Knabe Grand Piano History Essay

 William Knabe Piano Institute

William Knabe: Founding of a Legacy

A few years into his cabinetry training, Knabe found an apprenticeship with the piano maker Langenhahn in the town of Goth, Germany.  As he learned the trade, he soon became recognized in many of the principal towns of Germany as an excellent piano maker.  Knabe’s reputation, coupled with the continued rise of the piano’s importance in nineteenth-century Germany, should have resulted in a stable and successful career in the German piano industry.  But, as often happens in life and fiction, William Knabe fell in love, and that changed everything. The year was 1831—Knabe was now 28 years old—and the young lady’s name was Christina Ritz.
To America With Love

Dr. Ernest Ritz, the well-to-do patriarch of the Ritz family, accepted William Knabe into the fold and agreed to the impending marriage. However, the family was on the brink of a decision to immigrate to the New World. Christina’s brother had established himself as a farmer in Hermann, Missouri, and the family was anxious to hear whether life in the New World was worth the voyage.  Considering that a Russian cholera epidemic had arrived in Germany in 1831, the Ritz family must have been overjoyed when they received good reports from Missouri. The matter was settled—the family would be moving from Germany to Missouri, and William Knabe was invited to join them.  The wedding could wait until they arrived in America.
William Knabe and Christina Ritz married in Baltimore that year, and the new couple set about seeking to establish themselves financially as they settled into the American way of life.  Knabe must have been excited to discover that Baltimore was home to a growing piano-building industry.  Rather than seeking to earn a living in the newly intended field of agriculture, Knabe took an American apprenticeship in the field he was best at, and he began working for piano builder Henry Hartge for five dollars per week (Hartge was also an immigrant from Germany and 
As the business grew, the company had to move to larger locations more than once.  In 1841, the company moved to the corner of Liberty and German Streets (where the Baltimore arena is now located), then to Eutaw and Cowpen Alley in 1843 (current location of the Hippodrome Theater), after which the company rented warehouses in 1847 on North Eutaw, and finally the adding of facilities on Baltimore Street near Paca in 1851.  The Knabe and Gaehle Company’s success was undeniable, but fires at its facilities in 1854 challenged its continued growth.
On November 5, 1854, the Knabe and Gaehle facility on Eutaw street was destroyed in a fire that collapsed the walls of their building and nearly cost the lives of the firemen fighting the blaze.  And on December 9 of the same year, the Knabe and Gaehle facilities on Baltimore Street went up in smoke.  The company’s insurance coverage was minimal and the loss was great.  The stress may have contributed to Gaehle’s death in 1855, but William Knabe was determined to recover.  He bought out Gaehle’s share of the company and continued on as William Knabe & Company, and he relocated to new facilities at an old paper mill on West and China streets. In a push to move forward, he competed for and was awarded a gold medal by the Maryland Institute during that same year (for having the best piano exhibited at its fair).  
Through Fire and War

For William Knabe, the fires of 1854 were a tremendous challenge, but perhaps the greatest challenge of his career began in 1861, the year after he started construction of his newest facility.  On April 12 of that year, the first shots of the Civil War were fired, and within a short period, almost all of Knabe’s customer base (mainly in the South) dried up.  The company did what it could to survive, but it may have been too much for William Knabe.  He passed away on May 21st, 1864, nearly a year before the Civil War ended, and control of the company passed to his sons.  Knabe’s death did not go unnoticed.  One obituary called him a “well-known and much esteemed citizen” (Chronicles of Baltimore, pg. 629).  Brantz Mayer, author of Baltimore: Past and Present, commented about William Knabe’s character:

Next Generations: Transforming America

After their father’s death in 1864, William Knabe’s sons Ernest (1837-94) and William II (1841-89) (and later his son-in-law Charles Keidel) assumed control of William Knabe & Company.  Having received a first-class education, and having been trained by their father in the intricacies of piano building, the Knabe sons were well-equipped to oversee every aspect of the business.  William, the more reserved of the two, took the role of managing the factories, while Ernest became the official head and representative of the company.  With the Civil War having ravaged their clientele in the South, Ernest’s first order of business was to discover new markets and keep the Knabe Company from failing.  He decided to travel through the northern and western states in order to establish new agencies for the sale of Knabe pianos. 
In preparation for his trip, Ernest visited the Knabe Company’s bank to request $20,000 in operating funds.  The end of the Civil War was a difficult time for most, and such a request would certainly have strained the Baltimore city bank.  When asked about collateral available for the loan, Ernest could offer “nothing but the name of Knabe,” and his request was declined.  When asked what he’d be able to do without the loan, Ernest told the bank officer, "I shall go down to my factory and tell my employees that I am compelled to discharge them all because your bank refused a loan to which I am entitled." (Dolge, 329)

Considering the importance the Knabe Company to Baltimore, such a scenario would have been a major blow to the city. Ernest picked up his hat and left the bank to return to the factory.  As he entered the building and started to his office, a messenger from the bank arrived with a letter from the bank’s president.  Ernest, surprised, opened and read that the Knabe Company had been approved for the requested loan.

