Henry E. Steinway, Jr., (b October 29, 1830 in Seesen, Germany; d March 11, 1865 in New York) one of William’s older brothers, contributed importantly to Steinway & Sons’ business through his innovations and technical improvements to the process of piano manufacture. Shortly after his marriage to Ernestine H. Miller, he began to suffer from chronic illness—a development that worried William greatly. Henry Jr. died in his thirty-fifth year, leaving a widow and three daughters.(5)
Henry Steinway Jr., the son of Henry Engelhard and Julianne Steinweg (later Steinway), married Ernestine H. Miller, the daughter of a Parisian tailor, on May 6, 1860. Together they had three daughters, all born in New York: Lilian, Anna, and Clarissa. (1)(4)(6)
After the family’s emigration from Germany in 1850, Henry, like his brothers, began his career in America by working for established piano manufacturers. He started by building keyboards for James Pirsson, a New York piano manufacturer. While working for Pirsson, Henry admired Pirrson's innovative use of iron for the piano frame instead of wood.(4, p.16) Henry incorporated this innovation into Steinway & Sons manufacturing when he became a partner in the family firm. From 1857 through 1862 Henry, Jr. was issued seven U.S. Patents related to pianos, five to perfect the responsiveness and repetition of grand piano actions and two related to the stringing of the piano. His very important patent in 1859 (U.S. Patent No. 26,532 December 20, 1859) claimed a new arrangement of stringing that eventually revolutionized piano design throughout the industry: an overstrung scale for grand piano with the bass strings strung diagonally about the middle and upper register strings to allow for larger strings and better vibrations.(7, p. 72, 186;, 2, p.54).
This newly designed piano won a prize medal at the London Exhibition of 1862 where Henry Jr. (along with his father) accepted the award given to their two grand and two square pianos which were praised for “powerful, clear and brilliant tone of a piano with excellent workmanship,,,” (and noted only in passing that the Steinway metal framing was cast in one piece with the bass strings crossed over the other strings). (2, pp.57-58) Strangely, William’s diary says nothing about the London award although he mentions preparations for the trip (Diary, 1862-03-07; 1862-03-11, 1862-03-12) and Henry’s return. (Diary, 1862-10-13)
Henry Steinway Jr., date unknown
William's diary entries between January 1, 1863, and Henry's death in March of 1865 provide a running commentary on the delicate condition of Henry's health. According to William, Henry suffered from rheumatism in the right breast. It was obvious that William was overwrought with concern about his brother's poor condition for both personal and commercial reasons and was ever solicitous of his and his wife's wellbeing. William helped to arrange for their move to Yonkers (Diary, 1863-06-06) and then for passage to Cuba (Diary, 1863-11-19), where doctors sent Henry to recuperate. While in Cuba, Henry was hopeful that the warm weather would prove beneficial for his cough and general wellbeing. In letters to William he described himself as improved, but never truly well. He continued to be interested in business developments at Steinway & Sons.(8) Unfortunately, Henry did not recover in Cuba and returned to New York in late May 1864 in very poor health. On the day before his brother’s death, William wrote, “Find Henry dreadfully low feet & hands swollen. Henry just got over an attack of coughing. I leave him with a heavy heart.”(Diary, 1865-03-10) An autopsy revealed “a large cavity in each of his lungs, and both lungs thoroughly diseased,”(Diary, 1865-03-11))--quite possibly tuberculosis. His remains were interred in Green-Wood Cemetery. (1)(6) An obituary in The New York Times for Henry stated that “Mr. Steinway had reduced the manufacture of piano-fortes to a science, and it is probable that few men ever lived who were better acquainted with the construction of the instrument.”(6)
Shortly after Henry's death, Ernestine remarried and traveled to Germany with the children. William and his other older brother, Charles, had been named as guardians of the children and trustees of the estate. However, Charles died shortly after Henry, leaving William as sole guardian. Ernestine struggled with William for three years for custody of the children. In 1868, she succeeded in a court decision in New York that granted her their custody.(3)
1. “Died,” The New York Times, March 12, 1865, p. 5.
2. Hoover, Cynthia Adams. “The Steinways and Their Pianos in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of the American Musical Instrumental Society, 7:1981.
3. “Law Reports: Court Calendars for Wednesday, Decisions. United States—Supreme Court—Brooklyn—Special Term,” The New York Times, July 29, 1868, p. 2.
4. Lieberman, Richard K. Steinway & Sons. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
5. Maniha, Ken, Steinway Family Genealogy
6. “Obituary; Virginia Lorini Whiting. Mr. Henry Steinway,” The New York Times, March 15, 1865, p. 8
7. Ratcliffe, Ronald V. Steinway & Sons.San Fransisco: Chronicle Books, 1989.
8. Steinway, Henry Jr., Letters to William Steinway, December 13, 1863 and March 6, 1864. Steinway & Sons Collection, LaGuardia and Wagner Archives, Fiorello H. LaGuadia Community College/CUNY, Long Island City, Queens.