P I A N O   3 0 0
Celebrating Three Centuries of People and Pianos


The Exhibition: Americans Take the Lead


Most 18th-century piano workshops were small, with few workers making almost everything with hand tools. Workers learned every aspect of piano-making, and an experienced craftsman could build seven instruments a year. Handmade pianos were few and expensive.

In the 1800s, piano manufacturers devised efficient new methods for making more affordable pianos to answer the greatly increasing demand. Workshops grew into steam-powered factories and international exhibitions provided a world stage for judging technical "progress" in piano building.

Americans, starting with Alpheus Babcock of Boston in 1825, developed the one-piece iron frame for strength and stability for keeping pianos in tune.

Plan view of square piano, 1832-1837
Alpheus Babcock for William Swift, Philadelphia

SI photograph by Robert C. Lautman

Patent drawing: Metal frame for square piano by Alpheus Babcock, Boston, 1825

SI Photograph


From the 1850s through the 1870s, an intense rivalry between the Yankee Chickerings of Boston and the immigrant Steinways of New York stimulated a vigorous piano industry that developed the modern piano. Imaginative use of wood and metal, shrewd manufacturing methods, aggressive marketing, and popular demand made American companies world leaders.

Grand piano, 1865
Maker: Chickering & Sons, Boston

SI photograph


In the Beginning

Across Europe and Beyond

Pianos In the Home

Romantic Superstars


Americans Take the Lead

Pianos for Everyone

New Communities, New Voices

Circling the Globe


[Introduction] [Performances, Tours and More] [Exhibition] [Timeline]
[Credits] [Donors and Collaborators ] [Play Some Music!] [Piano Resources]

Piano 300
American History
National Museum of American History