Ernest proceeded with his 1864 trip, and it was a great success. In two short months, he had made the connections he needed to place William Knabe and Company firmly back on its feet, including establishment of an agency in New York City.  As the firm grew and flourished, he later opened offices in Washington, D.C. and built additional factory space.  William Knabe and Company grew from a regional name to a national one.  With requests for pianos made in the next few decades from European buyers and from the government of Japan, Ernest’s tenure saw the Knabe name reaching through three continents.
William Knabe's Grandsons

It was quite tragic for the Knabe family when William Knabe II died in 1889 at the young age of 47. Ernest Knabe followed in 1894 and his sons, Ernest J. Knabe Jr. (1869-1927) and William Knabe III (1871-1939) became president and vice-president, respectively, of the firm.  And in 1908, they led the Knabe Company to join with other brands under the auspices of the American Piano Company, of which Ernest was elected president and William III vice-president.  The arrangement, however, did not work out quite the way that Knabe brothers liked, and they withdrew from the firm in 1909.  Although the Knabe family was no longer involved, the American Piano Company continued to produce pianos in the William Knabe Piano Company name and tradition.  The Knabe name continued to be respected throughout the United States and the world for many years.
Developing Classical Music in America

Undeniably, the Knabe family had a positive economic impact on Maryland and surrounding states, as well as a significant role in the development of the musical instrument industry in American.  But it is less known that the Knabe family had a transformative effect on the quality of music in America through their support of great artists.  The Knabes’ positive influence on American classical music manifested in many ways, including their sponsorships of von Bülow, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, Rubinstein, and others.
The German Maestro

Hans von Bülow (1830-94), who was first a student of Clara Schumann’s father (Friederich Wieck) and later of Franz Liszt, came to America in 1889 for a second American concert tour.  His first American tour (1876-77) was sponsored in part by Frank Chickering (Chickering Pianos) and was generally considered to be less successful than his second tour.[2] Ernest Knabe sponsored von Bülow’s second tour and provided pianos for his concerts (he performed over a hundred times!) which took place in multiple cities.  In Boston (April 1889) von Bülow performed all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas over two days. Just how important was von Bülow was to the American audience?  One reviewer put it this way:
Knabe's Grandsons as Concert Managers
Also in 1906, the Knabe brothers sponsored the first North American tour of a pianist who was not well-known at the time, but who would later become one of America’s best-loved musicians.  The Knabe-sponsored tour included 40 concerts spread over three months, the first of which took place at Carnegie Hall on January 8, 1906.  The chosen debut piece was the Saint-Saëns G Minor Piano Concerto, and the soloist at the Knabe concert grand piano was none other than the young Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982).  Although Rubinstein did not become the big Knabe piano supporter that Saint-Saëns became, he developed a warm personal relationship with the Knabe brothers, particularly William Knabe III, and he was fully aware of the contribution that the Knabes made to his career.  About his New York debut, Rubinstein wrote:
[1] Brantz Mayer (Baltimore: Past and Present) and the British Parliament’s 1877 Reports from Commissioners list William Knabe as having been born in the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar, which would have placed him at modern-day Creuzberg.  This location makes sense since he apprenticed in Gotha and later lived in Meiningen, which are all within vicinity of each other.  Robert Palmieri (The Piano: An Encyclopedia) gives Knabe’s birthplace as modern-day Kluczbork, Poland (previously Kreuzberg, Germany).  This is unlikely since this city was part of the Prussian Empire and not Saxe-Weimar.
[2] Arthur Loesser, 534
[3] The Musical Courier, April 19. Quoted in Alan Walker’s Hans von Bülow: A Life and Times, 409.
​[4] The Life and Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, 654.
[5] Rollin Smith, 285.
​[6] Havey Sachs, 87.

