The piano was invented in the early years of the 18th century by an Italian instrument maker named Bartolomeo Cristofori. At the time, harpsichords, whose strings are plucked, and clavichords, whose strings are struck, were popular with composers and musicians, but the harpsichord could only be played loud (forte) while the clavichord could only be played soft (piano). The four-octave piano, or pianoforte as it was originally called, was constructed in such a way that players could control the volume of sound produced depending on how lightly or aggressively they pressed down on the instrument’s keys.

Throughout the 18th century, innovations to the piano’s escapement improved the action of the keys, permitting pianists to play faster and more fluidly. By 1730, a German organ maker named Gottfried Silbermann had introduced Johann Sebastian Bach to the instrument (Bach was reportedly nonplussed) and by 1760 the pianoforte had made its way to England. There, a former Silbermann apprentice named Johannes Zumpe produced the square piano, a smaller, less costly alternative to the grand pianos of the era made by piano makers such as Americus Backers.

In fact, England became a center for piano production (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played his first pianoforte there), thanks in no small part to the efforts of John Broadwood, who improved the piano’s action, expanded the instrument’s range to six octaves, and added a sustain pedal. While all this was going on in England, around 1774 a German immigrant named Johann Behrent settled in Philadelphia, where he built the first square piano in the United States. Another Philadelphian, John Isaac Hawkins, is credited with devising the first U.S. upright piano in 1800.

More important, though, were the contributions of a number of Bostonians. In 1819, Jonas Chickering apprenticed for the city’s only piano maker, John Osborne. Chickering struck out on his own in 1823, and eventually his pianos became so renowned that three presidents in a row—Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln—played Chickerings in the White House. Less famous than Chickering in the first half of the 19th century, but arguably more influential, was Alpheus Babcock, whose innovations included a solid metal frame for a piano’s strings (he patented the design in 1825) and the practice of cross-stringing (prior to Babcock, piano strings ran parallel to each other).

One aspiring piano maker who improved upon Babcock’s overstrung piano, as it’s also called, was yet another German immigrant named Engelhard Steinweg, who built 482 pianos in New York before changing his name to Henry Steinway and founding Steinway & Sons in 1853. Steinway left Chickering in the dust (Chickering was absorbed by the American Piano Company in 1908) as the demand for pianos grew more than ten-fold between the end of the Civil War and the Edwardian era, when hundreds of thousands of units were produced annually.

Curiously, it was the proliferation of sheet music in late 19th and early 20th centuries that spurred U.S. demand. Mass-production techniques kept the piano factories humming, although to this day, Steinway still produces some 2,500 pianos a year by hand.

In the 20th century, two pianos in particular are worthy of note. The first is the Bösendorfer Imperial, which was introduced by its Austrian manufacturer in 1909 and features 97 keys instead of the standard 88 (the extra notes at the piano’s bass end give the instrument eight full octaves). The other milestone was the electric piano, whose cheerful, ringing tone was popularized in the 1959 Ray Charles song “What’d I Say” (Charles played a Wurlitzer). In 1965, Fender Rhodes introduced its 73-key Suitcase model; an 88-key Suitcase followed in 1970. Unlike electronic pianos and keyboards common today, an electric piano like the Rhodes and is a mechanical instrument, with strings and hammers just like a regular piano, except the sound is amplified via a pickup, similar to the way sound is captured on an electric guitar.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Music Museum

