Charles Herman Steinway

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Charles H. Steinway (b. June 3, 1857 in New York City; d. October 30, 1919 in New York City) was the second son of William's brother Charles G. Steinway and his wife Helene Sophie Millinet Steinway. Charles H. became president of Steinway & Sons in December 1896, following William's death, and held that position until 1919, the year of his death. Charles H. married Marie Anna Mertens of New York City on October 10, 1885. They had two children who survived infancy: Charles F. and Mary E.

Charles G., who died in 1865, had named his wife, William, and Charles' brother-in-law, Jacob Ziegler, guardians of his children in the event of his death.(17) After his death, Sophie Steinway, Charles' widow, took her three children to Germany where Charles H. was educated in Berlin. In July of 1870 Sophie returned to New York City; William noticed that all three boys had grown "very much."(Diary, 1870-07-01) For one year (1871-72) Charles attended the military academy at Sing Sing, NY and then took a course in commercial science at Packard's Business College.(6)(25)

As both an executor of his dead brother's estate and one of the guardians of his children,(17) William took a great interest in Charles H. and his brothers from the time their mother brought them to America in 1870.(Diary, 1870-07-01) He entertained Charles H. when he returned to New York from school at Sing Sing. (Diary, 1872-03-26) In 1873 William noted that he had advertised for board and lodging for Charles H. and his brother Henry.(Diary, 1873-08-25) William's Diary records, from December 21, 1873 on, the numerous times that he played cards with Charles H. as well as their many lunches together. William nominated Charles H. for membership in the Liederkranz (Diary, 1877-01-16) and noted giving Charles H. his final settlement when he came of age on June 3, 1878. When Charles H. won a billiards championship at the Liederkranz and won a racing cup with the Daimler motorboat, William recorded both events in his Diary.(Diary, 1895-03-20; 1894-08-11) Charles H. apparently was somewhat of a spendthrift, and William felt it necessary to give him "fatherly" advice on the subject.(Diary, 1890-11-21) Later Charles H. admitted to spending beyond his means in 1891.(Diary, 1891-01-26) Once, when William was with a gathering of friends for an annual dinner, he noted that he delivered a "... brief witty speech specially joking in a harmless way ..." about Charles H.(Diary, 1895-11-05)

Charles H. started with Steinway & Sons on January 2, 1874. After nearly four years as an apprentice in the piano factory, Charles H. began working in William's office.(Diary, 1877-12-08) He showed financial acumen and soon William relied on him for important work in the commercial side of the business. He supervised the making of inventories and worked with William on tax matters.(Diary, 1878-11-18) In 1880 Charles H. was elected Vice President of Steinway & Sons Board of Directors.(Diary, 1880-05-03) Later that year William gave Charles H. power of attorney at Pacific, Chatham and German American Banks.(Diary, 1880-06-09)(6)

William sent Charles H. to San Francisco in 1883 to resolve issues at Mathias Gray and Company, the Steinway dealer. Charles arranged for the appointment of a trustee and a guaranty, a result satisfactory to both Steinway & Sons and the other creditors.(Diary, 1883-05-08)(6) Charles H. also represented William in London in the resolution of difficulties with William Maxwell, a partner and manager of the Steinway's London showroom, who later was proved "not only [to have] been dishonest but also disloyal."(Diary, 1885-05-19) Charles H. was sent to London (Diary, 1884-03-24) to receive Maxwell and execute the settlement agreement that William Steinway had worked out.

In 1889 William sent Charles H. to Chicago to open a new house there with the firm of Lyon, Potter & Co. William continued to consult frequently with Charles H. as business developed with the firm.(Diary, 1894-04-23; 08-14) Later Charles H. went (with Nahum Stetson, manager of sales and marketing) to Chicago for Lyon. Potter & Co. meetings in 1895.(Diary, 1895-02-02) In 1893 Charles H. went to Chicago, along with Nahum Stetson, for the World's Fair.(Diary, 1893-05-01)

During 1895 Smith and Nixon, piano dealership in Cincinnati, OH, developed severe financial problems. William relied greatly on Charles H. to assist him in dealing with the issue. Charles H. was consulted in discussions with attorneys and other creditors and went with Nahum Stetson to Cincinnati to negotiate a resolution. After reaching agreement with all concerned, Charles H. telegrammed William, "Crash averted ... agreements ... signed by firm us and other creditors."(Diary, 1896-01-17)