The son of a pharmacist, William Knabe (1803-1864) was born on June 3, 1803 in the little German town of Kreuzberg (now Creuzberg). [1]  With Johann Sebastian Bach having been born over a century before in Eisenach, not far from Knabe’s birthplace, the region of Knabe’s birth was rich with music history.  But unlike Bach, the original family plan for young Knabe was not musical—his father had originally planned to train him in the family profession of apothecary (similar to modern pharmacy). But Napoleon’s invasion of Germany devastated the Knabe family’s fortunes and put to rest any thought of paying for the required University training.  Young William Knabe looked for other options and came across the idea of training to be a cabinet maker.  It was a far cry from his intended field, but William Knabe became good at it, and he used his developing skills to step into a new purpose in the world of music: piano building.
Love-struck young William Knabe the piano maker undertook the voyage across the Atlantic with the intention of becoming become William Knabe the farmer, but the difficulty of the voyage ended up changing his plans.  Tragedy struck when Knabe’s father in law-to-be, Dr. Ritz, became seriously ill and died during the voyage.  The absence of the patriarch who led the Ritz family migration must have been a serious blow to their morale. When they arrived at the port of Baltimore in 1833, William Knabe and the Ritz family could not bring themselves to continue the difficult journey to Missouri, and a decision was made to remain in Baltimore, at least for a year.  Perhaps it would be best, they thought, to acclimate to the language and culture of America first before moving west.
Baltimore Harbor from Federal Hill, c. 1830.
William Knabe's Original Factory
 inventor of the piano’s iron-plated pin block). Hartge recognized Knabe’s skill and dedication and soon raised him to eight dollars per week.  As fate would have it, Knabe’s success as a piano builder overshadowed his family’s intended move to farm life in Missouri.  Knabe ended up remaining with Hartge for four years, during which time he saved up a significant amount of money.  Rather than moving on to Missouri, he decided to use his savings to establish his own business in Baltimore. Knabe sold his remaining farm equipment and purchased an old frame building on the corner of Lexington and Liberty Streets out of which he could service and rebuild pianos. The year was 1837, and the Knabe Piano Company was born.
After its humble beginnings, the Knabe piano business took a bold step in 1839 with the decision to begin building new instruments.  Additional equipment and capital was needed, and for that, William Knabe formed a partnership with piano builder Henry Gaehle.  The firm was renamed “Knabe and Gaehle,” and their pianos soon earned wide respect.  Perhaps the most famous instrument built by the firm from this time is an elaborate square piano commissioned by Francis Scott Key (author of America’s National Anthem) and built in 1840.  Francis Scott Key enjoyed the piano for a few years before his death in 1843—it may now be seen on display in The Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Knabe and Gaehle Square Piano (1840) owned by Francis Scott Key
Knabe Factory (Lithograph from 1873).
More awards would follow, which helped contribute to a continued need for expansion, and in 1861 he commenced construction of the final Knabe Piano Factory building at the corner of Eutaw and West streets (where the M&T Bank Stadium is now located).  The completed factory, a large building that was a commanding presence in South Baltimore, was finished in 1869 with a cupola (now on display at the Baltimore Museum of Industry) that could be seen for miles in every direction.  “One of the largest and best” (Mayer, 351) piano factories in the United States, the Knabe building became a Baltimore landmark which could not be missed by travelers entering the city by train through the nearby Baltimore and Ohio Railroad depot.
[Knabe pursued his occupation] with unflinching energy and resolution. He bore his reverses with equanimity, continued faithful to his engagements under all circumstances, and in the face of disaster and impending ruin, maintained a cheerfulness and decision of character, worthy of imitation as well as praise” (pg. 498).

A man made great by his character and contributions, William Knabe was sorely missed.  But his legacy lived on.
Hundreds of pianists if asked this week, “Who is your teacher?” may truthfully respond, “Dr. Hans von Bülow.”[3]

During the tour, von Bülow performed in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. at the end of March, 1890.
Tchaikovsky at Carnegie Hall

