Basically, when you sit down at your "piano", you are about to play on the Pianoforte! The instrument that today provides you with the opportunity to play soft, "piano", or loud, "forte", was the invention of Bartolemeo De Christifori. This Italian was disappointed that the instruments of the time did not rely on his touch to express feeling. He wanted to be able, by finger pressure and velocity, to play either soft or loud with limitless variations in between. After experimenting with various escapements, he arrived at the one which would work. He named the instrument that this mechanism was used on the "Pianoforte" or, in English, the Soft Loud.

Since that time, many refinements on the playing mechanisms have been made but the basic principal still exists. Also, today, all music is written and annotated with Italian terms. That is good because now we have a universal musical language that Americans, Russians, Chinese, and etc. can uniformly read!

There are now two basic types of piano actions in use today. They are the grand piano action and the vertical piano action. These are quite different but they still utilize the principal that Christifori. invented.



As found in Pierce Piano Atlas, 7th Edition; copyright 1965 by Bob Pierce.


J. J. Hawkins, Philadelphia, received a pianoforte patent in 1800 and was credited with having made the first upright piano in America.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has a Square Grand made by Charles Albrecht, Philadelphia 1789.

F. M. Antisell, San Francisco, received a patent for Wrest Plank on November 15th 1887.

S. Hastings, New York, received a patent February 19, 1889 for Muffler for upright pianos.

Collard was founded by Clemanti in 1800.

William Southwell placed a grand on end in 1794. He built cabinet pianos as early as 1807.

Thomas Loud built uprights with overstringing in 1830.

Silver, glass, gold and silk were used in making strings for early musical instruments.

Zumpe created the square piano in England in 1760.

Pape built a piano with the action above the strings as early as 1827.

Steinway & Sons, New York, have possession of the first two pianos made by Henry Englehard Steinweg in Germany. This dates back before the Steinwegs came to America.

Madam Modjeska owned a Steinway Grand in her home in Santiago Canyon, Orange County, California. Paderewski visited Madam Modjeska and played on this piano.

John Geib invented the grasshopper action.

J. Sylvanus McLean received the first patent in 1796.

Conrad Meyer used the iron plate, cast in one piece, in 1832.

John Harper built pianos in Baltimore in 1802.

Beethoven's Studio Piano is in the National Museum in Vienna, Austria; also in the museum is one built by Nanette Streicher in about 1803.

C. F. T. Steinway received a patent in New York on May 14, 1872 for the Duplex scale for pianos.

In 1890, Chickering advertised that 78,000 Chickerings were in use.

John MacKay took out a patent for a new method of boring the shankholes of the hammer heads.

Adelina Patti presented piano #3463 upright to the Kimball Piano Company after her tour of 1888-1889. She sang at the Chicago Auditorium Theatre on December 9, 1889 for a fee of $4,200.

The Essex Institute, Boston, possesses a spinet made by Samuel Blythe of Salem, Massachusetts, 1784.

The Essex Institute of Salem, Massachusetts has a square piano made by Benjemine Crehore about 1800.

Hardman Upright Piano style Louis XVI sold for $550 in about 1912.

Hardman Autotone (Player Piano) sold for $900 in about 1912.

Harrington Autotone (Player Piano) by Hardman sold for $600 in about 1912.

Harrington Upright style #55 sold for $300 in about 1912.

The first patent issued to H. Steinway, New York, was May 5, 1857; the second was November 29,1859; and the third to H. Steinway was on December 20 for the overstrung grand.

Spinets were made by Samuel Blythe as early as 1789 at Salem, Massachusetts.

George Ulshoeffer made a harpsichord as early as 1785.

Gustavus Hessilens made a spinet in Philadelphia in 1742.

Alexandre of Paris built a piano-organ in 1854 with three keyboards, sixteen stops and a pedal board.

G. Hoffmann built a symmetrically rounded piano in 1804.

Davis Walhaupter made and repaired harpsichords in 1773.

John Jacob Astor dated back to 1783 as an importer.

The first makers of Pianofortes in America started in Philadelphia about 1775.

T. Loud, Philadelphia, received a patent in 1835 for compensating tubes for pianofortes.

Smithsonian Institute has a John Tallman square piano made in 1835 in New York.

Smithsonian Institute has one of the first upright pianos made in this country by Isaac Hawkins, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1801.

M. Welte and Son of Freiburg, Germany and Ludwig Hupfeld introduced the reproducing pianos about 1904.

Benjemine Crehore manufactured pianos at Milton in 1798.

