Washington Inaugural Centennial

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William Steinway was heavily involved in New York City’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States. Steinway served on the official planning committee and was instrumental in planning for participation by the German-American community and by Steinway & Sons and its employees. Steinway provided financial support, participated in events, and was an enthusiastic observer.

The Washington Centennial Celebration in New York City during April 29, April 30, and May 1, 1889, was an elaborate affair commemorating the inauguration of George Washington as first President of the United States. Government, the military, civic, and business interests combined efforts to showcase the prominence of New York City.(14) Three days of celebratory events were held, including: "Monday, April 29 - Arrival and reception of President Harrison and his party, the naval parade, public reception at the City Hall, and the Centennial ball. Tuesday, [April] 30 - Services at St. Paul’s Chapel, literary exercises at the Sub-Treasury, military parade, and banquet at the Metropolitan Opera House. Wednesday, May 1 - Industrial and civic parade." (11) 

On March 18, William wrote in his diary that the "[p]roposed German [participation in the Washington] Centennial greatly bothers me." On the same day and the next he reported calls from Carl Schurz on the matter, and indicated that Schurz did not wish to make a speech on the occasion. On March 24, William met at Arion Hall with Schurz and the Executive Committee on German participation. Additional meetings were reported on March 31, April 14 and 21, and possibly April 24. 

German-Americans were preparing for enthusiastic and extensive participation in the centennial celebration, for they saw "an opportunity that may never recur to present a united and impressive proof of their love for their adopted country."(9) Committees had been formed to oversee this participation, with Carl Schurz chairing the principal Committee of One Hundred and William Steinway chairing an Executive Committee of Twenty-five.(9) 

Contributions were sought to support German-American participation in the industrial and civic parade, with William donating $250.(15) These contributions, however, proved insufficient to cover the full cost of German participation, and further donations had to be solicited in an attempt to cover a deficit of $3,500.(2) The solicitation failed to raise the full amount; more funds were raised via a sale of photographs. Ultimately, some claims were disallowed by the Centennial’s Plan and Scope Committee.(5) 

In the end, the German community’s participation in Centennial events was robust. The German-American division of the industrial and civic parade featured several ornate floats, including an elaborate float from the Arion Society. Another float was described thusly: "German opera and Wagner representation upon a float, bearing upon the base of beautiful brown a pyramidal rock and a bust of Richard Wagner surrounded by the Rhine daughters floating gracefully in the air . . . ."(12) 

William’s May 1, 1889, diary entry reported: The "German Section is the best of the whole parade, take 3 hours to pass alone." Nevertheless, German-Americans were largely ignored in the awarding of prizes, losing out to the New York Public Schools and the Veteran Firemen's Association. Only the German butchers' industry received a prize banner. In addition to this slight, German-Americans were angered by the omission of the German coat of arms from Centennial decorations at City Hall, which they took to be "an expression of contempt for German-Americans."(8) 

Diary entries of March 23 may reflect initial problems with employee participation, problems reported by the media: "The journeymen pianomakers of this city are considerably stirred up over the effort of their employers to make them march in the industrial parade of May 1. They claim that the Steinways . . . not only want them to parade, but want them to lose their pay for the day and pay $1.25 for a regalia also."(3) Still, William was pleased with the results and the enthusiasm of his employees, as attested by his May 1 diary entry: "Procession is grand especially the German division Pianotrade and Steinway + Sons men make a splendid show with their banners and music bands and flags, in all about 3000 Men." 