Perhaps the best-known Knabe-sponsored event took place the following year, during which Ernest Knabe brought Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-93) to America.  The primary occasion was the opening of Carnegie Hall on May 5, 1891, for which Tchaikovsky conducted.  But Knabe also made arrangements for Tchaikovsky to visit Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  Tchaikovsky directed a concert at the old Lyceum Theater on North Charles Street in Baltimore on May 15, 1891, featuring his Serenade for Strings and his first piano concerto (the pianist was the esteemed Adele aus der Ohe).  He commented positively about the city and about Ernest Knabe, a “beardless giant” whose “hospitality is on the same colossal scale as his figure.”[4]  But despite his positive view of Baltimore, Tchaikovsky was relieved to share his art in Washington the following day, where he could once again communicate in in his native tongue while at the Russian the embassy.  His trio and a quartet by Brahms were performed there. 
Tchaikovsky’s final American appearance was in Philadelphia on May 18th, where he conducted the same program that he had in Baltimore.  Before boarding the ship for his return him, Ernest Knabe presented Tchaikovsky with a small model of the Statue of Liberty (Tchaikovsky wondered how he’d get the symbol of American freedom past the Tsarist Russian border guards!).  When he arrived back to his home near Moscow, a Knabe square piano, courtesy of the Knabe Piano Company, was waiting for him.
The early twentieth century saw a continued push toward excellence in American Music through the efforts of the Knabe family’s third generation.  The Knabe brothers paid considerable expense to sponsor American performances in 1906 by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921).  Best known today for his composition The Carnival of the Animals, Saint-Saëns became an avid supporter of the Knabe piano, having written in a November, 1906 testimonial:
I simply have the highest opinion of them (Knabe pianos). The ease and evenness of the action, the limpidity and charm of the tone, above all, that rare quality possessed to sustain tone and sing like a human voice, as well as the varieties of the tone color met with, all combine in making the most magnificent and delightful instrument which it is my good fortune to play upon.[5]
My first concert was a triumph! I was called out for perhaps 12 bows, I have 2 encores, and the audience gave me an ovation. . . . [William] Kabe is delighted, he adores me, I think, as he is so kind to me.[6]

Like Tchaikovsky before him, Rubinstein also performed in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.  His Baltimore debut took place at the Knabe home, where Rubinstein performed with the celebrated soprano Johanna Gadski (1870-1932) and then enjoyed the famous Knabe hospitality at a large 200-person reception held in his honor.  Because the Knabe Company was more deeply involved in concert management during the first decade of the twentieth century, Rubinstein was scheduled to perform in additional cities, including Chicago, Boston, Cincinnati, Providence, and more.
After the Knabe Family

Within two years, the absorption of the Knabe Piano Company by the American Piano Company changed and ultimately reduced the Knabe brothers’ sphere of influence.  But the Knabe legacy lived on. In later years, Knabe became the official piano of the Metropolitan Opera; a favorite piano of Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, and Lyndon Johnson; and the favorite piano of famous figures like Albert Einstein and Elvis Presley.  Today, evidence of Knabe’s important past can be seen at the M&T Stadium (home of the Baltimore Ravens), where a piano mosaic at the Southewest end of the stadium commemorates the Knabe legacy.
Piano Mosaic in memory of Knabe (southwest end of the Baltimore Raven's stadium)

Wm. Knabe & Co. was a piano manufacturing company in Baltimore, Maryland from the middle of the nineteenth century through the beginning of the 20th century, and continued as a division of Aeolian-American at East Rochester, New York until 1982. It is currently a line of pianos manufactured by Samick Musical Instruments.


Wilhelm Knabe was born in Creuzburg, Saxe-Weimar, on June 3, 1803. The French campaigns in Germany in 1813 prevented him from studying to become an apothecary like his father, and instead he apprenticed with a cabinet maker, after which he worked two years as a journeyman cabinet maker, then for three years for a piano maker in Gotha, before working as a journeyman piano maker in different cities in Germany.

In 1831 Knabe accompanied his fiancée's family when they emigrated from Saxe-Meiningen to the United States, but the head of the family died during the voyage and Knabe and his bride remained in Baltimore instead of continuing to Hermann, Missouri, where a brother had settled several years earlier. Knabe worked for the well-known pianomaker Henry Hartge, and eventually abandoned his plans to become a farmer. Four years later he started selling and repairing used pianos from his house at the corner of Liberty and Lexington Streets.

Knabe & Gaehle[edit]

In 1839, Knabe formed a partnership with Henry Gaehle for the purpose of manufacturing pianos and by 1841 they moved to larger workshops at 13 South Liberty street.[1] In 1843 they opened warerooms at the corner of Eutaw street and Cowpen alley, and four years later removed their warerooms to 9 Eutaw street, opposite the Eutaw house, selling pianos priced between $180 and $400.[2] By 1852 they had expanded to 4, 6, 8, 9 and 11 Eutaw streets.[3] Knabe & Gaehle won first premiums for square pianos from the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of Mechanic Arts in 1848, 1849 and 1850, as well as for grand pianos in 1849.

In 1852, the company reorganized as Knabe, Gaehle & Co. with the admission of Edward Betts as partner,[4] and by 1853 advertised their establishment was the largest in the South, employing over 100 workmen.[5] They manufactured six to seven octave pianos with "a double action, like Chickering's" selling for between $200 and $500.[6]

In November 1854, their factory at Cowpen alley at the rear of Eutaw House burned, at an estimated loss of $190,000,[7] and five weeks later their factory at Baltimore street near Paca Street burned,[8] reportedly with little insurance coverage.

