The early 1900s were the heyday of pianos and piano manufacturing in America. Around 1850, only about 50,000 pianos were manufactured worldwide. By 1900, more than 170,000 pianos were manufactured in the United States and a majority of these were uprights. During the early years of the 20th century, the piano was a primary form of in-home entertainment and many households had at least one competent piano player.
The Automatic Player Piano
The automatic piano or "player piano" was hugely popular during the early 20th century. A player piano is a regular upright piano with a device that allows the piano to play by itself. Most often, the player piano mechanism is pumped by a foot pedal. A sheet of paper with punched holes is inserted into the mechanism, which determines what notes are played. Some notable manufacturers of player pianos include Peerless Player, Aeolian Inc. and the Universal Music Company.
The upright piano of the early 1900s was a more ornately designed instrument than most upright pianos now manufactured, yet somewhat less than the Victorian era pianos. The Victorian era upright piano often had lavish rococo designs and was most often purchased by the wealthy. The uprights manufactured immediately after the Victorian era were much less ornate yet more attention was paid to craftsmanship and durability. They could also be purchased easily by the emerging middle class.
Shortly after the Depression, piano manufacturing nearly halted and piano manufactures needed to produce a smaller and cheaper piano. The result was the upright spinet. The spinet also had a practical function. It could fit into a small apartment, where more Americans lived after the Depression. The first spinet piano was manufactured in 1935 by the Haddorff Piano Company of Rockford, Illinois, and the Baldwin company soon became a leading manufacturer. The upright spinet piano should not be confused the the medieval and Renaissance spinet, a type of harpsichord from which the spinet piano derives its name.
Nicolas Arteaga has been working as a freelance writer since 2008. He writes articles about music education for "Musopen" and "Music Teachers Helper." Currently, Arteaga teaches and performs piano throughout northern California. He has studied music theory at the Guildhall School of Music.