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 Wurlitzer 200a 200 Ep Piano With Legs, Pedal, In Tune Ready To Go Nr!Roland Vk7 Organ Beautiful Roland Vk-7 PianoLot Of Over 90 Original Aeolian Piano, Pipe Organ Roll. Pre Duo Art. Alesis Q88 88 Key Semi Weighted Usb Midi Keyboard Piano Controller 46251Vtg Casio Vl Tone Sythesiser Keyboard Vl1 80s Piano Retro Boxed Rhodes Eighty-eight Mark Ii Stage Piano (electric, 88, Mkii, Mark 2, Mk2), 19811971 Baldwin Baby Grand PianoYamaha Ypg-235 76-key Portable Grand Piano KeyboardHuge Lot 28 Player Piano Organ Rolls Aeolian Grand Wagner Beethoven Tschaikowski100 Vintage Antique Reclaimed Real Faux Ivory Pcs Piano Key Overlay 1890'sHuge Lot (35) Player Piano Rolls/ Word Rolls - Qrs - Aeolian -2005 Ebony Steinway Model "o" Grand PianoPump Reed Organ Piano Lee Silent Suction Unit Kurzweil Sp 76 Stage Piano, Great Sounds, Great Effects Read DescriptionEnsoniq Asr-10 Professional Advanced Sampling Recorder Piano Keyboard See Descr.Yamaha Dgx-205 Portable Electronic 5+ Octave Grand PianoMason Hamlin Model A Grand PianoCasio Ctk-2100 61 Key Electronic Keyboard Piano Black 400 Tones 150 Rhythms Usb Baldwin Grand Piano -- Model L "artist" Roland Rd-800 88-key Stage PianoKalimba Gourd Percussive Piano Musical Instrument 13" Piano Disc Pds-128plus Player Piano Control UnitPiano Tuning Tools And Repair PartsRadio Shack Midi Electronic Piano Keyboard Musical Instrument Md 992 Org Box Used Casio 61-key Electronic Keyboard / Piano Ctk-520l W/boxKawai Baby Grand Piano - 5'1" - Excellent ConditionYamaha Electric Piano P200 With Bench And Rolling CaseYamaha S80 With Plg150 Pf Piano Plug-in, Custom Oak Side Panels And Ata Case!Yamaha Psr-175 Keyboard Electric PianoAmpico Reproducing Player Piano Roll # 100965Sale Electronic Piano Keyboard 61 Music Key Board Piano And X Stand Heavy Duty Welte Piano Roll: Fantasie, #3 In C MinorBaby Grand Piano J. Becker 5'5 Black 2003Chickering 1/4 Grand PianoFender Rhodes Piano Legs, Crossbraces,sustain Rod,knob And BagFender Rhodes Piano Suitcase LidPiano Tuning Parts And Suppies Piano Wire Piano RepairLot Of 3 Dinner Music, Numbers 7, 8, & 14 - Ampico Piano RollsFlexible Roll Up Electronic Soft Keyboard Piano 49 Keys Hand Music Organ NewCasio 61-key Electronic Keyboard Piano Black Ctk2300 2z88.2 Welte Piano Roll: Reminiscences: Wine, Women And Song; Der Rosenkavalier: WtzYamaha Cp40 Stage Piano 1 Month Old W/factory Warranty & Original PackagingKimball Baby Grand PianoSteinway Grand Piano Authentic Ny Set Shanks Flanges Hammers Super Clean S M L OBaldwin Acrosonic Upright Piano With BenchSamick Upright Piano Js-115 Vertical, Black, Great ConditionC. A. Woods Co. Baby Grand Piano Gold Leaf Finish & Ebony Black Lid 42 Yr OwnerElectronic Piano Keyboard 61 Key Music Key Board Piano With X Stand Heavy DutyQrs Piano Rolls 46 Rolls In Their Boxes Different Titles Mint Welte Piano Roll: Ukelele LadyFour Duo-art Piano Rolls Welte Piano Roll: Sonata Op 10 #3, 3rd MvtImperial #9516 The Tickle Toe E Flat Player Piano Roll Welte Piano Roll: Adelaide Welte Piano Roll: Eroica Variations, Part 2Qrs Player Piano Rolls - Christmas - Set Of 3Replacement Bass Piano StringsKurzweil Sp3x 88-key Stage PianoUpright Ellington Cabinet Grand PianoWurlitzer Upright Piano