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


The Exhibition: Pianos in the Home

Square Piano, 1850
Maker: Chickering, Boston

SI photographs by Robert C. Lautman


In 19th-century America the public came to regard the home and the family circle as a sanctuary. Among the middle class, the piano was the high altar of this shrine, tended by the women of the house. The piano in the parlor became as necessary as a kitchen range in a respectable middle-class home, serving as a symbol of morality and refinement.

In terms of design, Americans preferred square pianos in their homes until the 1870s; by the early 19th century, Europeans preferred upright or vertical pianos.


Giraffe Piano, 1809-1811
Maker: André Stein, Vienna

SI photographs by Hugh Talman


Every well-bred girl was expected to play the piano, whether she had talent and desire or not. A musical daughter was a status symbol both for wealthy and upwardly mobile families. Some women used the skill to lure a husband, discarding the piano after marriage. Others played throughout their lives, to accompany singing and dancing at social gatherings, to provide music at church, or to comfort themselves in solitude. Advice books in the 19th century defined an educated woman as one accomplished in music, dance, needlework, drawing, and manners.

Sewing Table Piano in open and closed positions
unknown Austrian or German maker, 1820-1840

SI photograph by Eric Long

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