The father of William Steinway, Henry (Heinrich) Engelhard Steinway (b February 22, 1797, in Wolfshagen, Duchy of Brunswick, Germany; d February 7, 1871, in New York, NY) was a son of Heinrich Zacharias Steinway and Rosine Elisabeth Bauaerochse.
Henry Steinway married Julianne Henriette Thiemer, daughter of Martin Helwig Gottlieb Thiemer and Dorothy Julianne Bierkamp, on May 15, 1825, in Seesen, Germany. Julianne was born on January 20, 1804, in Seesen, Germany and died on August 9, 1877, in New York City, New York. Together they had nine children; Theodore in 1825, Doretta in 1827, Charles in 1829, Henry in 1830, Wilhelmina in 1833, William in 1835, Herman in 1836, Albert in 1840, and Anna in 1842. All of their sons participated in the family piano-making business except for Herman, who died in Germany around 1851.(1)
Henry had an inherent talent for music and this combined with "unusual mechanical ingenuity" led him to construct his own musical instruments early in life. He learned cabinetmaking and worked in an organ factory. He studied the art of piano making and founded an independent business, manufacturing grand, square, and upright models through a long series of years. He sought a wider field of endeavor than he could find in his small German state, and decided to move his family and business to America. He sent his son Charles to New York to scout out the potential for piano-making success in 1849, and made the final move in 1850, based on the favorable report. At first Henry and his sons worked for other piano making firms, and finally launched their own business in 1853.(2) The firm constructed its own large plant in 1859, and occupied it in 1860. Henry gradually withdrew from the management of the business as his health deteriorated, and management of the firm gradually fell upon his sons, most notably William Steinway. However, not until days before Henry’s death in 1871—of dropsy or a liver ailment or both—was a co-partnership agreement drawn up and formally signed.
Did Henry (Heinrich) speak and write English? The simple answer: It’s not clear. In his diary, William notes that he read his father’s will to him in German as well as in English. U.S. censuses of the period listed whether or not a person was literate, but not what language he or she spoke. Henry (Heinrich) was never described as illiterate.
Henry left his children an enormous estate valued at an estimated $500,000.(3)
Henry Engelhard Steinway, date unknown
1. Maniha, Ken. Steinway Genealogy. Unpublished manuscript. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC, pp. 2-4.
2. “Obituary Henry Steinway”, The New York Times, February 8, 1871.
3.“The Surrogate Court Items of Interest – The Taylor Case – Another Important Will to be Contested – The Steinway Estate,” The New York Times, February 14, 1871.