Pelham, AL – History of Steinway Pianos | Stewart Piano Studio | Piano lessons

Erika Stewart is a piano teacher for the greater Birmingham area, teaching piano for children and adults in Montevallo, AL, Pelham, AL, Alabaster, AL, Calera, AL and Hoover, AL.  She has grown up with the piano her entire life and loves to impart a passion for music to her students.  Erika teaches in her home studio in Montevallo, AL where piano students have the opportunity to take lessons on her Steinway grand piano.  What is a Steinway grand piano? And what is the difference from other pianos?  Hopefully, the following will give you a brief overview of Steinway history and the legendary Steinway name.

~ The Beginning of Steinway and Sons

Steinway has a tremendous history and has been unmatched in spectacular and unparalleled quality since the company first began on March 5, 1853 by a German immigrant.  Heinrich Steinwig first began his piano business with his sons in Germany and immigrated with his wife and 5 of 7 children to begin a new life in America.  When they arrived in New York, they were one of many highly skilled piano craftsmen but their name quickly became associated with the best standards of quality workmanship and ingenious advances in piano design.

The Steinways (changed from Steinwig upon immigrating) had built 482 pianos before even coming to the States.  Number 483 was the first piano produced in America and was sold for $500 to a New York family.  By the early 1860’s, Steinway had grown to 350 workers who was producing 30 square pianos and 5 grand pianos a week.  Sadly, in 1865, two of the Steinway sons died after working limitless hours both day and night.  Upon hearing the news, the oldest son, C.F. Theodore, decided to sell his successful piano business in Germany and came to work with his father and two other brothers.  Thus continuing the legendary Steinway and Sons tradition.

~ The Growth of Steinway

In 1876, a Steinway factory opened in London and in 1880, another one opened in Hamburg, Germany.  The Steinway name would live to survive the US Civil War, WW I, WW II, the Great Depression and the Age of Technology.  The company has undergone the threats of bankruptcy, liquidations and political turmoil.  Ironically, during WW II, Steinway registered for 2 patents, one in the US and one in Germany.  In the US, piano production almost stopped completely as the NY factory began manufacturing parts for gliders and aircraft.  Ironically, Steinway’s Hamburg factory was taken over for the Nazi war effort.

The greatest danger to the reputation of the Steinway piano was a “sell out” of the it’s name and history to Musical Instruments Davision of CBS.  It soon became only one name among many others but the integrity of the Steinway was still preserved.  In 1985, Steinway underwent yet another change as CBS sold the company’s Musical Instruments Division to an investment group from Boston, MA.  Steinway and Sons was deemed part of Steinway Musical Properties.  In 1995, Steinway was sold to a band instrument manufacturer, Selmer.  At present, Steinway is a highly successful company with orders for grand pianos that exceed their production numbers.

~ The Production of the Steinway

The Steinway piano is not mass produced.  Each piano feels different. Each piano sounds different.   The high standard in piano building sets Steinway apart from all other pianos and is in stark contrast to instruments which are mass produced.  Even today, Steinway builds pianos primarily by hand and employs 400-500 workers.  There are 120 various jobs in building the Steinway.  Interestingly, the Steinway factory in Astoria, Queens, NY, closely resembles the factory of a century ago.  To give you a comparison of mass produced versus hand made, Yamaha produces 200,000 per year whereas Steinway produces 3,000 pianos per year. The Steinway pianos built in NY are shipped to North and South America while the pianos made in Hamburg, Germany are shipped worldwide.

The design of the Steinway piano is unprecedented and is far superior than any other and it was not long after beginning production that the Steinway concert grand became a spectacular success.  It became a favorite of concert pianists and even dominated the Erard and Chickering grand piano, the best in the world until then.  It has been created in such a way to undergo the most rigorous playing of the finest artist.  90%  of concert pianists use Steinway and the likely reason that the other 10% do not use them is because of the cost.

The Steinway piano is known worldwide as the best and simply perfect.

~ The Steinway of Stewart Piano Studio in Montevallo, AL

In 1993, Erika had the opportunity to purchase a Steinway model “L” grand piano built in 1930.  It is known as Steinways “smallest concert grand” and is 5′ 10 1/2″ long and 610 pounds.  Non Steinway personnel sometimes say that true grand pianos must be at least six feet long, believing there are limits on sound and design.  This presumption is not true with Steinway. The Steinway company builds 4 models under six feet, including the model “L” and all are built without any compromise of sound or design.   Many professional pianists purchase this model for their home and/or practice piano.

It is impossible to prove but Erika’s piano came with the story that it was played and signed by the famous Rachmaninoff.   Erika purchased the piano in Seattle, WA from a one time owner. The great pianist Rachmaninoff did come to the Seattle area and perform 7 concerts from the years 1931-1941.  It is said that after Rachmaninoff signed the piano, a piano tuner later covered the name in shellac but instead of preserving it, the name disappeared over time. We will never know!