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 Electric Piano Model 200aAntique Piano Stool Queen Anne Cabriole Legs Scallop Carving 1920's Rustic ChicWurlitzer 200 A Electric Piano KeyboardYamaha Cp70 Grand Piano 73 KeysWurlitzer Electronic Piano Model 200a Avocado Green 200 A1973 Fender Rhodes Piano Bass-silver SparkleYamaha P-120 Electric Piano W/yamaha Pedal Piano Tuning ToolsYamaha Ypg-235 76-key Portable Grand Piano KeyboardRare Old Lot Of Piano Tuning Tools C.h. Lang Hammer 1 Drill Fork Pliers & More Yamaha P200 88 Key Electric Piano61 Key Electric Piano Usb Keyboard With Stand - Silver61 Key Electric Piano Usb Keyboard With Stand - SilverCasio Lk-170 Key Lighting Keyboard 61 Piano Style KeysVintage Wurlitzer 200a Electronic Piano Keyboard Sustain Pedal Nice (original)Huge Lot Of Vintage Rythmodik Piano Rolls - American Piano Co.Huge Lot Of Artempo Piano Player RollsRoland Hp 3000 7+ Octave Electronic Piano Keyboard W Weighted Keys - Pickup OnlyBig Lot Of Vintage Rythmodik Piano Rolls - American Piano Co.Huntington Kb54100 54 Key Led Display Electronic Keyboard Piano 191262 AdeYamaha Electronic Keyboard Professional Full 88 Key Piano Key Board Musical Baby Grand Piano, Cable, American Made 1940's. In Good Working Order.Vintage Fender Rhodes Suitcase Seventy Three Piano Top OnlyFender Rhodes Mk Ii Stage 73 Key Electric Piano! No Reserve!88 Key - Stage Piano - Yamaha P100 - Bench And Fc-4 Sustain Pedal - Rarely Used Lot Of Qrs Piano Rolls-50"s, 60's, 70's Hits-elvis, Beatles, Sinatra, Etc.Casio Ctk-620l Lighted Keys Keyboard 61 Key Electronic Piano With A/c AdapterYamaha Psr-540 61 Key Midi Electronic Piano/keyboard - As Is - See DescriptionYamaha Baby Grand Piano G2 Black1816 John Geib And Son Square Piano Case By Duncan Phyfe Owned By Doris DukeBaby Grand PianoBeautiful Vintage Adjustable Wood Piano Stool With Brass Claw-feetRare!! Vintage Wurlitzer P 100 Tote-a-tune Electric Keyboard PianoYamaha Ypg-225 Portable Grand 76 Key Piano/keyboard Illustrated Duo-art Audiographic Children's Original Piano Roll Fine Condition Vintage Deluxe Reproducing Player Piano Roll, #y-6777, Oh Baby61 Key Electric Piano Usb Keyboard With Stand - SilverMiracle Piano Teaching System Nintendo Nes Keyboard Original Box Baldwin Upright Piano Satin Mahogany Hardtop Piano Bench With Decorative Reeded Legs Duet BenchThe Bunny Hug Rag Original Old Piano Roll Rhodes Keyboard 73 Seventy ThreeYamaha Cp25 Electric Piano KeyboardBaby Grand PianoM Audio Axiom 25 Electric PianoPiano Bench Dual Leather Padded Keyboard Organ Duet Seat Double Throne StorageHuge Lot Of Piano Player RollsDuo-art 6813 Brahms Variations On A Theme Of Paganini Op35 Player Piano RollAdjustable Electronic Piano Music Standard Keyboard Stand Portable Lot Of 12 Qrs Piano Rolls- 60's, 70's Hits-streisand, Sinatra, Others.Lots Of 8 Piano Rolls Blues, Ragtime & Jazz - Melodee, Stark, Us, Kimball,3 Ampico Vintage Piano Rolls Schoenhut 25-key Piano Pals Puppy-themed Youth Bell-tone Piano #235 Used Standard 88 Note Player Piano Rolls.Roamin' Rambler Blues Played By J. Lawrence Cook Original Old Piano Roll Lot Of 10 Assorted Qrs Player Piano Rolls #3'tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do, Played By Thomas Waller Qrs 2270 Piano Roll Grand Piano "wm.knabe&co" 1923 Antique LookYamaha Portable Grand Piano Dgx-220Yamaha Portatone Ypt-400 Electronic Keyboard Piano 61 Keys Pitch Bend