A major German-American effort was an open-air concert before a crowd of more than 60,000. William’s May 1, 1889, diary entry proclaimed: " . . . Monster Open Air Concert quite a success the 2000 singers having assembled at Steinway Hall, and marched in a body to Madison Square Garden . . . ." The press report, however, concentrated on the ambient noise of the large crowd ". . . [T]he music was not audible except to persons who were immediately in front of the choral body. Those who were in the crowd twenty yards away from the stand could hear little or nothing except occasional strains. The cause of this was that the great throng of people in the square was continually on the move, and the unbroken tramp of feet, together with the unceasing conversation in loud tones, produced a roar like a great waterfall, above which rose the rattle of passing carriages, the jingle of horse-car bells, the unique yelp of the ubiquitous small boy, and the wild shriek of the peddler of sandwiches made when Washington was inaugurated. Hence the expected musical effect was lost."(10) 

Steinway & Sons’ participation in the centennial is confirmed by William’s diary entry of April 28: "Our Centennial Exhibit in Warerooms causes a good deal of comment in musical circles . . . ." What’s more, diary entries on the celebration’s three days describe William viewing parades and attending a banquet and concert with family and friends. April 29: "Frl. with my two boys, Louis v. Bernuth and Paula, at Hoboken on Hamburg Dock to view Naval Parade . . . ." April 30: "At P. M. at Centennial Banquet at Metropolitan Opera House, which is an immense affair, the most gifted men of the Country being assembled and answer to the Toasts. Home at 12 Midnight; as I leave after the speech of Ex President Hayes. Grover Cleveland recd greatest applause I viewed military parade right from Coll. Giegerichs window." May 1: "View Civic Parade from Collector Giegerichs window, German Savings Bank, with wife, two boys and Frl. Bernkopf. . . . My Son Geo. A. Steinway on horseback acts as one of the marshalls. My wife and children go home at 3.30 P. M. having been there since 10 A. M." 

In the aftermath of the celebration and despite some reported mishaps "Our little piano on the pianomakers Float said to be badly shattered + legs broken off" (Diary, 1889-05-02), William clearly was delighted with the results."Take lunch at Mauers, Table round Centennial have jolly time, make speeches, fine affair".(Diary, 1889-05-03)



 1. "Arranging the Details: The Work of the Centennial Committees Almost Completed," The New York Times, April 6, 1889, p. 8.

2."A Centennial Reminiscence," The New York Times, May 23, 1889, p. 8.

3. "Centennial Details," The New York Times, April 22, 1889, p. 5.

4. "Centennial Prizes Awarded," The New York Times, May 11, 1889, p. 5.

5."Centennial Souvenirs," The New York Times, August 31, 1889, p. 8.

6. "Committee on the Centennial Celebration, April 30, 1889, of the Inauguration of George Washington as First President of the United States." Programme of the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington as First President of the United States of America. Reproduced and Printed by The Boston Photogravure Company, available on the Google Books Web site. http:books.google.com accessed August 24, 2011

 7. "Gen. Butterfield's Flags: The German-American Butcher Industry Gets a Banner," The New York Times, December 12, 1889, p. 9.

8. "German-Americans Indignant," The New York Times, May 20, 1889, p. 2

9. "Germans in the Parade: Preparations for a Novel and an Extensive Display," The New York Times, April 2, 1889, p. 2.

10. "Music for the Throngs: The Open-Air Concert of the German Singing Societies," The New York Times, May 1, 1889, p. 5.

11. "Our City’s Great Show: Plans for the Centenary Complete: The Reception to President Harrison and the Naval Parade - Decorations to be Elaborate," The New York Times, April 12, 1889, p. 5.

12. "Pageant on Sea and Land: An American Jubilee of Unequaled Grandeur: The Plans for the Centennial Celebration Nearly Completed --Great Variety of Events," The New York Times, April 21, 1889, p. 16.

13. "Receiving the Reports: Meeting of the Centennial Plan and Scope Committee," The New York Times, December 22, 1889, p. 17.

14. "The Centennial Parades: Great Military and Civic Displays: There Will Be Some Interesting Industrial Features - Military Bodies from Other States," The New York Times, March 17, 1889, p. 16.

15. "The Centennial Parades Rapidly Being Whipped Into Shape: Police Will Look Out for Strangers Seeking Lodgings - The German-American Subscriptions," The New York Times, April 18, 1889, p.5.

16. "To-Day's Programme," The New York Times, May 1, 1889, p. 1.

17. "What Germans Will Do," The New York Times, April 14, 1889, p. 5.