National Museum of American History Showcases the William Steinway Diary in Special Display and Online Edition

November 15, 2010
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will launch its online edition of “The William Steinway Diary” in December to coincide with a special display of the diary that will provide a glimpse into the famous piano manufacturer’s life and one of the most dynamic periods in American history. “A Gateway to the 19th Century: The William Steinway Diary, 1861–1896” will be on view in the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery from Dec. 17 through April 8, 2011. “The William Steinway Diary” website will be available by Dec. 17 at

Steinway (1835-1896), a prominent German American and astute entrepreneur, documented more than 36 years of his life through near-daily notes in nine volumes and some 2,500 pages, beginning eight days after the first shots of the Civil War were fired and three days before his wedding. The display follows Steinway’s growth from witness to participant in history through select diary passages, Steinway family photographs, maps and advertisements that bring alive the fear and chaos of the 1863 Civil War Draft Riots and his hands-on role in the creation of the New York City subway and the company town of Steinway in Queens, N.Y.

“The breadth and depth of material covered in one man’s personal diary is truly astounding,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “The passion and diligence of the more than 100 volunteers researching the diary have produced a wealth of knowledge about the dramatic events of the second half of the 19th century.”

Steinway was one of the piano world’s great promotional innovators and a key figure in the cultural, economic, political and physical development of New York City. At age 15 he immigrated to the United States and became a partner in his family’s newly formed piano-making firm at age 21.

Under his direction, Steinway & Sons thrived as it survived the fierce piano manufacturing wars of the time and fed the period’s ravenous musical appetite. When Steinway & Sons incorporated in 1876, he became its first president, a position he held until his death. A proud member of New York’s German American community, Steinway was a classic immigrant success story. His close circle of powerful friends and allies included President Grover Cleveland.

The debut of “The William Steinway Diary”website, will, for the first time, allow scholars and the public to read and search a complete transcription of the diary alongside high-resolution scans of each handwritten page. The site will provide a detailed look at Steinway’s firsthand account of the period’s financial panics, labor unrest and rise of the German immigrant class. Primary source material will be contextualized with more than 100 images from Steinway family archives and related essays. The museum hopes to publish later installments to include more than 30,000 interlinked annotations—one for every three words in the diary—to provide context for sometimes obscure entries.

The online edition of the diary and the companion display are the result of the combined efforts of the museum’s curators and editors along with more than 100 volunteers. Taking more than two decades, “The William Steinway Diary” project is one of the longest-running and most extensive volunteer projects at the Smithsonian.

Recognizing the diary’s historical significance, the late Henry Ziegler Steinway, Steinway’s grandson and former president of Steinway & Sons, donated the diary to the museum in 1996. He became a central part of the Diary Project and a volunteer researcher until his death in 2008.

“The William Steinway Diary” project has been made possible with lead funding from Target Corporation and additional support from Henry Ziegler Steinway, the William and Mary McCormick Foundation and other friends of the Diary project.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, check For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633- 5285 (TTY).