Doretta Steinway (b. March 14, 1827 in Sessen, Germany; d. March 17, 1900, in New York City) was the elder sister of William Steinway and the mother of Henry Ziegler, successor to Theodore Steinway as the innovator in piano design at Steinway and Sons. She was an important figure in both family life and business life of the Steinway family.
Doretta Steinway was the eldest daughter of Henry Engelhard Steinway and Julianne Thiemer. She married Jacob Ziegler, a cabinet maker, in New York City on March 18, 1851, according to a date noted in the diary. Together they produced four children; Anna Louisa, born December 11, 1851, Charles Jacob Theodore, born June 30, 1854, Julia born December 28, 1855, and Henry Ludwig, born October 30, 1857. (1) Several of the children were involved in the Steinway & Sons business. Charles managed Steinway's business in London until his death in January of 1893. Henry Ludwig, who had begun working in his father's cabinet-making business, caught the attention of Theodore Steinway, who trained him in piano design. Henry would become Theodore's successor in the Steinway & Sons piano business, continuing to apply innovations to Steinway instruments until his death in 1930. (2, p.262) Doretta died in 1900.
Doretta seems to be one of the few Steinway women involved in the Steinway & Sons business. She was said to have been a pianist of "above average ability," playing at times four-hand music with her brothers. In the early years she is said to have worked as a sales person in the warerooms, playing the instruments for the customers, sometimes offering free piano lessons to conclude the sale. There is also evidence that she assisted her husband Jacob's business as manufacturer and dealer of furniture and home decorations. (3) (4)
Doretta Steinway Ziegler circa 1862
She played a prominent role in Steinway family affairs, not only raising four fine children but also nursing her mother, her father, and her brother Theodore (at his home in Germany) during their final illnesses. She and her husband frequently hosted other family members for meals and as a gathering place for all the generations..Her husband was a skat and domino player with the other Steinway men. In the diary, William frequently mentions meals and/or outings with Doretta and her family (Diary, 1872-07-25, 1876-07-06), notes her 25th wedding anniversary (Diary, 1876-03-18), and marks celebrations of her birthday. (Diary, 1878-03-14, 1882-03-14, 1884-03-14) When William's marriage to Regina Roos ended in divorce in 1876, she offered to educate William's children, ten and twelve at the time, and move into his home to raise them, an offer not accepted. (Diary, 1876-08-30)
Dorectta Steinway Zielger circa 1876
In 1880 while on an extended visit in Europe, Doretta played a major role in an important transition in William's life: first, accompanying William and his son George to Strasburgh to their first (and only) meeting with William's first wife Regina and George's mother ("Madame Roos") since the divorce in 1876 (Diary, 1880-07-24), and then a few weeks later with several other family members in Germany, meeting William's second wife Ellie (just married in Dresden on August 16) and welcoming her to the family (as confirmed in William's diary: "The ladies call each other 'Du'" Diary, 1880-08-22). Throughout the Diary, Doretta served as a strong pillar for the family.