Biographical / Historical
Heinrich Engelhard Steinway (Steinweg) (born 1797, Wolfshagen, Germany; died 1871, New York City) made his first piano in 1836. In 1850 he immigrated to America and settled in New York City with his wife, three daughters, and four of his five sons. He and his sons Charles, Henry, Jr., and William at first worked for various New York piano makers until 1853 when they formed the partnership of Steinway & Sons. One year later Steinway & Sons' square pianos won first prize at the Metropolitan Mechanics Institute Exhibition (held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.) and in 1855 won the Gold medal for the best piano (an over-strung iron-frame square piano) in the American Institute Fair at the Crystal Palace in New York City. In 1859, Henry, Jr. patented (patent no. 26,532, December 20, 1859) a design for a one-piece over-strung iron frame for the grand piano that won praise, a gold medal, and international recognition at the 1867 Paris Exposition.
The firm faced a crisis in 1865 when two of Heinrich's sons died: Henry (born 1831), who was responsible for the first seven patents, and Charles (born 1829). The family prevailed on the eldest son, C. F. Theodor (1825 1889), to sell his partnership as a piano manufacturer in Braunschweig, Germany, and to join his family in New York City. Not eager to sever all his ties in Germany, Theodor spent time in both countries until his death, contributing technical innovations that resulted in forty-one patents. One of these patents was for the duplex scale in 1872. Several of the following generation worked with the firm, including Fred T. Steinway (1860-1927), son of Charles, who served in London, Hamburg, and New York City.
C. F. Theodor Steinway's technical skills were matched by the entrepreneurial skills of his brother William (1835 1896). William was a creative businessman who played the piano, sang tenor, and supported the musical life of New York City. His promotional and marketing techniques, and his cultivation of eminent musicians and association with aristocratic patrons, helped to make Steinway & Sons so successful. William Steinway was prominent in New York City social and political life.
In 1880, Steinway & Sons opened a Hamburg branch. The firm was sold in 1972 to CBS. Subsequent owners include the Birmingham Brothers (Steinway Musical Properties, 1985-1995) and Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc. (1995-).