Foundation and Growth
Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg first made pianos in 1835 from his house in Seesen, Germany, including one designed by and produced for Friedrich Grotrian, a piano dealer. Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg produced pianos under the Steinweg brand until he emigrated from Germany to America in 1850 with his wife and eight of his nine children. The eldest son, C.F. Theodor Steinweg, remained in Germany, and continued making the Steinweg brand of pianos, partnering with Friedrich Grotrian in 1856–65.
In 1853, Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg founded Steinway & Sons. His first workshop was in a small loft at the back of 85 Varick Street in the Manhattan district of New York City. The first piano produced by Steinway & Sons was given the number 483 because Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg had built 482 pianos in Germany. Number 483 was sold to a New York family for $500, and is now displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. A year later, demand was such that the company moved to larger premises at 82–88 Walker Street. It was not until 1864 that the family anglicized their name from Steinweg to Steinway.
By the 1860s, Steinway had built a new factory at Park Avenue and 53rd Street, the present site of the Seagram Building, where it covered a whole block. With a workforce of 350 men, production increased from 500 to 1,800 pianos per year. The pianos themselves underwent numerous substantial improvements through innovations made both at the Steinway factory and elsewhere in the industry based on emerging engineering and scientific research, including developments in the understanding of acoustics. Almost half of the company's 126 patented inventions were developed by the first and second generations of the Steinway family. Steinway's pianos won several important prizes at exhibitions in New York City, Paris and London. By 1862, Steinway pianos had received more than 35 medals.
In 1865, the Steinway family sent a letter to C.F. Theodor Steinweg asking that he leave the German Steinweg factory (by now located in Braunschweig, known in English as Brunswick) and travel to New York City to take over the leadership of the family firm due to the deaths of his brothers Henry and Charles from disease. C.F. Theodor Steinweg obeyed, selling his share of the German piano company to his partner, Wilhelm Grotrian (son of Friedrich Grotrian), and two other workmen, Adolph Helfferich and H.G.W. Schulz. The German factory changed its name from C.F. Theodor Steinweg to Grotrian, Helfferich, Schulz, Th. Steinweg Nachf. (English: Grotrian, Helfferich, Schulz, successors to Th. Steinweg), later shortened to Grotrian-Steinweg. In New York, C.F. Theodor Steinweg anglicized his name to C.F. Theodore Steinway. During the next 15 years of his leadership he kept a home in Braunschweig and traveled often between Germany and the United States.
Around 1870–80, William Steinway (born Wilhelm Steinweg, a son of Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg) established a professional community, the company town Steinway Village, in what is now the Astoria section of Queens in New York City. Steinway Village was built as its own town, and included a new factory (still used today) with its own foundry and sawmill, houses for employees, kindergarten, lending library, post office, volunteer fire department and parks. Steinway Village later became part of Long Island City. Steinway Street, one of the major streets in the Astoria and Long Island City neighborhoods of Queens, is named after the company.
To reach European customers who wanted Steinway pianos, and to avoid high European import taxes, William Steinway and C.F. Theodore Steinway established a new piano factory in the free German city of Hamburg in 1880. As well, C.F. Theodore Steinway wished to stop traveling to America; to live in Germany on a permanent basis. The first address of Steinway's factory in Hamburg was at Schanzenstraße in the western part of Hamburg St. Pauli. C.F. Theodore Steinway became the head of the German factory, and William Steinway went back to the factory in New York City. The Hamburg and New York City factories regularly exchanged experience about their patents and technique despite the large distance between them, and they continue to do so today. More than a third of Steinway's patented inventions are under the name of C.F. Theodore Steinway. C.F. Theodore Steinway died in Braunschweig in 1889, having successfully competed against the Grotrian-Steinweg brand – both the Hamburg-based Steinway factory and the Braunschweig-based Grotrian-Steinweg factory became known for producing premium German pianos.
In 1890, Steinway received their first royal warrant, granted by Queen Victoria. The following year the patrons of Steinway included the Prince of Wales and other members of the monarchy and nobility. In subsequent years Steinway was granted royal and imperial warrants from the rulers of Italy, Norway, Persia, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.
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