Wm. Knabe & Co.[edit]

Proceedings started early 1855 in order to dissolve the partnership.[9] Henry Gaehle died, and Knabe advertised he had purchased all the remaining stock and materials and would continue in business as Wm. Knabe & Co. at the old stand at 1, 3, 5, and 7 North Eutaw street, opposite the Eutaw house.[10] William Gaehle, who had become the senior partner, advertised he was in business as Wm. Gaehle & Co., manufacturing grand and square pianos at the corner of Pratt and Green streets and with warerooms at the corner of Eutaw and Fayette streets.[11]

Knabe purchased a former paper mill at the corner of West and China streets for a new factory, and by 1859 had established warerooms at 207 Baltimore street.[12] He won gold medals for square pianos from the Maryland Institute in 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858[13] silver medals from the Metropolitan Institute in Washington, D. C. in 1857, a medal from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 1856, and first premiums from the Mechanics' Institute, Richmond, Virginia in 1855 and 1856.[14]

In 1860, Knabe started building a new five story factory on Eutaw and West streets, but had only completed one of its wings at the outbreak of the American Civil War, which compelled them to seek new trade in the West to make up for the loss of their principal market in the South.[15] William Knabe died May 21, 1864, and was succeeded by his sons William and Ernest J. Knabe , and son-in-law Charles Keidel.

In 1866, Wm Knabe & Co. introduced their agraffe treble with agraffes threaded into a heavier piece of brass instead of directly into the iron frame.[16]

By 1866 they employed about 230 workmen and manufactured about a thousand pianos a year,[17] including uprights as well as squares and grands, producing as many as thirty pianos a week. The factory was equipped with a 30 horsepower (22 kW) steam engine, as well as steam powered elevators and drying rooms, and had been augmented with a second 40-foot (12 m) wide building where grand cases, sounding boards, and actions were manufactured and cases varnished and iron frames gilded.[18] Further additions and a cupola completed the factory in 1869, fronting 210 feet (64 m) on Eutaw street and 165 feet (50 m) on West street.[19] Their sales ranked third in the United States, after Steinway & Sons of New York and Chickering & Sons of Boston,[20] and by 1870 their output was estimated to be about forty pianos a week, priced between $600 and $2,000.[21]

In 1873, Wm. Knabe & Co. established their own warerooms at 112 Fifth Avenue in New York. They exhibited grand, square, and upright pianos as well as a Tschudi & Broadwood harpsichord at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia,[22] and due to the revised awards system they claimed highest honors along with many of their coexhibitors.[23] In 1882 they delivered a rosewood concert grand to the White House for President Chester A. Arthur.[24]

William Knabe, jr., died in 1889.[25] The company was incorporated with a capital stock of $1,000,000 the same year, with Ernest J. Knabe as president.

Ernest J. Knabe died in 1894[26] and was succeed by his sons, both of whom had trained at the factory. Ernest J. Knabe, jr. was elected president and William Knabe, vice president and treasurer.[27]

Wm. Knabe & Co. established agencies in Canada and England by 1903, and mortgaged the factory for the purpose of extending the business further.[28] By 1906 the factory occupied seven buildings with the original buildings extensively expanded, with a total of about 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2) of carefully planned floor space[29] and 765 employees. Although the plant included modern appliances such as individually powered machines and a dust collection system connected with the boiler, Knabe advertised their standards required their pianos to be carefully handcrafted, so that a plain upright took six months and a grand two years to complete.[30]

American Piano Co.[edit]

Main article: American Piano Company

In 1908, Wm. Knabe & Co., with Chickering & Sons and the Foster-Armstrong Co., of East Rochester, New York, formed the American Piano Co. under the laws of New Jersey, headed by Ernst J. Knabe, Jr., president, and C. H. W. Foster of Chickering & Sons, and George G. Foster, of Foster-Armstrong, controlling their respective companies as well as Haines Brothers, Marshall & Wendell, Brewster, and J. B. Cook & Co. with a combined output of about 18,000 pianos a year.[31]

Knabe Brothers[edit]

