excellent, and the hall, the predecessor of Carnegie Hall, seated 2000.

Another son, William (1835-1896), president of Steinway & Sons (1876-96), was the first chairman of Rapid Transit Commission of New York City, which planned New York' s first subway.

The first Steinway grand was presented to the White House in 1903 during President Theodore Roosevelt's term. On December 10, 1938 Theodore E. Steinway presented the "golden grand" to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This was the 300,000th instument build by the firm and it can be seen on tours of the White House in the East Room. Another Steinway grand, on which President Henry S. Truman fequently played, now stands in the Truman Library of Independence.

The Steinway firm was sold in May 1995 to the instrument producer Selmer, Inc and now carries the name "Steinway Musical Instruments". It takes about one year to build a Steinway grand, as each piano is mainly built by hand. Each piano has a high live expectancy and is a good investment. A 50 year old one usually has a four time higher resell value then a new one. Prices for a new pianos start at $50,000.

More information on Steinway pianos and their story can be found at: On their website you will be able to virtually walk through the manufacturing process with lots of pictures which can be enlarged on line.

Steinway History

Steinway and Daimler-Benz

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