According to Orange Coast Piano, the first American-made piano was created by John Behrent in 1775 in Philadelphia. It was just before a boom period of piano production around the world, and American-made pianos played a major role in that growth well into the 1900s. Several major American companies rose during this time. Four of them were Chickering, Mason & Hamlin, Steinway and Knabe.
Started in 1823 by Jonas Chickering in Boston, Massachusetts, the Chickering company advanced piano technology by forging a single piece of cast-ironed plating to enhance the string tension of grand pianos. In 1851, Chickering pianos got the highest honors at the first International Exposition in London. One year after the exposition, Chickering made his three sons, Thomas, Frank and George partners in the family piano firm. In 1867, after the Paris Exposition, Emperor Napoleon III of France gave Frank Chickering the Legion of Honor award. Chickering pianos were highly regarded for its deep, powerful tones, particularly with the bass keys.
Mason & Hamlin
Henry Mason and Emmons Hamlin launched the Mason & Hamlin company in 1854 in Boston, Massachusetts. The firm started off with the production of reed organs in 1854, but gained notoriety when Mason & Hamlin began producing cabinet organs in 1861. Mason & Hamlin began creating pianos in 1881. According to the company website, the Mason & Hamlin artistry got endorsements from virtuosos like Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Revel and Harold Bauer. In 1909, Bauer told "Etude" magazine Mason & Hamlin pianos "represent the most perfect example of the piano maker’s art. They are the most supremely beautiful instruments that I know.”
Steinway was launched in 1853 in New York City by Henry Steinway. Steinway and his five sons went on to change the production method and the overall design of pianos. In 1855, they gained world prestige with a square piano design that debuted at the World's Fair. In 1859, the company got a patent for cross-stringing grand pianos. The Steinways insisted on making pianos one at a time, a practice the company still claims to follow as of 2011.
German immigrant William Knabe and partner Henry Gaehle launched a piano company in 1837 in Baltimore, Maryland. Knabe bought Gaehle out in 1854 and renamed the firm Wm. Knabe & Co. Knabe pianos were popular in the South, so the company took a downturn during the Civil War (1861-1865). Knabe himself died in 1864, which further threatened the company. His son Ernest saved it by marketing it to the northern states. Knabe's became known as a singer's piano because of its subtle tones. They also drew praise by famous pianists like Camilla Saint-Saens.
- piano image by Sergey Goruppa from Fotolia.com