OVERVIEW OF THE COLLECTION
Title: Steinway & Sons Records and Family Papers
Collection Date(s): 1857-1919
Extent and Forms of Material: 6 cubic feet, including photographs and microfilm (12 boxes)
Creator: Steinway & Sons; Steinway Family
Abstract: Records of the Steinway & Sons piano company and a daily diary of William Steinway, a key figure in the rise of the company to international prominence in the nineteenth century. The records document overall operations of the company, individual piano serial numbers, and the business and personal life of William Steinway, a prominent figure in New York business, politics, and musical life.
Collection Number: AC0178
Processing Note: Processed by Robert S. Harding, archivist, January 5, 1990; revised Craig A. Orr, archivist, March 28, 1990; May 31, 1996; August 21, 1996; revised Anne Jones (volunteer) June 30, 2005; John Fleckner, archivist, August 1, 2008.
INFORMATION FOR USERS OF THE COLLECTION
Conditions Governing Access: The collection is open for research use.
Physical Access: Researchers must use positive microfilm copy of diary. Researchers must handle unprotected photographs with gloves.
Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use: Copyright held by the Smithsonian Institution. Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: fees for commercial use.
Preferred Citation: [Title and date of item], Steinway & Sons Records and Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, box number X, folder number XX, digital file number XXXXXXX
IN-DEPTH INFORMATION ABOUT THE COLLECTION
Administrative History: Heinrich Engelhard Steinway (Steinweg) (born 1797, Wolfshagen, Germany; died 1871, New York City) made his first piano in 1836. In 1850 he immigrated to America and settled in New York City with his wife, three daughters, and four of his five sons. He and his sons Charles, Henry, Jr., and William at first worked for various New York piano makers until 1853 when they formed the partnership of Steinway & Sons. One year later Steinway & Sons’ square pianos won first prize at the Metropolitan Mechanics Institute Exhibition (held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.) and in 1855 won the Gold medal for the best piano (an over-strung iron-frame square piano) in the American Institute Fair at the Crystal Palace in New York City. In 1859, Henry, Jr. patented (patent no. 26,532, December 20, 1859) a design for a one-piece over-strung iron frame for the grand piano that won praise, a gold medal, and international recognition at the 1867 Paris Exposition.
The firm faced a crisis in 1865 when two of Heinrich's sons died: Henry (born 1831), who was responsible for the first seven patents, and Charles (born 1829). The family prevailed on the eldest son, C. F. Theodor (1825-1889), to sell his partnership as a piano manufacturer in Braunschweig, Germany, and to join his family in New York City. Not eager to sever all his ties in Germany, Theodor spent time in both countries until his death, contributing technical innovations that resulted in forty-one patents. One of these patents was for the duplex scale in 1872. Several of the following generation worked with the firm, including Fred T. Steinway (1860-1927), son of Charles, who served in London, Hamburg, and New York City.
C. F. Theodor Steinway’s technical skills were matched by the entrepreneurial skills of his brother William (1835-1896). William was a creative businessman who played the piano, sang tenor, and supported the musical life of New York City. His promotional and marketing techniques, and his cultivation of eminent musicians and association with aristocratic patrons, helped to make Steinway & Sons so successful. William Steinway was prominent in New York City social and political life.
In 1880, Steinway & Sons opened a Hamburg branch. The firm was sold in 1972 to CBS. Subsequent owners include the Birmingham Brothers (Steinway Musical Properties, 1985-1995) and Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc. (1995- ).
Scope and Content: The collection consists of an original diary (and microfilm copies) kept by William Steinway and microfilm copies of nineteenth century business records of Steinway & Sons. There also are business and family photographs and some miscellaneous documents.
Series 1, William Steinway Diary, 1861–1896, is contained in nine volumes. It records William Steinway’s daily activities, his observations on current events, and his comments on business activities. He began the diary in the year of his marriage and continued writing until shortly before his death. The handwritten diary pages are fragile and the volumes have been disassembled; researchers must use the positive microfilm copies or consult the digital version scheduled to be on-line. Cynthia Hoover, curator emeritus at the National Museum of American History, is director and co-editor of a project to create a scholarly edition of the William Steinway Diary. On-line publication of the first years of the Diary is expected in the near future.
Series 2, Steinway Business Records, 1858-1910, includes records of the Steinway & Sons, business and personal correspondence of Fred T. Steinway, serial number books of piano production, photographs of company facilities, and other documents.
