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    

*new* Casio Cdp-220rbk Electronic 88 Key Keyboard Piano / Stand And BenchRoland Rd-800 Stage Piano Bundled W/ Dp-10 Damper Pedal*M-audio Keystation Pro 88 88keys Piano Hammer Action KeyboardYamaha P-95 Stage/midi Piano (gator Hard Case Included)Yamaha 76-key Portable Grand Piano Premium Pack - Ypg-235 Vintage 1970's Wurlitzer Model 200 Electric Piano No ReserveWurlitzer Conservatory Grand Piano, 6'1", 25 Years OldFatar Studio 1100 Fully Weighted 88 Key Piano Action Midi Controller36 Qrs Player Piano Rolls For 88 Key Player Piano Good ConditionPiano, "chickering" Baby GrandSteinway And Sons, Antique Grand Piano, Large, Model "c" VideoSteinway Grand PianoBaby Grand Piano And Piano Bench By Wm Knabe 1965 Ebony1930 35 Vintage Lester Baby Grand Piano Philadelphia U.s.a. Real Nice No ReserveAlesis Q Card: Stereo Classical Piano. Soloist SeriesFender Rhodes 88 Suitcase Piano With Speaker, Pedal, Original User Guide, PartsHigh Quality Electronic Piano Keyboard 61 Key Music Key Board Piano InstrumentWolfgang Schluter Combo Peer Intern.library Funk Breaks Fusion Fender RhodesFender Rhodes LogoAntique Steinway Square Grand Piano Built 1870 Carved Rosewood Case On All SidesVintage Multivox Mx-20 Mx 20 Combo Piano Electric Keyboard Duo-art Player Piano Recut Rolls--9 Rolls, 31 SongsYamaha Dgx505 - 88-key Electronic Portable Grand Piano KeyboardSteinway Style Grand Piano. Needs Tuning Local Pick Up Only.Piano M.steinert And SonsKawai K2ge K2-ge Grand Piano Oak Wood Natural Finish Japan 1987Chickering Victorian Concert Grand PianoAlesis Nano Piano Sound ModuleReduced Yamaha Disklavier Ii Baby Grand PianoNew Ampico Piano Rolls 'scheherezade' Rimsky-korzakov 4 Roll SetNew Ampico Piano Roll 'chevy Chase' Novelty Rag!!! Rare!!!Steinway Grand PianoWaltham Baby Grand Piano W/ Bench 1920's Plays And Looks GreatSteinway Style Grand Piano. Needs Tuning Local Pick Up Only.61 Key Electronic Music Keyboard Electric Piano Organ Lcd Display BlackVintage "states" Rag Medley No. 8 Piano Roll Arranged By M. E. Brown 10 SongsPiano Regulating ToolsNew Ampico Piano Roll 'it' De-lovely!' Cole Porter!!! Sherry Brothers!!!Lot Of 20 Qrs Piano Rolls - Famous Hits - 12th Street Rag, I'm Looking Over..Vintage Charles Parker Cast Round Piano Stool Swivel And Height Adjustor ScrewQrs Xmas 2006 Illustrated Collector Piano Roll, Factory Reject Discontinued QrsNew Ampico Piano Roll 'i Got Rhythm!' Gershwin With Arden & Carroll! Fabu!!!15 "qrs" Player Piano Word Rolls Vintage Casio Sk-5 Sampling Keyboard Electronic Piano Synth Manual- Box - Ps!Antique A. Merriam & Co Piano Swivel Stool W/ Needlework Seat South Acton MaNickelodeon Coin Piano Spool Chuck For "a" & "g" Rolls Modern Mfgr, Ragtime Co.New Ampico Piano Roll 'grieg Piano Concerto A Minor' Outstanding 3 RollsetAmpico 4 Popular Fox Trot Roll 216513 Jeremy Lawrence Extended Play Piano RollAlesis 25-key Advanced Usb/midi Keyboard Controller Music Piano Qx25 Chop 4mprz1Steinway Grand Piano Used Brass Pedal Lyre Front Plate With 3 PedalsQrs Player Piano Word Roll Xp-243-b Patsy Cline Medley 4 Songs Hazel InzarRollin Piano 49 Keys Portable Travel Roll Up Piano Keyboard W Box & InstructionsNew Ampico Piano Roll 'blue & Broken Hearted' Hot!!!Technics Piano Sx Pr702-mint ConditionYamaha Upright Piano U1Vintage Antique Reclaimed Real Faux Ivory Piano Key Overlays 33 Pieces Crafts !Lot Of 4 Late 1920's Early '30s Player Piano Rolls - Armand MuthDuo-art Meyer-kahn Crazy Rhythm 0550 Pauline Alpert Reproducing Piano RollRecut Ampico Piano Roll 'an American In Paris' Gershwin 2 Roll Set Fabulous!!!Vintage Ampico / Q.r.s Player Piano Rolls Lot Of 12 Rolls