National Music Museum

The National Music Museum, which is located at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, features 15,000 instru… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Open Box - 61 Key Electronic Music Electric Keyboard Piano Organ - BlackYamaha U1 Upright Piano And BenchM-audio Keyrig 49 Key Portable Electronic Usb Keyboard Piano ControllerYamaha Ypg-235 76-key Portable Grand Piano Premium PackYamaha Metal Plate Emblem For Cp-70 Cp-70b Electric Grand Piano Cp70 Cp70bOpen Box - 61 Key Electronic Music Electric Keyboard Piano Usb - SilverDuo-art Reproducing Player Piano Expression BoxDuo Art Audiographic Player Piano Roll A-95 Stravinsky Firebird Suite Roll 1Pol Ebony Thick Padded Piano Bench With Straight Legs Storage Wurlitzer Automatic Player Piano Roll #70, March Roll, Nickelodeon Piano [c3]61 Key Electronic Music Electric Keyboard Piano - BlackLot Of 160 Nos Wurlitzer Unit Valve Gaskets For Nickelodeon Or Band OrganDuo Art Audiographic Player Piano Roll A-96 Stravinsky Firebird Suite Roll 2Duo Art Audiographic Player Piano Roll A-100 Stravinsky Firebird Suite Roll 6Original Clark Music Roll, A-1431, Ten K.o.'s (review), Nickelodeon Piano, [c15]Meike Keyboard Piano Synchronizer Excellent Condition Wurlitzer 125 Band Organ Roll, #3248-3269, Nickelodeon Piano [c20]Morton Piano Roll G-1, Nickelodeon Roll [c9]1967 Ivers And Pond Player PianoClavia Nord Stage 88 Keyboard Weighted Action Piano, Organ, Synth11 Excellent Duo Art Piano RollsDuo Art Audiographic Player Piano Roll A-81 Wagner Roll 1 - 1813-1841Piano Tuning EquipmentYamaha Portasound Voice Bank Pss-170 Keyboard Electric Piano With Power CordDuo-art Reproducing Player Piano Roll Motor, RebuiltDuo-art Reproducing Player Piano PartsKorg I3 Workstation Piano KeyboardOriginal Nickelodeon "a" Roll #1382 Coin Player PianoOriginal Nickelodeon "a" Roll #729 Coin Player PianoOriginal Clark Piano Roll A-681, Favorite Dance Successes, Nickelodeon [c4]Original Clark Music Roll, A-1012, "yule Lykem", Nickelodeon Piano, [c14]Piano Disc 128 Plus Player Piano Control Box With Remote Playrite Recut Nickelodeon "g" Roll #100 Coin Player PianoVintage Piano Tuning HammerColson Heavy Duty Grand Piano Dolly MoverOld Recordo Player Piano Roll - Salut A Pesth In Box # 6900Open Box - 61 Key Electronic Music Electric Keyboard Piano - BlackPiano Tools . High End Professional Tools . Tuner Retiring. More Things To Sell.Wurlitzer Upright PianoOriginal Nickelodeon "a" Roll #1130 Coin Player PianoUpright Kimball Piano W/bench`Original Clark Piano Roll #723, "fascinating Dance Hits", Nickelodeon Roll [c12]Rand Recut Nickelodeon "g" Roll #904 Coin Player PianoC. 1960's-1970's Steinway Piano Service ManualOld Player Piano Roll - Badinage - Recordo Roll #6380Old Player Piano Roll Melody In F - Recordo Roll # 65320 Playrite Recut Nickelodeon "g" Roll #101 Coin Player PianoPlayer Piano Rolls Lot Of 12 Various Qrs Royal Music Co. Aeolian MignonYamaha Fc4 Piano Style Sustain Pedal - New In Box!Old Player Piano Roll Beautiful Blue Danube - Recordo Roll # S65680Connorized Word Roll Footloose 7836 Foxtrot Player Piano Roll 1925Ampico- Music Roll-how Deep Is The Ocean - Irving Berlin -'32 Player Piano RollIncoming Smack-sexy Blaxploitation Funk-flute Fender Rhodes Funky Jazz LibraryFir Wood Leather Black Piano Bench Padded Double Duet Keyboard Seat StorageElectronic Piano Keyboard 61 Key Music Key Board Piano With X Stand Heavy DutyLot Of 5 Qrs Player Piano Rolls, Country WesternVintage Player Piano Word Rolls Qrs Mega Lot #3 19 Excellent Condition Rolls!Schaff Piano Tuning Lever Wrench Hammer W/hardwood Handle Star Tip Duo Art Player Piano Roll 6729 Annees De Pelerinage Sonetto 104 (liszt) Pb ConeWhen That Midnight Choo Choo Leaves For Alabam - Jazz Classics Piano Roll 6611