Ernest and William Knabe resigned their positions in 1909, and following a series of business troubles in New York[32] they incorporated Knabe Brothers in Ohio in 1911, with offices at Cincinnati,[33] manufacturing upright and grand pianos at a former Smith and Nixon factory in nearby Norwood,[34] "free from the yoke of a commercialism that figured out pianos by square inches of wood and decimal points in the allotment of wires".[35] American Piano Co. filed suit over the use of the name but the resulting injunction only prevented Knabe Brothers from using their original nameboard label, and required the brothers to indicate this was a new company.[36] The plant burned in January 1912,[37] but they quickly resumed production at a temporary factory[38] before building a modern factory on the old site. The company went into receivership late in 1916 on account of an unpaid loan,[39] and the brothers declared bankruptcy by the end of the year.[40]

Ernest J. Knabe died in 1927,[41] and William Knabe died 1939.[42]


In 1927 Wm. Knabe & Co. removed their New York warerooms from 437 Fifth avenue at 39th street to 657 Fifth avenue, corner of 52nd Street,[43] and in 1928 moved to Ampico Tower at Fifth avenue and 47th street as part of American Piano Co.'s move to consolidate the sales of all their brands[44] in an unsuccessful attempt to make up for a sharp decline in profits. American went into receivership in 1929, and Knabe's liabilities were listed as $286,000 and assets $415,000.[45]

In 1930 American's assets were purchased by the American Piano Corporation, newly incorporated under the laws of Delaware, whose officers included former executives from American as well as executives from the Aeolian Corporation.[46] The Knabe factory was closed, as well as the Chickering factory in Boston, and their production ultimately transferred to East Rochester, New York, where they were established as separate divisions. The old factories, including Mason & Hamlin in Boston and the Amphion in Syracuse, New York, were put on the market.[47]

In the late 20th Century, the abandoned Baltimore Knabe factory at Eutaw and West streets was razed to make way for the Baltimore Ravens' football stadium. A sidewalk keyboard mosaic on the southwest corner of the stadium honors the Knabe legacy. The cupola that was located atop the factory now stands on the grounds of the Baltimore Museum of Industry.[48][49]


In 1932 the American Piano Corp. merged with the Aeolian Company, Aeolian-Weber's piano subsidiary, to form the Aeolian American Corporation which consolidated the control of more than 20 piano brands,[50] as well as action manufacturing and plate casting divisions.[51] In 1936 it ranked as the fourth largest producer in the country, after Kimball, Baldwin and Winter & Co.[52]

Berthold Neuer, who had been vice president and general mangager from 1927[53] died in 1938,[54] and his successor Richard K. Paynter died in 1940[55]

In 1942, the East Rochester factories were contracted to manufacture military aircraft parts, keeping the plants and personnel in operation,[56] but by late 1949 piano production returned to full capacity.[57] The Aeolian Company and the American Piano Corporation recapitalized and merged with the Aeolian-American Corporation in 1951,[58] and in 1957 was purchased by the owners of Winter & Co., based in Bronx, New York.[59]

By 1981, the combined divisions at the East Rochester factory employed about 300,[60] and it closed the following year.[61]

Sohmer & Co.[edit]

Main article: Sohmer & Co.

In 1985, Sohmer & Co. purchased the Knabe and Mason & Hamlin trademarks and their patterns and equipment from Citicorp Industrial Credit Co., Aeolian's principal creditors. Sohmer & Co. had planned to resume production of the existing models from both divisions but was itself sold and the companies reorganized with Sohmer and Knabe as subsidiaries of Mason & Hamlin.[62]

Knabe admirers[edit]


Wm. Knabe & Co. pianos are manufactured by Samick Musical Instruments, Ltd., which acquired the name from PianoDisc, owners of Mason & Hamlin, in 2001.[63]

As of 2007, Knabes are offered in three sizes of vertical pianos – a 119 cm (47 inches) in three furniture case styles, as well as 121 cm (48 inches) and 131 cm (52 inches) models – and four sizes of grand pianos – three case styles each of 158 cm (5 feet 3 inches) the WKG53, 173 cm (5 feet 8 inches) the WKG58, 193 cm (6 feet 4 inches) the WKG64, and 215 cm (7 ft) WKG70 models.