The term "Grand" was first used in 1777 and the first grand made by Broadwood was in 1781.

D. Decker received a patent on July 5, 1870 in New York for bending and gluing cases for grand pianos.

T. Loud received a patent for the shifting keyboard for square and upright pianofortes in 1842.

John Hayward used knee pedals as early as 1676.

The Taft Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, owns a square piano by Babcock of Appleton & Babcock, made in Boston about 1812.

2500 pianos were made in the United States in the year 1829; 900 were made in Philadelphia; 800 in New York; 717 in Boston, and the balance in several other cities.

Some of the first piano manufacturers of France were Virbes - 1770; Johannes-Kilianes Mercken - 1770; Erard - 1777; Hildebrandy - 1783; and Hoffmann - 1783.

Alesandro Pasi, of Modena, built a spinet in 1493.

The Aragon Ballroom in Ocean Park, California, had a Steinway Grand for many years and used by many leading bands such as Harry James, Ted Weems, Harry Owens, Leighton Noble, Spade Cooley, and Lawrence Welk.

The Brooklyn Museum has a very beautiful display of a Harp or Giraffe Shaped piano made by Kuhn & Ridgway.

Abraham Lincoln used a Chickering Grand, #5070, while at the White House.

Sebastian Erard made the first French Square piano on 1777 and the first Grand in 1796.

The Smithsonian Institute has a Square Piano, #275, made by James Stewart in Baltimore 1812.

Christopher Gottleib Schroeter was probably the first piano maker and maker of piano actions in Germany in the year 1721.

Johann A. Stein was an organ builder before making pianos. Many of the German piano builders were organ builders prior to making pianos. The making of pianos in Germany started about 1730.

Nanette Stein was one of the few women who became famous as a piano builder. She later became the wife of Andraes Streicher, who was also a famous piano builder.

John Broadwood enlarged the strings in the square piano; used two thick strings instead of three thinner ones and moved the wrest plank from the right side to the bottom of the case in 1788.

J. McKay received a patent for fitting a Hermer head of Pianoforte in 1828.

Johann Christian Schleip built many vertical pianos known as the "Giraffe Piano".

John Broadwood did much to improve the Square Piano. The piano case was much stronger.

Heinrich Steinweg was born in Wolfshagen in the Harz Mountains in 1797. He made his first piano in 1835 at Seesen, Harz. Steinweg arrived in America with three of his sons; Karl, Heinrich and Albert. His son, Theodore, remained in Germany until 1865. When he came to the United States, he sold his business to Grotrian, Helfferick, & Schulz (now Grotrian).

Tschudi in 1769 tried to control volume by a Venetian blind which covered the strings like the swell box of an organ and was opened and closed by means of a pedal.

The Crystal Palace was built in about 1853, the westerly side being on Sixth Avenue, New York City.

Reeds Temple of music was located at 88 Randolph Street, Chicago. After the Chicago fire, Alanson Reed and his son built at Van Buren and Dearborn Streets.

The first census giving figures for instrument makers was in 1860 which was 223- about 110 were piano manufacturers.

Gilbert of Boston built a piano-organ in about 1848.

Crosby Opera House on Washington Street, Chicago, was the home of many of Chicago's first piano stores. This building was destroyed by fire in 1871.

Alpheus Babcock patented a one-piece cast iron frame in 1825. About 1828 he introduced cross-stringing in America, and this invention was a sensation at the World Exhibitions in Paris in 1862 and 1867.

Cristofori made few pianos. His attention was to the building of harpsichords.

Erard substituted wrapped steel strings in the bass for the strings which had been used previously.

Johann Behrent built the first piano in America at Philadelphia in 1775

Many of the piano manufacturers who first built pianos in America came from England and Germany.

William Tonk & Bros. started business at 47 Mainden Lane, New York, in 1881.

One of the first builders to use cross-stringing was Henri Pape in 1828.

A string can be vibrated in three different ways: plucked with the fingers, stroked with a bow, or struck with a hammer such as in the piano.

The clavichord is struck. The harpsichord and spinet are plucked, and the piano, like the clavichord, is struck.

Elias Schlengel built an oval piano in 1794.

Freferici produced one of the first vertical pianos in 1745. This was of pyramidal shape and was to replace the upright spinet.

Mangeot of Paris built with 29 keys. Henry F. Miller built such a piano as late as 1875. Such a piano can be found at Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, California.

Sebastian Erard built a piano and organ combined for Marie-Antoinette.