Charles H. was a valuable ally of William in dealing with Charles' troublesome brother Henry W. T. He joined William in talking to Henry about his insulting and unreasonable behavior.(Diary, 1889-12-24) In later years Henry lodged three different suits against William, the family, and/or the business (all of which Henry ultimately lost). Charles H. was called to testify and William thought he did "splendidly" on cross examination.(Diary, 1895-02-20) About 16 months after William's death George W. Cotterill, the attorney who had defended the suits, billed the family for $153,000 for five years of legal services. Charles H. was outraged. Then president of Steinway & Sons, he pledged to resign before he would pay it.(7, p. 414)(28)

In the years that he worked under William's management Charles H. and/or his wife were often ill, sometimes traveling for health reasons to Thomasville, Georgia (Diary, 1883-02-10; 1888-01-09) and to Bermuda.(Diary, 1889-01-17; 1889-03-01; 1893-12-14) Whenever he was absent William found it quite a hardship, whether it was for months or days. In his Diary summary for year 1890 William wrote, "his continued absence on account of his wifes[sic] health causes me serious trouble."(Diary, 1890-12-31) For August 30, 1895, he wrote "Charles H. St. not present today and thus extra labor is thrown upon my shoulders."

Charles H. was in London in 1891 and cabled William that he had heard Ignacy Paderewski and that he "played immense." Charles H. recommended an American tour which proved tremendously successful for the artist as well as for Steinway & Sons.(Diary 1891-04-17) Paderewski, who was to perform 20 tours in America, usually played on Steinways.(9) In 1906, however, when Paderewski informed Charles H. that he was not satisfied with the instruments sent to him, Charles H. became greatly annoyed. He told Paderewski he found his complaint "offensive" and withdrew Steinways from the virtuoso's use. Paderewski played for a few years on Weber pianos, but his reputation suffered, and he resumed playing Steinways in early 1909.(15)

William died on November 30, 1896. Charles H., who was vice president at the time, was unanimously elected president of Steinway & Sons by the board of directors on December 4, 1896.(18) At the end of that year he thought he should get a large bonus but other board members, his brother Frederick and his cousin Henry L. Ziegler, stopped that.(19)(28) Over the years, however, Charles H. proved to be a respected and quite successful manager.

The years immediately following William's death were a trying time for the family, especially Charles H, who was both one of the executors and head of the firm.(27) William had incurred debts and there were rumors of the estate's insolvency. On May 20, 1898, Charles H. was quoted in The New York Times, indicating that the settlement of claims would depend on the liquidation of yet to be appraised assets. In 1904 Charles H. reported that the estate value had appreciated and was at a current net worth of more than one million dollars. In the years since William's death, his 8000 shares of stock in Steinway & Sons, under Charles H.'s direction, had earned dividends of $1,145,000 and most had been sold for $2,000,000.(20)(30)

During his presidency Charles H. increased factory output by 100 per cent and opened a number of branch stores in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia and overseas in England and Germany.(3) Other accomplishments during his tenure included:

  • Purchase of the Hamburg, Germany factory following its near loss to German creditors in 1899.(7. P. 417-18)(28)
  • Contracting with N. W. Ayer & Son in 1900 for professional advertising services, leading to the motto “Instrument of the Immortals” and sales growth of 53 percent from 1921 to 1926.(7, p. 450-51)(28)(29)
  • Establishment of a surplus account to hold annual deposits of extra profits in the first years of the twentieth century.  (Availability of these funds carried the company during the depression.)(7, p. 465)(28)
  • Establishment of a new factory on Ditmars Avenue in Astoria in 1901.  (The Rikers Avene factory continued to be used.)(14)(28)
  • Introduction of a new upright piano in 1904, the Model O grand, taking less room than a concert grand and thus suitable for domestic living rooms.(11)(28)
  • Average annual  dividends to stockholdersabove 22% in the six years ending in 1905.(7, p. 433)(28)