In early 2006, Samick Music Corporation, distributor for Samick in the United States and Canada announced they had started building a 210,000-square-foot (20,000 m2) distribution center and factory in Gallatin, Tennessee where they plan to manufacture Knabe as well as J. P. Pramberger lines beginning late 2006 or early 2007.[64]

The famed, Elvis White Piano is being auctioned on eBay August 10th - 20th.[65]


  • "William Knabe" Baltimore: Past and present, with Biographical Sketches of its Representative Men. Richardson & Bennett, Baltimore, 1871. p. 349–352
  1. ^The Baltimore Directory for 1845, John Murphy, Baltimore, 1845 p.80
  2. ^advertisement Matchetts Baltimore Director, for 1847–'8 R. J. Matchett, Baltimore. 1847 p.448.
  3. ^advertisement Baltimore Wholesale Business Directory and Business Circular, for the Year 1852 I. Hartman, Baltimore, 1852 p.21
  4. ^advertisement Adams Sentinel and General Advertiser Gettysburg, Pennsylvania March 29, 1852
  5. ^advertisement Baltimore Wholesale Business Directory and Business Circular, for the Year 1853 I. Hartman, Baltimore, 1853 p.28
  6. ^advertisement (Erie Music Store) The Erie Observer Erie, Pennsylvania, March 11, 1854 p.4 (issued November 12, 1853)
  7. ^David A. Dana The Fireman: The Fire Departments of the United States, with a Full Account of All Large Fires James French and Company, Boston. 1858 p.254; the stock alone was valued at $60,000 – "Large Fire in Baltimore" New York Times November 6, 1854 p.4
  8. ^J. Thomas Scharf The Chronicles of Baltimore; being a Complete History of "Baltimore Town" and Baltimore City from the Earliest Period to the Present Time Turnbull Brothers, Baltimore 1874 p.547
  9. ^William Knabe vs. Henry Gaehle and Edward Betts. Dissolution of Knabe, Gaehle & Co. C17 Baltimore City Superior Court (Chancery Papers) MSA C168; Accession No. 40,200-5143-1/14, MSA No. C168-747 Location: 2/16/6/14. January 17, 1855
    William Gaehle vs. William Knabe, Edward Betts, and Western Bank of Baltimore. Dissolution of Knabe, Gaehle & Co. C30 Baltimore City Superior Court (Chancery Papers) MSA C168; Accession No. 40,200-5371 MSA No. C168-978 Location: 2/16/6/32 August 31, 1857
  10. ^advertisement Woods' Baltimore Directory, for 1856–'57 John W. Woods, Baltimore p.179
  11. ^advertisement Wood's Baltimore Directory 1856, p.119
  12. ^advertisement Philadelphia Press, Mar. 21, 1859
  13. ^"Pianos! Pianos!" The Republican Compiler Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, January 18, 1859 p.2; reportedly Knabe only had seven weeks after the dissolution of Knabe, Gaehle & Co. to prepare his piano for the fair in 1855
  14. ^advertisement The Republican Compiler April 18, 1859 p.3
  15. ^Spillane p.133; James W. Sheahan and George P. Upton The Great Conflagration. Chicago: Its Past, Present and Future. Union Publishing Co., Chicago. p.354; Julius Bauer & Co. acted as Knabe's Northwestern agent as well as their New York agent from 1862 until 1873
  16. ^William Nordhoff "Improvement in Pianos" United States Patent no. 57,257 April 14, 1866
  17. ^James Parton "The Piano in the United States" The Atlantic monthly vol.20 no.117 p.93
  18. ^"The Piano Forte Manufactory of Knabe & Co., Baltimore" Debow's review, Agricultural, commercial, industrial progress and resources. vol.2, no.1, p. 71-73
  19. ^"The Great Southern Piano Manufactory" Debow's review, Agricultural, commercial, industrial progress and resources. vol.1, no. 2, 1866, p. 209
  20. ^"Piano-fortes" The Great Industries of the United States: Being an Historical Summary of the Origin, Growth, and Perfection of the Chief Industrial Arts of this Country J. Burr & Hyde, Hartford. 1873. p331
  21. ^"The Knabe Piano" The Columbia Spy Columbia, Pennsylvania August 20, 1870 p.3
  22. ^International Exhibition, 1876. Official Catalogue John R. Nagle and Company, Philadelphia. 1876. p.265
  23. ^"Piano Award – Knabe Victory – Unanimous Award of Highest Honors to William Knabe & Co." New York Times October 1, 1876; all of the awards had equal value, but each included specific comments from the judges that the exhibitors could publish as they saw fit – "The Centennial Awards" New York Times September 28, 1876.
  24. ^"A Knabe in the White House" New York Times December 16, 1882 p.5
