In 1836 Henrich Engelhard Steinway (Steinweg) (b. 2/15/1797, Wolfshagen, Germany; d. 2/7/1871, New York City) made his first piano. In 1850 he emigrated to America and settled in New York City. After studying English and working at various New York piano factories with four of his sons, he established his own shop in 1853. In 1854 the firm received a prize for a square piano at the Metropolitan Fair in Washington and in 1855 a prize at the American Institute Fair for an over-strung iron-framed square piano. The Steinway iron frame of 1855 was adopted for grand pianos a few years later, and became the model for future pianos. The iron-framed square was the prevailing model in America through much of the nineteenth century. The firm produced its first upright in 1862 and its last square pianos in 1888. In 1865 two of Henrich's sons died: Henry (b. 1831), who was responsible for the first seven patents, and Charles (b. 1829). The eldest son, C.F. Theodore Steinweg (1825-89), sold his business in Germany and joined his father and remaining brothers in New York. Theodore Steinway registered forty-one patents during his twenty years in America. One of these was for the duplex scale in 1872. Theodore's technical skills were matched by his brother William's (1836-96) entrepreneurial skills. He was a creative businessman who was interested in music and played the piano. It was his promotional and marketing techniques, following those of the great piano makers of the past, his cultivation of eminent musicians, and his association with aristocratic patrons that helped make the Steinway Piano Company so successful. Steinway pianos of the 1880s were basically modern pianos, a generation ahead of their competitors. In 1880 the company opened a branch in Hamburg, at which time the annual production of this factory and the one in New York was 2500 pianos. Although the firm was sold in 1972 to CBS, the family continues to be associated with the business. Subsequent owners include the Birmingham Brothers (Steinway Musical Properties, 1985-1995) and Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc. (1995- ).
Records of the Steinway & Sons piano company and a daily diary of William Steinway, a key figure in the rise of the company to international prominence in the nineteenth century. The records document overall operations of the company, individual piano serial numbers, and the business and personal life of William Steinway, a prominent figure in New York business, politics, and musical life. The collection consists of an original diary (and microfilm copies) kept by William Steinway and microfilm copies of nineteenth century business records of Steinway and Sons; also business and family photographs and some miscellaneous documents.
Series 1: Diaries of WIlliam Steinway in nine volumes, 1861-1896, plus microfilm copies of the diaries; William's brother Theodore's handwritten notes on William's diary entries; William Steinway's office diary (about 20 sheets) 1882-1896; and handwritten pencil notes by an unknown author, possibly Paula Steinway van Bernuth, beginning in 1872. Also Steinway Family correspondence from the second half of the nineteenth century and business records of the Steinway and Sons firms. Includes letters that discuss family history and genealogy; love letters; health matters; financial matters, including investment advice, inheritance and tax implications; and various family trips around the world; politics; the Civil War, botany; and musical concerts. Also, letters on piano construction, including details on casemaking, soundboards, hammers, and ribs, with piano diagrams. Other letters discuss types of materials used or considered: wood, strings, and glues; sound vibrations and string techniques and acoustics of tension; soundboard installation; workers' demands; competitors' actions (Chickering); amalgamation of New York and Hamburg firms; details of Steinway Piano Company business, including merchandising, sales, and delivery of Steinway pianos. Four negative microfilm rolls of business records of Steinway & Sons Piano Company include a minute book, 1876-1909; correspondence, 1887-1888, including a Fred T. Steinway letter book, London, 1887-1888, and a second from Hamburg, 1887-1891; and inventory books, 1856-1903.
The diary records William Steinway's daily activities, observations on current events, and comments on business activities. He began the diary in the year of his marriage and continued writing until shortly before his death. The handwritten diary pages are fragile and the volumes have been unbound; researchers must use the positive microfilm copies or consult the digital version scheduled to be on-line in 2006. Cynthia Hoover, curator emeritus at the National Museum of American History, is director and co-editor of a project to create a scholarly edition of the William Steinway Diary. On-line publication of the first years of the Diary is expected in 2007.
Series 2: The Steinway Business Records (1858-1910) include minute books of the Steinway and Sons Corporation, business and personal correspondence of Fred T. Steinway (in two letterpress volumes), serial number books of piano production, photographs of company facilities, inventories and financial accounts, and other documents. These records are contained on four microfilm reels (negatives). The originals were borrowed by the Archives Center from John and Henry Steinway, microfilmed by the Library of Congress in 1989, and returned to the donors.
Series 3: Steinway Family Materials (1877-1882) consist of a large photo album commemorating the 25th anniversary of Theodore and Joanna Steinway, 1877, containing studio portraits of many members of the Steinway family and their relatives; and a very large memorial album of newspaper clippings relating to William Steinway.
Series 4: The Rev. Bartholomew Krüsi Materials (1857-1919) include school records, a program for his 25th anniversary at his church, and photographs of the church interior. Loose pages from Mrs. Krüsi's scrapbook include an account of the wedding of the soprano Lilly Lehman for which Pastor Krüsi performed the ceremony. Reverend Krüsi, pastor of the German Presbyterian Church in New York, performed christenings, weddings, and funerals for the Steinway family and is mentioned frequently in William's diaries. Pastor Krüsi's descendents gave the Steinways the Krüsi materials that are incorporated in this collection.
Steinway and Sons Piano Company Collection, 1857-1919, Archives Center, National Museum of American History