Sophia Millinet Steinway Fricke

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Helene Sophia (sometimes Sophie) Millinet Steinway (b. September 9, 1834, in Lippstadt, Westphalia; d. December 12, 1919, in Berlin, Germany) was the wife of Charles G. Steinway, William's brother. Sophia and Charles married in New York City in 1855. They had four children: Henry William Theodore, (b. New York City, 1856), Charles Herman Steinway, (b. New York City, 1857), Frederick Theodore Steinway, (b. New York City, 1860), and a stillborn child in 1861. The two younger sons went on to become presidents of Steinway & Sons.(3)

Sophia's life was closely linked to William and his family. The nature of that relationship changed as their lives evolved:

From 1855 to 1865, William knew Sophia as the wife of Charles and the mother of their three sons, beginning with the marriage of Sophia and Charles in 1855 to the spring of 1865 and the untimely death of Charles at age 36. During this period, Sophia developed a close relationship with William's first wife Regina Roos Steinway;

From 1865 to 1875 William related to Sophia as the widow of Charles and the guardian of her three sons; this period included important decisions about how and where the sons (important to the future of Steinway & Sons) were to be educated. William (along with brother-in-law Jacob Ziegler) was the executor of Charles's estate, which was finally settled in court around end 1870;

From 1875 (when Sophia married Berlin opera singer August Fricke on October 7 in Brunswick) to the mid-1890s, a period that began with William's divorce and by 1880 William's marriage to Ellie in Dresden, William's later diary entries reflected a more formal relationship with Sophia and her new husband. William showed great respect toward Fricke, a successful opera star, and enjoyed their time together in Europe and in America. Into the 1890s, William continued to be involved with Sophia's finances (Diary, 1893-12-31).


According to the 1860 census, Sophia and Charles shared living quarters near the factory with William and the Steinway parents.(6) By 1861 they shared a house on Second Avenue with William and his new wife Regina.(5) Soon after William and Regina returned to New York City following their marriage in 1861, Sophia went into labor; tragically the child was born dead. (Diary, 1861-06-05) Later that year they decorated the house for the Christmas holiday.(Diary, 1861-12-23, 12-24) Soon it became commonplace for Regina's and Sophia's names to be mentioned together in the diary. In late January of 1862, Regina went into labor with her first child, attended by Sophia and a midwife, and the following afternoon, she delivered a dead infant boy.(Diary, 1862-01-23) For the next few nights, Sophia stayed up with her, offering what comfort she could.(Diary, 1862-01-27)

In July of 1864, Sophia returned to Germany with Charles, who had suffered a series of illnesses, and their sons, joining brother Theodore in Braunschweig. At the end of March 1865, Charles died of typhoid fever, leaving Sophia to bring up the children. Sophia and the children returned May 5, 1865; the body of Charles was returned on March 29, 1866, and interred at Green-Wood Cemetery.


After Sophia’s return to the United States, she remained in New York City for several years, going back to Germany with the children once more in the spring of 1867.(Diary, 1867-03-28) William and Regina visited Sophia in Europe the following year.(Diary, 1868-05-25) William was executor of Charles’s estate. In a letter from Germany dated October 15, 1869, family friend and helper, C. Koch, wrote to William that he had seen Sophia and the boys, who were all well, but that both the boys and Sophie were in need of funds from the estate.(2) Sophia brought her boys back to the United States on July 1,1870, where they spent a good part of the summer in Long Branch, New Jersey, vacationing with the rest of the family.

Also, during this time, the court case settling the estate of Charles was still in progress. It seems to have been settled around November 1870, as William mentions paying the associated legal costs.(Diary, 1870-11-10)] Sophia and her sons returned to Germany August 31, 1870, so that the older boys could continue their education with a private tutor in Braunschweig.(1) The education of the sons was so important to Charles that his will included the following: "I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint my wife and my brother William Steinweg and my brother in law Jacob Ziegler to be guardians of my infant children and I desire and request that my children receive a good and liberal education." (7) Sophia seemed to have the last word about the education of the boys, as William noted in his diary that he had a letter from Sophia "in which she says that she will not permit Fred to return to America." (Diary, 1872-07-22) Six years later, William noted: "Sophia Fricke writes to Chas. St. that Fred. St has gone through his Arbiturienten Examen at Berlin successfully." (Diary, 1878-04-17)


Sophia married again, to August Fricke, the opera singer.(Diary, 1875-10-05) She stayed in contact with the Steinway family, visiting them in the United States with her new husband in 1876 (Diary, 1876-06-18), and in later years hosting the Steinways on their European trips.(Diary, 1890-08-04) August Fricke died in London in 1894,(4) and Sophia's son Frederick, by then working at Steinway & Sons, headed off to Britain to be with his mother.(Diary, 1894-06-28) Sophia returned again to Germany, where she died in 1919.(3) The eldest son, Henry William Theodore (also referred to as HWT or Harbuckle) worked for Steinway & Sons for several years before entering a series of lawsuits against William and Steinway & Sons for what he considered to be objectionable business practices; He was fired from the company and removed from all Steinway & Sons documents. The second son, Charles H. became president of Steinway & Sons in 1896 after the death of William. His younger brother Frederick (Fred, Fritz) became president in 1919 after the death of his brother Charles.



  1. Fostle, D. W., The Steinway Saga: An American Dynasty, New York: Scribner, 1995, p. 135.
  2. Koch, C. letter to William Steinway in New York, October 15, 1869, Steinway & Sons Collection, La Guardia and Wagner Archives, Fiorello H. LaGuardia Community College/CUNY, Long Island City, Queens, New York.
  3. Maniha, Ken, Steinway Family Genealogy.
  4. "Obituary," The Musical Times, August 1, 1894, p. 554.
  5. Steinway, Charles, Henry and William, letter to C.F. Theodore, March 30, 1861, Steinway & Sons Collection, LaGuardia and Wagner Archives, Fiorello H. LaGuardia Community College/CUNY, Long Island City, Queens, New York
  6. Steinway, Henry, U S Census 1860, County of New York, State of New York, 4th District, 6th Ward, Series M653, Roll 791, Page 229.
  7. Steinweg, Charles. Last Will and Testament, July 1, 1864, New York City