Steinway & Sons

The history

Success needs courage – and passion. Both of these qualities were demonstrated by Henry E. Steinway, the company founder. Born in 1797 with the name Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, in Wolfshagen, Harz, he built his first-string instruments at the age of 20. In 1825 he established his own workshop in Seesen. However, since it was only permitted to repair instruments there, he secretly produced his first grand piano in the kitchen of his house in 1836. This instrument, which became known as the “kitchen piano,” incorporated many pioneering developments for building grand pianos – such as the construction of a soundboard bridge made from a single piece of wood. For Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, the completion of this grand piano was without doubt one of the most significant moments of his life. It was then that he firstly implemented his basic principle “to build the best piano possible”, laying the foundation for his future worldwide fame.

Steinway & Sons was founded in 1853 by Henry E. Steinway and his sons in New York. Together they established a new benchmark in the construction of grand and upright pianos of the highest quality. Having developed more than a hundred of patents, the company is considered to be the founder of modern piano construction.

From the outset, Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg let himself be guided by his pioneering spirit. What mattered most to him was advanced technology and, above all, an excellent sound. By 1850, he had already brought 482 instruments to market in Germany. Nevertheless, he decided to set off for America in order to more fruitfully perfect his construction ideas and designs. Due to the economic and political situation at that time, America offered the entrepreneurs more favorable conditions. On June 29, 1850, he arrived in New York with his family. Here Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg became the entrepreneur Henry E. Steinway. On March 5, 1853, he founded the company Steinway & Sons with his sons C. F. Theodore, Charles, Henry Jr, William, and Albert. They would go on to set a new benchmark in the construction of grand and upright pianos of the highest quality.

Soon Steinway & Sons built up a solid reputation in America and then quickly conquered the market and the most famous world’s concert stages. Passion and the courage to be innovative defined success of the family business. Already by 1855 the instruments had won their first award for high quality at the American Institute Fair at the New York Crystal Palace.

When the first patent for impact mechanics was registered in 1857, the piano world saw that magnificent pioneers were hiding behind the Steinway name. And it is not without good reason that the company is considered to be the founder of modern piano construction: it has since developed 127 additional patents. No fewer than 45 patents belonged to C. F. Theodore Steinway, who was the only son of Henry not to travel to America so that he could continue business in Germany. He did not follow his family until 1865 after the death of his two brothers, when he joined his family.

It was Theodore who was the author of numerous technical innovations. In this way, step by step, the piano as we know and love it today came together in terms of design, sound, endurance, and perfection.

In 1866 William Steinway, the man considered to be the marketing genius of the company, put one of his brilliant ideas into action by founding Steinway Hall in New York – a building with a concert hall for 2,000 people as well as dedicated sales areas that quickly became a cultural center. He also invited the world-famous pianists to America for the first time and organized tours for them, some of them quite exhausting, in order to raise awareness of the musical instruments. For example, Anton Rubinstein in the early 1870s gave 215 concerts in 239 days, which sapped him of all his energy but brought thousands of Americans into contact with the piano and classical music.

In 1871 Henry E. Steinway died. His sons continued the business fully following his principles.

In 1880 the growing reputation of Steinway & Sons went outside the borders of America. C.F. Theodore and William Steinway set up a second factory in Hamburg, and up till now it remains the only other production site in addition to the one in New York.

While the factory in New York is responsible for the American continent, the rest of the world is supplied by Hamburg. Three criteria are crucial when it comes to the quality features of an upright or grand piano: the design, the production techniques, and the materials. From the very beginning, Steinway & Sons has been dedicated to fulfilling these criteria without compromise, developing the exclusive Steinway system, which is used to construct every instrument in the New York and Hamburg factories. Each piano is treated with respect, as a masterpiece as soon as it starts to take shape. The challenge is to make each instrument perfect as the Steinway philosophy requires.

Today it is impossible to imagine concert stages around the world without a Steinway piano, and with good reason. More than 1,700 professional musicians could not do without their Steinway, and many well-known educational institutions also provide their students with instruments made by nobody else but Steinway & Sons. For amateur musicians, too, it is an overwhelming feeling to have a Steinway to call one’s own. Steinway & Sons – a name that has become almost synonymous with the piano. It was Maestro Arthur Rubinstein who said: “A Steinway is a Steinway and there is nothing like it in the world.”