The incredibly rich history of American piano manufacturing began around 1800 with the patenting of a pianoforte by a Mr. J. J. Hawkins. This innovative fellow just happened to be a resident of Philadelphia. Thus, among its countless fames, our great city is known as the home of the very first upright piano manufactured in the United States.
History also has it that in 1742 -- sixty years before that first patent -- a Gustavus Hessilens, also a resident of Philadelphia, built a spinet piano in center city.
The grand piano has deep historical roots in Philadelphia as well. In fact, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds an excellent example of a Square Grand made in 1789 by Charles Albrecht of Philadelphia. This prototype of the grand piano is considered to be one of the first of its kind to be built in the United States.
Soon, not only the fair residents of old Philadelphia, but millions of Americans fell in love with the piano. By the turn of the 19th century, American piano manufacturing was in full swing with hundreds of piano manufacturing companies building thousands of pianos all across the country. In 1869, 25,000 pianos were built in the United States, and by 1890, the Chickering Piano Company, alone, claimed that 78,000 Chickering pianos were being enjoyed in American homes.
The 20th century proved to be quite devastating to what seemed to be an unstoppable growth for the piano manufacturing businesses of the 19th century. Like so many other great American ventures, piano production came crashing against major events and trends of the new century -- the Great Depression, World War I and II, the invention of the television, the mass production of prerecorded and electronically produced music -- and while hundreds of factories simply stopped production, many more were subsumed by larger companies with well established names and enough capital to implement new marketing strategies that could match the times. Such bankruptcies, mergers and consolidations did not kill the industry, but were the inevitable result of a completely different set of circumstances facing our nation.
What is most important, perhaps, is that the optimism and opportunity of the 19th century provided the demand as well as the means for American piano manufacturers to devise the most innovative improvements and perfections of the grand piano. What makes our work as grand piano restoration specialists so rewarding is the fact that, although the majority of the companies of the past are gone, so many of the great pianos remain. And, it's not simply the satisfaction of preserving relics of a bygone era; time and again, our customers have shown us that the grand piano still commands center stage in music, in the arts and within the social arena as well.
The history of American piano manufacturing is an important chapter in the history of American ingenuity, and its achievements can be seen in the fine craftsmanship of actions and cabinets, and of course in the acoustics. Certainly, the pure sound produced by the hard and soft woods of America's great first growth forests will always stand up to even the most sophisticated electronics of a postmodern age.
As grand piano restoration specialists we might be a bit partial in our judgment, but we believe that the American made grand piano is near to being the most perfect musical instrument ever invented, and we are proud to be a part of that tradition.
We invite you to browse our Manufacturers Index to find information on American made grand and baby grand pianos that have moved through our shop over the years.