Hieronymous Albrecht made a large harpsichord with two keyboards in 1734.

Erard of France constructed his first piano in 1777; his first grand in 1797/

George P. Bent started at State Street, Chicago in 1878.

Piano Row was located on 14th Street, New York. This was the headquarters of such fine pianos as Steinway, Steck, Behning, Bradbury, Sterling, Hardman, Sohmer, Wissner, and many others.

Small Square Pianos were sold in England for 25 guineas in about 1800. This was probably a smaller grand than the Square Pianos which were made with 85 to 88 notes.

Stein replaced the knee pedals with foot pedals in 1789.

The first quality piano manufactured on the West Coast was in 1863 under the name of Walter S. Pierce (a distant relative of Bob Pierce, Atlas Publisher).

Jonas Chickering was the first exporter of American made pianos. The first shipment was to India in 1844.

Jonas Chickering developed and patented the first iron frame in 1837.

As far back as 1901, Estey stated that they had manufactured and sold 325,000 organs.

Yamaha, established in 1887 and was the first piano manufacturer in Japan. (Editor's Note: it is a rare treat to visit Yamaha's ultra-modern factories of today.)

Link and Sons of Binghampton, New York built an automatic piano in 1916, and again became famous for building the Link Trainer for pilot training.

Nickelodeon is a general term used to describe various electrical coin-operated pianos.

Estey obtained patents on Vox Humana Tremolo on June 27, 1865.

"With tear in eye," the latest record we have heard for smashing a piano in the quickest time and passing it through a nine-inch ring was set in 1968 by six men representing Ireland, who did it in two minutes and twenty-six seconds. Let's hope that ends the practice!

"No," chuckles the Schnoz. "That's an optrikal delusion. I never smashed pianers. I just had stage hands put dem togedder so loosely the audience would think I did it."

About 1870 Daniel F. Beatty advertised 3-string rosewood square grands for $255.

Meister piano advertised in Etude Magazine of 1912, a new piano at $175: $1 per week or $5 per month.

A piano player was developed in 1863. It was a push-up cabinet with wooden, felt-covered fingers that depressed the keys.

Charles Fuller Stodart invented Ampico for American Piano Co.

J. C. Stoddard of Worcester, Massachusetts invented the Calliope in 1855.

During 1869 the U. S. produced 25,000 pianos valued at $7,000,000. In 1910, production reached 350,000 pianos valued at $100,000,000.

In 1851 at London World's Fair, Chickering exhibited the first American pianos shown in Europe and took highest honors.

Pianos were the first meaningful brand names, the first "Status Symbols," and the first major items sold on an installment basis, which was the cornerstone of several major banking institutions of today.

The Thermin of the mid-thirties is the only musical instrument that is played without touching it. Simply speaking it relied upon oscillation of vacuum tubes. It was a cabinet with two arms; one resembling the upper portion of a shepherd's crook, one for the right hand and one for the left. Tonal response depended upon varying proximities.

Sears & Roebuck and others sold a pretty fair Parlor Organ for as low as $19. So-called "Cabinet Home Organs" were sold for around $34, and folding organs at $27 in around 1906.

In 1830 Jonas Chickering entered into a partnership with Captain John Mackay, the master of a fine seagoing clipper ship which was frequently loaded with sweet-toned Chickerings that were sold in various ports of call. Homeward-bound, the hold was filled with fragrant rosewood and richly-grained mahogany for Chickering cases. In 1841 Capt. Mackay perished in a tropical storm that destroyed his ship.

The first Hammond organ, No. 1, with which Bob Pierce barnstormed back in 1935, is now in the Smithsonian. This model A bears No. 1 plate of the Hammond Clock Co., stating "licensed only for amateur and experimental use". By the time the Hammond organ was introduced to the nation's dealers at the trade show later that year, young Bob Pierce was an "Olde Pro".

Six Steinways are now in the Smithsonian collection. Two additional concert grands were presented by Steinway & Sons in December 1976. Van Cliburn played both at the presentation. One was an 1857 rosewood grand, one of the earliest made by the firm, which was founded in New York in 1853. Also, an 1892 concert grand used by Paderewskin on his American tour of 75 concerts that year. The collection also includes the 100,000th Steinway, built in 1903 and presented to the White House. In addition there is an 1873 grand, and 1877 square, and an 1876 grand.

Charles Frederick Stein, affectionately known as "Dean of Piano Men", was perhaps the only American who could design a scale and build the piano with his own hands. Few know that Charlie built his last piano at age 84, for his granddaughter.