Chickering and Sons Piano Company - History


A Short Essay on Chickering and Sons Piano Company - An Original and Important Piano Manufacturer Who Helped Shape the Piano Industry in the United States

I have serviced numerous Chickering and Sons pianos over the years. As is the case with many older original piano brands that I have seen, some were in a state of disrepair and others were better maintained and produced quite a lovely tone. Chickerings usually have a full tone in the bass register but somewhat less powerful in the tenor and treble as compared to other the brands; i.e. Mason & Hamlin, Steinway. They can be excellent instruments for the beginner, intermediate and advanced players.

One of the visible differences between Chickerings and Steinway or Mason & Hamlinís is the cast metal plate and rim which is of a somewhat lighter design. Lighter tone or structure is not the same as saying that Chickerings were inferior. They werenít. They were just designed and built with a different intention. In the United States, the late 19th Century was the Golden Age of the Music Industry. During the 1890's, the music business was one of the top industries in America. It consisted of at least 2 - 300 piano makers, over 100 reed organ companies, several hundred musical instrument makers, (such as brass instruments) and printed music publishing firms.

The piano industry was because of its size, one of national importance. For example, President Grover Cleveland was the featured speaker at the opening ceremony for the Chickering Piano Company Factory in Boston in 1887. The factory was over 200,000 square feet and called a "marvel" by the President. Other piano manufacturers of that era include Knabe Pianoforte Company, Hazelton Piano, Steck Piano, Decker Brothers Piano Company, Mehlin Piano, Behr Brothers Piano, Strauch, Haines, Schuber, Victor Fletcher Piano, etc. Included in that group were Steinway and Kimball piano companies who were the only two manufacturers to survive to date.

One of the key developments that enabled companies like Chickering Piano Company to flourish during the late 19th century, were manufacturing improvements that had been instituted earlier in the century. The machine tool made it possible to precisely grind and shape metal parts. This led to interchangeable manufacturing parts, which by the 80's all the piano companies embraced. The assembly line came next and by then broader production and output became standard along with lower prices. In 1885, a medium quality upright cost under $500. By the mid 1890's, the price dropped in half.

Of all the piano companies, Chickering & Sons was the most closely connected to the founders of the piano industry in the U.S. The Chickering family business started out with Jonas Chickering who apprenticed with the early piano maker, John Osborn until 1823. Then he set out to build his own pianos. Jonas Chickering partnered with John MacKay. MaKay was a more of a businessman than a piano builder - craftsman. MacKay successfully marketed Chickering pianos until the early 1840's.

Chickering had three sons who he had educated in the business and craft of piano building. Jonas partnered with his sons, Frank, George and Thomas in 1852 which is when they then renamed their business to Chickering and Sons Piano Company. Jonas Chickering improved upon and patented the design of the Full Iron Plate in 1837. His oldest son Thomas Chickering helped lead the firm until 1871 until he died. Frank Chickering helped his father out at the 1851 Worlds Fair in London. Frank Chickering recognized the importance of New York City as a center of commerce and arts and opened facilities there. In addition, he built and opened "Chickering Hall". Chickering Pianos were always awarded top honors, wherever they were exhibited.

George, the youngest brother ran the Chickering Factory until his death at the end of the century. Chickering Piano Company was one of chief rivals of the Steinway Piano Company. By 1895, Steinway had well overshadowed Chickering in sales and reputation. Chickering and Sons was eventually taken over by American Piano Company. A large number of Chickering and Sons pianos remain in peopleís homes throughout the U.S. to this day, especially in the northeast.

Eben Goresko is a Classical, Ragtime and Stride Pianist. Eben studied classical piano at Temple University as a Piano Performance Major and has studied Jazz Piano with several notable Jazz Musicians. He also has extensive experience tuning and servicing pianos and has been qualified for over 25 years as a Registered Piano Technician of The Piano Technicians Guild.
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