There are four microfilm reels (negatives) of company and family records. These were borrowed by the Archives Center from John and Henry Steinway, microfilmed by the Library of Congress in 1989, and returned to the donors.
Reel one, Minute Book, 1876-1909, documents meetings of the corporation trustees and annual meetings of the shareholders. It also lists stockholders and, in later years, includes annual financial summaries.
Reel two, Correspondence, consists of copies of letters of Fred T. Steinway, 1877-1900. One letter press volume, 1887-1888, was kept while Steinway was in London. The second volume, 1887-1891, includes personal and business correspondence written, in English and German, in Hamburg, Germany. This volume also contains lists of materials for the construction of pianos, descriptions of manufacturing processes, and other business information. The third volume, 1894-1900, is similar to the second but also includes some daily diary entries recording business and private activities.
Reels three and four, 1856-1903, are annual inventories of all manufacturing stock, real estate, accounts payable, and other assets and liabilities of the firm. These handwritten volumes also record the annual division of profits among the shareholders.
This series also includes three microfilm reels (negative) of serial number books listing pianos manufactured by Steinway & Sons. A set of eleven microfilm reels (positive) of the serial number books is located in the museum’s library (call number -- MFM 1176). A second set of eleven reels is in the Steinway Diary Project office along with positive copies of the four reels of company and family records described above.
This series also contains loose pages from William Steinway’s office diary and photographs of the Steinway Ware Rooms, factory, and Steinway Hall, the concert hall built by the Steinways.
Series 3, Steinway Family Materials, 1877-1882, contains a large photo album commemorating the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of Theodore and Joanna Steinway, 1877, contains studio portraits of many members of the Steinway family and their relatives. Also included is a very large memorial album of newspaper clippings relating to William Steinway.
Series 4, Reverend Bartholomew Krüsi Materials, 1857-1919, includes information about Krüsi, pastor of the German Presbyterian Church in New York City. He performed christenings, weddings, and funerals for the Steinway family and is mentioned frequently in William’s diaries. Pastor Krüsi’s descendents donated the Steinway materials relating to Rev. Krüsi in this collection. These include school records, a program for his twenty-fifth anniversary at his church, and photographs of the church interior. Loose pages from Mrs. Krüsi’s scrapbook include an account of the wedding of the soprano Lilly Lehman for which Pastor Krüsi performed the ceremony.
System of Arrangement: The materials are arranged in four series.
Series 1, William Steinway Diary, 1861-1896
Languages: Some materials in German
Acquisition Information: Henry Z. Steinway donated the William Steinway diary on April 2, 1996. Microfilm copies of the eleven reels of serial number books were lent to the museum by Henry and John Steinway for duplication in 1988. The Steinways lent the original minute books, correspondence, and inventories for microfilming in 1989.
Existence and Location of Originals: Originals of microfilmed materials in this collection are found in the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY, Long Island City, New York. Some originals also may be with the Steinway family.
Existence and Location of Copies: Eleven microfilm reels (positive) of the serial number books and four microfilm reels (positive) of the company and family records are located in the museum’s library (call number -- MFM 1176). A second set of these reels is in the Steinway Diary Project office.
Related Archival Materials:
The LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY is the largest repository of Steinway materials. It holds extensive business records as well as personal papers and photographs. The Steinway family loaned seventy folders of Steinway family correspondence to the National Museum of American History in October, 1984, and a program of transcription and translation was begun by the Steinway Diary Project. The original correspondence was transferred to the Archives Center in August 1985 and, at the request of Henry Z. Steinway, transferred to the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives in March, 1990. Additional Steinway materials are at the New York Historical Society, the University of Maryland Performing Arts Library, and other repositories. The control file for this collection has further information on the location of Steinway materials.
The Archives Center’s N W Ayer Advertising Agency Records contains advertising proof sheets for Steinway & Sons from 1900 through 1963. The Piano series of the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana contains five folders of material on Steinway. The Industry on Parade Film Collection has a short, 1953 film (reel #156) on Steinway’s manufacture of pianos in its Long Island plant. The Sohmer & Company Records contain three folders of trade literature from Steinway. These include catalogs, pamphlets, and booklets on the Steinway family genealogy and on the Steinway piano used at the White House. Sohmer, also a New York City piano manufacturer, collected copies of competitors’ sales catalogs and other publications.
Related Artifacts: The Division of Music, Sports, and Entertainment holds several Steinway & Sons pianos.