  25. ^Daniel Spillane History of the American Pianoforte D. Spillane, New York. 1891. p.132
  26. ^Henry Hall, ed. America's Successful Men of Affairs vol.2 The New York Tribune, New York. 1896 p.477
  27. ^Alfred Dolge Pianos and their Makers vol.2, Covina Publishing Company, Covina CA, 1913. p.121.
  28. ^"Knabe Company Extension – Bond Issue of $450,000 Made by Manufacturers" New York Times May 2, 1903
  29. ^"Three Generations of Piano Manufacturers" McClure's Magazine vol.26, The S. S. McClure Co., New York and London. 1906 advertising section p.16m-16n
  30. ^"Inspired Handiwork" The American Monthly Review of Reviews vol.24 1906. advertising section p.41
  31. ^"Piano Makers form $12,000,000 Combine" New York Times June 10, 1908 p.5
  32. ^"United Surety Loses License" New York Times May 2, 1910
  33. ^"Knabe Bros. Co." The Newark Advocate Newark, OH, May 5, 1911 p.12
  34. ^William N. Osborne Music in Ohio Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 2004 p.494
  35. ^advertisement The Newark Advocate February 25, 1913 p.7
  36. ^Six, Baer & Fuller Dry Goods Co. et al. v. American Piano Co. (211 Fed. Rep., 271.) 8th Circuit, November 28, 1913 The Trade-Mark Reporter vol. 4, The United States Trade-mark Association, New York. 1914 p.246
  37. ^"Fires" The American Library Annual, 1913 Publishers' Weekly, 1913, New York. p.38; the value given is $100,000
  38. ^"Knabe Brothers Piano Company" The Newark Advocate February 29, 1912 p.8
  39. ^"Receiver for Piano Company" Van Wert Daily Bulletin Van Wert, OH December 9, 1916 p.1; the note was for $100,000
  40. ^"Pianomakers in Bankruptcy" New York Times December 31, 1916. p.17; Their combined liabilities were more than $660,000 and their declared assets amounted to $476.38
  41. ^"E. J. Knabe Found Dead" New York Times September 28, 1924 p.S8
  42. ^"William Knabe, 66, Piano Manufacturer" Special to the New York Times March 1, 1939 p.27
  43. ^advertisement New York Times April 14, 1927
  44. ^"William Knabe & Co. Move" New York Times March 1, 1928; "Piano Salesrooms United" New York Times September 26, 1928 p.45
  45. ^"Business Records" New York Times December 27, 1929, p.45
  46. ^"Change in American Piano" New York Times May 22, 1930 p.47
  47. ^"The American Piano Company" Harvard Business School case study, 1934, reproduced in the AMICA Bulletin and available from the Pianola Society
  48. ^Gunts, Edward. "Going, going: Last of city's giant gas holders coming down," The Baltimore Sun, Friday, October 19, 2012.
  49. ^"Wm. Knabe & Co. Piano Forte Factory," Baltimore History Bits, Tuesday, September 6, 2011.
  50. ^"Deals & Developments" Time Magazine August 8, 1932
  51. ^"Piano Merger Links 2 Largest Makers" New York Times July 30, 1932. p.17
  52. ^"Merchants of Music" Time Magazine August 10, 1936
  53. ^"Now Knabe's Vice President" New York Times June 1, 1927 p.37
  54. ^obituary New York Times July 1, 1938 p.19
  55. ^obituary New York Times August 10, 1940 p.13
  56. ^"Piano Industry to be Converted" New York Times June 22, 1942 p.23
  57. ^"Piano Producers Optimistic on Fall" New York Times July 28, 1949
  58. ^"Aeolian-American Merger" New York Times May 18, 1951. p.54
  59. ^Trademark Assignment Details, Reel/Frame 0053/0478 May 21, 1959; Reports of the Tax Court of the United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1969. p.110
  60. ^Susan Caust Farrell, Directory of Contemporary American Musical Instrument Makers University of Missouri Press, Columbia MO 1981 p. 2
  61. ^Pierce Piano Atlas 9th ed.
  62. ^Larry Fine. The Piano Book Brookside Press, Boston. 1987 p.100; Leslie Brokaw, "Sour Notes" Inc. Jan 1990
  63. ^"Samick Acquires Wm. Knabe & Co." Music Trades March 1, 2001
  64. ^Samick Music Corp. to Relocate North American HQ to TennesseeExpansion Management February 10, 2006
  65. ^Wm. Knabe & Co piano was built in 1912 and installed in the Music Room for 12 August 10, 2017

External links[edit]

Detailed music rack of a Knabe grand piano, made in 1884
City of Baltimore – Factory of Knabe & Co. (1866)
Wm. Knabe & Co.'s Piano Factories, Corner Eutaw and West Streets, Baltimore. (1873)
Wm. Knabe & Co's shield logo, first used commercially in 1904
Knabe piano advertisement, published in 1889

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