In 1909 Charles H. entered into an agreement with the Aeolian Company to build player-pianos that could accommodate Duo-Art technology. The contract called for the delivery of 600 or more pianos every year for 25 years. Launched in March 1914 the initial Steinway Pianola pianos were uprights, sold for $1250, and were demonstrated in a Steinway salon at Aeolian Hall in New York City. The Duo-Art mechanism allowed editing by both pianists and editors. Performances available for playing on the Aeolian Steinways included well known artists such as Ignace Paderewski and Josef Hofmann. (10)(16)(26)

Writing for System, The Magazine of Business in 1908 in an article titled "Making Every Man a Producer," Charles H. advised that direct contact through personal supervision was necessary to ensure that each employee was contributing effectively to the business. He located his desk in the midst of his employees and claimed there was "no atmosphere of exclusiveness" and "no attitude of awe" toward superiors at Steinway & Sons. But the key to worker productivity, he claimed, was to give each man the hope of personal gain. Because it was the incentive of promotion that makes men producers, Steinway & Sons had a "strict policy never to take a man from the outside to fill a good position." At Steinway & Sons a man was considered a newcomer until he had been with the company 15 or 20 years.(24)

Recognized as a leader in the business of piano manufacture, Charles H. authored an article in 1912 describing Steinway & Sons' approach to building and maintaining a reputation for outstanding quality. Titled "Building up Prestige and what it Entails," the article appeared in Printers' Ink, a journal for advertisers. Discussing the firm's approach to promoting sales, he noted various strategies designed to enhance the Steinway brand in the public's minds: getting noted musicians and royalty to use the product; opening Steinway Hall; and receiving awards at international expositions. One technique he described was to watch for announcements of new residences and contact owners who might be interested in having a piano custom made to harmonize with their décor. He also noted the company's unwillingness to produce a lower quality piano at a popular price in order to sell more pianos to those of limited means. We prefer to perpetuate [the standard of] our institution, he said. Money is not the only object, he wrote. "... we want to make enough money to make the kind of pianos we want to make." He believed there was no "permanency in a business that has merely a price basis." In mentioning dealers he stressed that their relationship with dealers was based on mutual respect, affection and loyalty but that Steinway & Sons insisted that each dealer believe unequivocally that Steinway & Sons' pianos were the best on the market and should be spoken of as such to all customers.(23)

Charles H. observed his fortieth anniversary with Steinway & Sons in 1914 at a grand celebratory dinner at Luchow's German restaurant. In addition to numerous accolades and testimonial books from the employees at all three locations (New York, London and Hamburg) Charles was presented with gifts of enormous value. From Steinway & Sons – a Peerless limousine automobile. From the employees – a scarf pin with an immense diamond surrounded by sapphires as well as a platinum fob with the Steinway & Sons trademark with 42 diamonds in the center. In the opening speech a senior member of the Steinway Hall staff, James H. Hempstead, called Charles a beloved president. Other employee testimonials confirmed the admiration, love and esteem Charles had earned throughout his career.(2)

Charles H. married Marie Mertens, daughter of William Mertens of New York City, on October 10, 1885. William attended both the bachelor party and the wedding and thought Marie "a stately and most charming young lady."(Diary, 1885-10-03, 10-04, 10-10) Two years later William recorded when Charles H. bought a "beautiful residence" at 51 Park Ave.(Diary, 1887- 03-29; 1887-10-20) Marie bore four children. Arthur M. died(Diary, 1889-05-21) of diphtheria before he was age three, and Madeleine L. died after only a few days.(Diary, 1890-12-31) Charles Frederick (1892-1969) and Marie Louise (1894-1954) survived. (12) Clearly pleased, William noted the birth of Marie calling it "joyful news."(Diary, 1894-08-20)

Stricken suddenly by illness on October 29, 1919, Charles H. died unexpectedly the next day at his apartment in the Sherman Square Hotel. His widow, Marie, was living in Pasedena, CA at the time of his death. The net value of his estate was $618,977. (22) Charles H. must have been disappointed in his son for in his will he directed that payments to the son be limited to $100 a week of which $50 was to go to the son's wife. Charles H. was quoted as stating "I make this provision for my son because I am of the opinion that he is lacking in business ability, and is not competent to take charge of and prudently use, manage and dispose of money and property."(21)

