Jan Benson’s area of research has focused on the three lawsuits pursued by Henry W. T. Steinway against his uncle William Steinway, which continued throughout William’s last years and until his death.
In the first and second suits Henry contended that the business practices of William and Steinway & Sons were detrimental to his interests as a stockholder in the company. One of these suits concerned a Hamburg piano company set up by William and his brother Theodore Steinway and the company’s relationship to Steinway & Sons in New York. The other suit argued that the trustees of Steinway & Sons, which included William, misused the company’s funds by investing in real estate, supporting political candidates, and supporting charities. The third suit was against the trustees of his uncle, C. F. Theodore’s will. Henry claimed that a trust set up by the will was illegal and that the assets of the trust should be paid immediately to the residual heirs, which included Henry. Eventually Henry lost all of these suits. Benson has had other assignments related to these suits including biographies of Henry and some of the attorneys and judges involved in the suits. Benson’s other assignments include a review of the only baseball game attended by William that is recorded in the diary and the role that Fire Island on Long Island played in identifying passenger ships from Europe as they approached New York.
Benson is a native of Flushing, New York and grew up just a few miles form the Astoria Steinway Factory. He graduated from the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he majored in sociology. His graduate work was at the University of Minnesota, where he earned a PhD in sociology. After graduate school, Benson joined the General Motors Research Laboratories in suburban Detroit. There he created new product development processes and worked with faculty from Stanford University to study the effect of new technologies on how engineering and other technical work was done. Benson is an avid amateur woodworker and attends classes at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine. He lives with his wife in Royal Oak, Michigan. He commutes to the Steinway Diary Project meetings, staying with friends or with his wife when she is in the Washington, DC area for her job at the National Council on the Aging.