STEINWAY AND SONS
- PIANOS -
Ever wondered who made the famous Steinway pianos? Read on ...
If you were to guess what the most intricate thing being made in America today is, chances are you wouldn’t imagine that it’s a piano. Almost entirely still hand made and assembled in Queens, New York after 160 years, Steinway pianos are known the world over. Lesser known, is the fact that Steinway & Sons shaped the history of Queens when they created an entire utopian village out of the marshlands we now call Astoria. At the Steinway factory, where a combination of decades old machines, and new, cutting-edge ones are still producing a 1000 instruments a year, discover the remarkable history of the family that made so much more than just pianos.
Walking into the elegant Steinway factory in Astoria, one of the first things you notice is what is missing– the sound of a piano. What does hit you however is the smell of sawdust, and the distant sounds of sanding, delicate hammering and wood being sawn. It’s more like walking into a master craftsman carpenter’s guild in old Europe rather than a modern factory in Queens.
It takes half a dozen careful hands to gently coerce the wood into the shape of a grand piano, using presses invented by Steinway & Sons themselves. The making of the rim is just the beginning of a journey from the lumberyard, to trimming the wood, making the bridge, notching, stringing, key weighing, regulating the action before being sent to the pounding room, where the piano is first played and endlessly tweaked to ensure perfection, before the case is finished. The entire process takes nearly a year.
Often, the secret techniques used to make a Steinway are passed down in the age old tradition from master craftsman to apprentice, generation after generation. Each stage of making the piano has the creator’s name written on it. Story has it that one old Steinway sent to Astoria for renovation was taken apart, only for one of the craftsmen to see his grandfather’s name chalked on part of the piano that been hidden from view since it was written there decades before.
The company had a remarkably humble beginning. An illiterate orphan from Wolfshagen, Germany called Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg started as a carpenter and cabinet maker. He began making his own instruments, particularly pianos, before migrating with his family to New York in 1850. He changed his name to Henry Steinway, creating Steinway & Sons the same year.From 1996 through 2013 the company traded on the stock exchange under the ticker symbol LVB, which stood for Ludwig van Beethoven. In 2013, the company was acquired and taken private by current owner Paulson & Company.
When the younger Henry Steinway reported on his first day at work to his father, he was told: “Henry, I am glad you are here. You are going to get a start where I did.” Henry, initially ecstatic, was soon puzzled as his father led him to the basement where he stopped by the maintenance foreman’s office, laconically stating “he’s yours” and walked away.
It became New York’s principal concert hall, home to the New York Philharmonic and was also used for public events such as lectures by Charles Dickens when he first came to America. Cleverly, concert goers had to walk through the showrooms en route to their seats, passing by the range of Steinway pianos for sale. As William Steinway remarked, “one concert on Saturday night sells pianos on Monday morning.”
Clancy's comment: Amazing, eh? Where are the old crafts of yesteryear?