Theodore E. Steinway (b. October 6, 1883 in New York City; d. April 8, 1957 in New York City) was William's third son, the second son born to his second wife, Elizabeth Ranft. Theodore served as president of Steinway & Sons from 1927 to 1955, the year in which he became Chairman of the Board.(10)
Theodore was the name of William's brother. Theodore's second name was in honor of the actor, Edwin Booth, admired by his parents William and Elizabeth.(5, p. 175) Paula, William's daughter, and her husband, Louis von Bernuth, raised Theodore (who was only 13 when his father died) and his siblings.(9, p. 123) He attended the Cathedral School of St. Pauls, Garden City, Long Island and entered the family business at age 17 as an apprentice to his older cousin Henry Ziegler, a talented master of the technology of piano-making.(2)(5, pp. 174-5)(10) He married Ruth Gardner Davis, of an old New England family, in 1913.(5, p. 176)(10) They had four sons and two daughters. At one time, they lived in apartments constructed on the site of the old Steinway factories on Park Ave & 53rd St.(2, p. 187) He was somewhat reserved, more of an artist than a businessman. A co-worker once said that, even in Theodores later years, he could put a piano together blindfolded.(10)
Theodore was president during the Great Depression in the United States, the most difficult time in the company's history, and took very hard the difficulties encountered during those troublesome years.(9, p. 124) Forced to fire more than a thousand workers by 1931, Theodore faced continuous financial problems leading to personal mental depression in his later years.(5, pp. 185, 196) In October 1955, Theodore announced that he was retiring. The board of directors selected his son Henry Z. Steinway to take his place.(9, p. 129)
He was passionate about Wagner, knowing whenever a performance was missing a few bars of the original score.(5, p. 178-79) He was also a great friend of Ignace Paderewski, delivering his broadcast eulogy.(3) Dedicated to the Steinway legacy, Theodore wrote the book People and Pianos as a labor of love for the celebration on March 5, 1953 of Steinway & Sons hundredth anniversary. According to Theodore's son Henry, it tells the story of Steinway & Sons and the impact of the company and the Steinway piano on those who love to play and those who love to listen.(9, Preface) He appeared at the White House on December 10, 1938, to donate the second Steinway piano to the White House and the country. In his presentation speech he said it was in appreciation from a family who arrived on these shores and was permitted to pursue its work and make a living in an atmosphere of friendliness.(7) Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about this event and two other visits with Theodore in her My Day newspaper columns.(8)
Theodore was a well-known philatelist and founded the Association for Stamp Exhibitions, Inc. He was a member of the Philatelic Society of London and the Collectors Club. He assisted in the creation of the Philatelic Foundation.(10) In 1952 the Collectors Club awarded him its first Lichtenstein Medal for distinguished service to philately(4) and in1957 the Club established the Theodore E. Steinway Memorial Publications Fund in his honor.(6) He owned what was perhaps the world's finest collection of stamps associated with music, many autographed by famous musicians. His collection is preserved at Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts.(9, p. 123)
William described Theodore as a splendid bright boy large and strong for his age. (Diary, 1894-12-30) William noted when Theodore began violin lessons at age 9 (Diary, 1892-12-08) and when he caught many fish. (Diary, 1894-10-20) In the summers of 1894 and 1896 William sent Theodore and his brother Willie to Europe in the company of tutors. (Diary, 1894-06-21; 1896-06-17) In the summer of 1895 the boys went to Niagara Falls for camping and traveling. (Diary, 1895-06-25) On their return William expressed great joy indicating both were pictures of health. (Diary, 1895-09-15)
Theodore E. Steinway, circa 1883
As a child, Theodore stuttered, much to his father's dismay. In 1896 the Diary (1896-10-03) notes Theodore began lessons to correct the problem. By age 21, however, he had become not only an accomplished speaker, but also an actor. He joined both the Players Club and the Amateur Comedy Club. He was quite friendly with another member, John Barrymore, and noted his connection to Edwin Booth, the club founder.(5, p. 175) His obituary noted that he had won special honors for more than thirty roles for The Players.(10)
Theodore was President and Director of Astoria Homestead Co.; Treasurer and Director of Harlem Market Co., Limited; a Director of N. Stetson & Co.; and President and Director of the Steinway Homestead Co.(1). He belonged to the Bohemians, the Century Association, and the Dutch Treat and Coffee House Clubs.(10)
1. Directory of Directors in the City of New York, 1915-1916. New York: Directory of Directors Company, 1915-16, p.659. Available at Google Books web site.
2. Dolge, Alfred. Pianos and their Makers, v. II. Covina, CA: Covina Publishing Company, 1913, pp. 186-87.
3. Fostle, D. W. The Steinway Saga. New York: Scribner, 1995, p. 473.
4. “Lichtenstein Award,” available from The Collectors Club Web site.
5. Lieberman, Richard K. Steinway & Sons. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
6. “News of the World of Stamps,” The New York Times, October 27, 1957, p. 22.
7. “President Greets White House Piano,” The New York Times, December 11, 1938, p.49.
8. Roosevelt, Eleanor. “My Day,” March 3, 1938; December 12, 1938; May 11, 1954. Electronic editions available at Web site:
9. Steinway, Henry Z. “On the Family, the Business, and the Artists.” appearing in: Steinway, Theodore E. People and Pianos: A Pictorial History of Steinway & Sons, 3rd edition. Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus Press, LLC, 1953; Classical Music Today, LLC, 2005.
10. “Theodore E. Steinway is Dead; Chairman of Piano Company, 73,” The New York Times, April 9, 1957, p. 33.