The celebrated piano company Steinway & Sons was founded by a German immigrant named Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg in New York City in 1853. Steinway changed his name to Henry Steinway a few years later. Originally located in a small loft on Varick Street, the company moved to the present location of the Seagram Building in the 1860s. Success and rapid growth led to the construction of a factory and company town (known as Steinway Village) in the Astoria section of Queens in the 1870s. Still inhabited today, Steinway Village is part of Long Island City and has its own parks, post office, and housing for employees. The Steinways built another factory in Hamburg, Germany in 1880.
Though some well-known pianists have expressed a fondness for pianos built in one city or another, the differences tend to have more to do with the piano’s appearance rather than the quality of the sound. For instance, pianos built in New York have a satin lacquer finish with square corners, and those built in Hamburg have a high gloss polyester finish with rounded corners.
Each factory produces approximately 1,500 pianos per year, with the New York Steinway factory supplying North and South America. Both factories exchange components and artisans as needed, and both use the same suppliers in the construction of each. Every Steinway piano is made by hand and takes a year to produce. It takes approximately 300 workers to produce a grand piano, and each instrument is constructed of more than 12,000 individual parts. Steinway’s New York City factory manufactures six models of grand piano and three models of upright piano.
Since 1857 the company has manufactured a number of special edition pianos. A specially designed piano, decorated with the coats of arms of the thirteen original states, was given as a gift to the White House in 1903 in celebration of the manufacture of the 100,000th Steinway. Another special edition, The Sound of Harmony, took four years to build and replicates artwork by Chinese painter Shi Qi. This particular Steinway piano was on display at the Expo 2010 Shanghai China.
For the past several years, Steinway & Sons has been manufacturing a series of grand and upright pianos known as the Crown Jewel Collection. These adhere to Steinway’s long-established design, but instead of the usual ebony finish these instruments are made in veneers of rare woods from around the world.
In 2010 a special edition series of 100 white, upright pianos was launched to mark John Lennon’s 70th birthday. Each piano is identical to the rock legend’s original white piano with the exception that the special edition pianos feature lyrics, notes and drawings by Lennon and include a laser-engraved duplication of his signature.
Because of the financial meltdown of 2008, piano sales at Steinway & Sons dropped by more than 50% and approximately 30% of the workers at New York’s Steinway factory lost their jobs. Sales have since recovered and the factory continues to
thrive. Most recently, the world’s largest solar-powered rooftop dehumidification and air-conditioning system was installed to provide better air quality and a more stable environment for producing these sensitive, finely-tuned instruments.
Over its long history, Steinway and sons has developed several patents and has been the recipient of numerous awards. Though the family no longer owns the company, the tradition of innovation and craftsmanship has continued and Steinway reputation for producing some of the highest quality pianos in the world lives on.