By Kim Bunker
Orange Coast Piano

In about 1709, Bartolommeo Cristofori produced his Clavicembalo col piano e forte, the first step in the evolution of the piano as we know it.

Half a century later, the London firm of Broadwood was the world's largest manufacturer of pianos. Between 1782 and 1802 the workshop turned out some 7,000 square pianos and 2,000 grands. Meanwhile, a very different-sounding instrument was in vogue in Austria and Germany. The most successful were made by the firm of Stein, thinner of tone and more fragile. With its lighter Viennese action and more responsive touch than its English counterparts, these instruments stimulated an entire school of keyboard writing (Haydn, Mozart, Hummel, for example) which laid emphasis on fleet passagework and clean articulation. With Stein's success in Vienna, the number of piano makers in the city grew rapidly in the first decades of the nineteenth century.

Between 1791-1815 there were no less than 200 Viennese instrument makers of whom at least 135 were keyboard instrument builders. Among them were the firms of Moser, Müller, Pohack, Schantz (Haydn's favourite), Seuffert, Graf, Wachtl, Walter – and Brodmann. 

1775 The first piano made in America was by John Behrent of Philadelphia in 1775
  The period of greatest development in piano construction lay between the years of 1775 and 1830 and then between 1835 and 1880.
1796 Jonas Chickering 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

1800 John Isaac Hawkins, Philadelphia, and Matthias Müller, Vienna, make small uprights Alexander Reinagle: Piano Sonatas completed, Philadelphia
1802 Nanette Streicher separates from her brother, Matthäus Andreas Stein, to make pianos in her own name
1803 Erard Brothers of Paris present Beethoven with a piano
1804 Jan Ladislav Dussek plays a concerto with his profile toward the audience, Prague
1807 Pleyel established, Paris
1808 Erard patents the agraffe, a metal stud through which strings pass from the tuning pin
1810 English and Continental makers design 6-octave pianos, English from C-c, German from "Upright grands" made in England and "giraffes" in Germany and Austria
1811 Robert Wornum patents small upright, London

Conrad Graf established, Vienna

Prague Conservatory founded

1816 Nanette Streicher makes 6 1/2-octave grands, C-f, Vienna
1817 Thomas Broadwood, London presents a grand piano to Beethoven, Vienna

Vienna Conservatory founded

1818 Thomas Loud Patented small upright with diagonal stringing. Philadelphia, Pa.
1819 Carl Sauter Company established, Spaichingen, Germany
1820 First successful use of metal in grand piano frame by Thom and Allen, London
1821 Sébastien Erard patents the double-escapement "repetition" action, basis of modern grand action, Paris

Weber: Konzertstück composed

1822 Erard makes a 7-octave piano
1823 Jonas Chickering begins making pianos in Boston
1825 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.

Henri Pape patents use of felt for hammer covering, Paris

Robert Wornum patents tape-check action, the basis for modern uprights, London

Clementi: Gradus ad parnassum published

Benjamin Carr: Analytical Instructor for the Pianoforte published

1828 Ignaz Bösendorfer making pianos, Vienna

Henri Pape first uses cross-stringing in small "console" uprights, Paris

Schubert: Last three piano sonatas composed

Johann Nepomuk Hummel: A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte published

1833 Chopin: Études Op. 10 published
1837 Knabe Company established, Baltimore

Schumann: Carnaval, Davidsbündlertänze, and Symphonic Études composed

Liszt and Thalberg 'duel' in Paris

Loud Brothers received patent for cast plate with compensating tubes. Philadelphia, Pa.

1839 Moscheles: Méthode des méthodes published

Czerny: The Compete Theoretical and Practical Pianoforte School, Op. 500 published

Liszt establishes the solo recital, performing from memory without assisting artists

1840 Herz modifies Erard's "repetition" action
1841 Becker Company established, St. Petersburg

Liszt: Norma, Don Juan, and Robert le Diable Fantasies published

1843 Chickering patents one-piece metal frame for grands. 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.

The above 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 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.

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

Leipzig Conservatory founded

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
1866 97 per cent of all pianos made in the United States up to 1866 were squares.
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

1886 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.
1888 Steinway & Sons makes its last square; other Americans continue making them
1890 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.
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

During 1896, the five largest piano manufacturers in the world were American, and more than half the pianos in the world were made here.

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

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.

1901 Welte-Mignon invents a player-piano mechanism, Freiburg, Germany
1901 Piano Manufacturers Association founded, later PMAI
1903 Winter & Co. established, New York

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.

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
1909 During 1909, 374,000 pianos were made in the United States by 300 manufacturers.
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.
1923 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.
1925 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.
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

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 Duo-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.

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
1994 Piano Distributor fined $266,000 for misrepresentation.  Click here>  Keyword "Piano"
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.
Deutsche Bank announces purchase of Baldwin retail financing units at a cost of 35 million dollars, helping Baldwin Pianos to clear some of it debts and concentrate on piano production.
2000 The year 2000 marks the 300th year of piano manufacturing
Piano300 exhibition opens at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Ron Overs (Australia) presents a revoutionary new grand piano action design, offering pianists a level of control, responsiveness and speed unrivalled in grand pianos to date
Kawai launches Shigeru custom grand piano
Pearl River Piano Group announced they were to begin production of the old German make, Ritmuller
Whelpdale, Maxwell & Codd Ltd. and Woodchester Pianos merge into The British Piano Manufacturing Company Ltd.
Schaff Piano Supply Co. buys American Piano Supply Co. (USA)
2001 Steinway begins distributing their Essex line, manufactured by Young Chang
Baldwin files for bankruptcy
2002 Gibson purchases Baldwin Piano Co., including the Chickering and Wurlitzer names.
Bosendorfer purchased by BAWAG - PSK GROUP, Austria's third largest banking group.
Bosendorfer releases Porsche Design 7 foot grand
2003 Steinway celebrates its 150th anniversary at Carnegie Hall in New York
Inter Music (England) purchases the stock of the British Piano Manufacturing Co Ltd., also acquiring the piano names of Bentley, Knight, Welmar, and Woodchester
Bluthner releases its "left-handed" or "backwards" grand piano - with the treble keys, hammers and strings on the left and the bass on the right.
Grotrian (Germany) introduces its Duo Grand Piano - 2 grand pianos placed side by side with keyboards at opposite ends, as in a duo piano concert, with connected soundboards and a common lid.
The British Manufacturing Co. ceases operations in April
2005 Steinway announces to move production of some of the Essex models to the Pearl River Factory in China
2006 Steinway & Sons' New York factory announces the return in production of the Model O grand with its characteristic round tail, curved bass bridge, and rear duplex scales. The Model O was originally introduced in 1902.  By 1923, the last of the Model Os were produced in New York (although the model has since been made at their Hamburg factory).
Schulze Pollman partners with Ferrari Motor Car  to launch limited edition pianos based on the Ferrarl 612 Scaglietti series.