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    

Vintage Rhodes 1978 Bass Keyboard By FenderYamaha D9x230 76 Key Portable Grand Piano Keyboard 188596 AweYamaha Ypg-235 76-key Portable Grand Piano Premium PackNord Electro 3, 61 Key Keyboard Piano/organ/synth Clavia1973 Fender Rhodes Piano Bass-silver Sparkle1800s Upholstered Adjustable Piano Stool Walnut? Victorian Pump Reed Organ SeatKohler & Campbell Polished Ebony Baby Grand PianoYamaha Psr-s950 61-key Arranger Keyboard Workstation PianoHohner Pianet T Portable Electric Piano Vintage 60's 70's (see Video) EpBaby Grand Piano, Ebony Black, No ReserveFender Rhodes AmplifierYamaha 5+ Octave Dgx-202 Portable Grand Electric Piano KeyboardFender Rhodes Mark Ii Stage Piano Seventy-threeYamaha Cp70 Grand Piano 73 KeysTonk Brothers Piano Tuning Kit, John Walker Tuning Fork.1898 Steinway Upright Grand Piano57r. The Complete Catalog Of Ampico Reproducing Piano Rolls - Elaine Obenchain61 Key Electric Piano Usb Keyboard With Stand - SilverSatin Walnut Thick Padded Piano Bench With Straight Legs Storage Kurzweil Sp88 Stage Piano 88 Keys-fully Functional-has Body Damage-come W StandAmpico Grand Player Piano W. Bench And Rolls - Marshall & WendellGrand Piano - 1897 Burled Walnut John Broadwood & SonsVintage Lot Of Piano Repair Parts / Tools / Tool Box. Estate Sale Find, Look Fender Rhodes Cts 12" Speaker - 1974 - 32-ohm - 1377415 _ 008498 Suitcase ModelSatin Walnut Hardtop Piano Bench Lots Of Storage61 Key Electric Piano Usb Keyboard With Stand - Silver61 Key Electric Piano Usb Keyboard With Stand - SilverYamaha Pss-560 Electric Portable Stereo Keyboard Piano W/power Supply & MaunalQrs Word Piano Roll The Wizard Of Oz Medley Xp-217-c 7 Selections - DamagedVintage Playrite Piano Player Roll, #5577, You're The Cream In My CoffeeLot Of 2 Qrs Piano Rolls. White Christmas And The Twelve Days Of Christmas Grand Piano Bluthner 6 Feet 10 Inches Model 4 Serial No. 148897 Black "fats" Thomas Waller Qrs Laughin' Cryin' Blues Original Old Piano Roll Vintage Playrite Piano Player Roll, #5836 Sweepin' The Clouds AwayPlay-rite Player Piano Roll Patsy Clines Greatest HitsAlesis Quadrasynth - Great Shape - With Manual And Grand Piano Sound CardYamaha Portatone Psr 292 Electronic Piano-organ Keyboard Qrs Player Piano Rolls Cel-121 Gershwin & Cel-162 Eddie Duchin And Bonus RollMy Sheet Music Roll Up PianoBrambach Antique Baby Grand Piano - 1920's - Gloss Black Finish88 Key - Stage Piano - Yamaha P100 - Bench And Fc-4 Sustain Pedal - Rarely Used Kohler & Campbell Upright Piano Heirloom Quality Pianos Since 1896 Needs TuningVintage 1971 General Electric "tote-a-tune" Electric Piano - WorkingDuo-art California Here I Come Earl & Leith 19625 Reproducing Player Piano RollDeuces Wild Rag Original Old Connorized Piano Roll Qrs Piano Rolls Lot Of (4)"ro-ro-rollin' Along" - Imperial 07581 Player Piano Roll5 Yamaha Piano Key Lot Upright T6008601 KeychainVintage Playrite Piano Player Roll, #5658, Broadway MelodyMason And Hamlin Model A Piano PerfectFender Rhoads Classic "mark I" Seventy-three PianoGrand Piano Quilted Cover For Baby Grand BlackHohner Cembalet Pluckers Pianet Rhodes WurlitzerDuo-art (new Recut) Was That The Human Thing To Do Suess 0860 Player Piano RollLot Of 24 Player Piano Rolls~universal*imperial*eighty-eight Note*royal Music Piano Keyboard Organ Chords Poster 13x19 - 96 Chords2-ampico Piano Rolls Irish Songs/ Pas Des AmphoresVintage Piano Rolls - Collection / Lot Of 28 All Playable All, Good TitlesPiano Keyboard Chord Chart - 96 Basic Chords - Small Chart"here It Is Monday I've Still Got A Dollar" - Imperial 08176 Player Piano Roll