Charles H. was both a talented pianist and composer, having had more than 40 of his compositions published. Especially well known were "Alblum Blaetter" and "Marche Triumphal." He was elected to the Legion of Honor of France, and received the Order of the Red Eagle from the Emperor of Germany (1893, 1908), the Order of the Liaket from the Sultan of Turkey (1900), and the Order of the Lion and the Sun from the Shah of Persia (1907).(6)(25)

He was also a member of the New York Chamber of Commerce, the Philharmonic Society, the Stockholm Academy of to Music, the Modern Music Society of New York, the Buffalo Historical Society, the St. Cecelia Society, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Alliance Francaise. He also held memberships in the Lambs, New York Athletic and Reform Clubs and the Larchmont Yacht Club.(3) He had been a director of the Pacific Bank and vice-president of the Citizens Savings Bank.(1). He belonged to the Piano Manufacturers' Association;(13) was appointed to the committee of citizens that worked to gather contributions for the relief of victims of the 1906 San Franciso earthquate;(4) and was a member of the executive committee organized to celebrate the 1909 opening of the Queensboro Bridge, first envisioned by William in the 1870s.(5)(8)



1. Abbott, Frank D., ed. Musical Instruments at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Chicago: The Presto Co., 1895, p. 291.
2. “Celebrate Charles H. Steinway’s Fortieth Anniversary,” Music Trade Review, January 10, 1914, pp. 27-28.
3. “Charles Steinway, Head of Piano Firm, Dies at Home Here,” New-York Tribune, October 31, 1919, p.8.
4. “City Quickly Gives $500,000,”  The New York Times.  April 20, 1906, p. 6.
5. “Com. Bourne Accepts,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 30, 1908, p. 10.
6. Dolge, Alfred.  Pianos and Their Makers.  Covina, CA: Covina Publishing Company, 1913, pp. 176-81.
7. Fostle, D. W.  The Steinway Saga.  New York: Scribner, 1995.
8. “Greatest Convention in Queens History,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 16, 1908, p. 6.
9. Herter, Joseph A.  “Remembering Paderewski,”
10. “History of the Pianola,” available from The Pianola Institute Web site
11. “Living Room Grand Model O,” available from the Steinway & Sons Web site.
12. Maniha, Ken.  Steinway Family Geneology.
13. “Piano Men Dine,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 29, 1895, p. 8.
14. “Putting Damper on Housing In Former Steinway Factory,” The New York Times, June 15, 1997, p. CY7.
15. Ratcliffe, Ronald V. Steinway & Sons.  San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1989, p. 122.
16. “The Reproducing Piano – Duo-Art,” available from The Pianola Institute Web site
17. Steinweg, Charles G.  Last Will and Testament, July 1, 1864. Family records.
18. Steinway & Sons.  Minutes of Board of Directors Meeting, December 4, 1896.
19. Steinway & Sons.  Minutes of Board of Directors Meeting, December 23, 1896.
20. “The Steinway Estate,” The New York Times, May 20, 1898, p. 2.
21. “Steinway Fortune Put At $5,000,000,” The New York Times, November 26, 1919, p. 17.
22. “Steinway Left $637,169.” The New York Times, May 28, 1921, p. 3.
23. Steinway, Charles H., “Building Up Prestige and What It Entails,” Printers’ Ink, November 7, 1912,
pp. 3-10.
24. Steinway, Charles H., “Making Every Man a Producer,” System, The Magazine of Business, July 1908, pp. 4-10.
25. “Steinway, Charles Herman,” The National Cyclopædia of American Biography.  v. XVIII, pp. 266-67.
26. “Steinways to Have a Player-Piano,” The New York Times, February 20, 1909, p. 14.
27. “Steinway’s Many Bequests,” The New York Times, December 11, 1896, p. 9.
28. Vorontzov, Dimitri. “Timeline,” available from the Steinway History Web site.
29. Watkins, Julian Lewis.  The 100 Greatest Advertisements 1852-1958:Who Wrote Them and What they Did.  New York: More Publishing Co., 1949.
30. “William Steinway’s Estate,” The New York Times, February 3, 1904, p. 16.