A Personal History of the Diary Project

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I was born in New York's Westchester County in 1930 and lived in New Rochelle until September 1940 when we moved to Fairfield County, Connecticut.  I started taking piano lessons in 1943 and continued through 1948. The piano teacher I had during my last two years of lessons entered his students in a competition sponsored by the Music Education League. The competition was held in New York City at Steinway Hall on 57th Street: my first introduction to Steinway & Sons.

From 1949 through 1953, I attended the University of Connecticut and graduated with a BA in psychology and business. Drafted into the Army, 1954–1956, I was stationed at Ft. Myer’s South Post, Arlington, Virginia. The building I was assigned to was exactly where the National Museum of American History (NMAH)—home of the William Steinway Diary Project—sits today at 12th Street and Constitution Ave.

After the Army, I worked for two intelligence agencies and the Navy Department from 1957–1985, when I retired. As a bachelor I acquired my own  apartment in 1961 and a piano in 1962. I began spending time after work and Saturdays at the Library of Congress in the Music Division exploring materials on the history of piano manufacturing. This was the start of my collecting materials on the subject.


I believe it was in 1967 when I first met Cynthia Adams Hoover and became aware of the Music Division and saw their collection of pianos. My research was put on hold for a couple of years, when my employer gave me the opportunity to attend school full time to work on a masters degree in the technology of management at American University. I completed my degree in 1972. Meanwhile, I got married in May 1970 and my wife Peggy and I moved to American University Park in Washington.


To keep track of the present piano manufacturing industry, in 1972 I subscribed to two trade journals that covered current and past piano history: Piano Trade Magazine (PTM) and The Music Trades (JC Freund). A significant event that motivated me was an article in the February 1973 issue of PTM by Charles E. Huether, Secretary of the Piano Technicians Guild and Contributing Editor for PTM in which he expressed an "interest in gathering information about the history of Piano Manufacturing in New York City. This was the beginning of a correspondence of over 25 years until Mr. Huether retired. This association led him to donate to the Smithsonian a large amount of piano material now in the NMAH Archives Center

During the period 1970–1983, my research led me to write more than 46 letters to research libraries, the American Antiquarian Society, the New-York Historical Society, New York University, Harvard University, the American Federation of Labor, the Organ Performing Arts Library, Winterthur, Steinway & Sons, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others. On May 4, 1970, I received a letter from John Steinway in regard to my May 11 inquiry about the availability of 3–4 books on pianos I could not find. My second letter to Mr. Steinway was February 8, 1975, when I asked if Mr. Huether and I could visit the factory and see their holdings, including materials on the early history of Steinway & Sons. He replied on February 13, 1975 and we spent the day of March 24 with John Steinway in Astoria during which time we read several of the "confidential" letters to Steinway dealers from the late 1800s. On that visit, Mr. Steinway read several pages from William Steinway's diary to us. This was my introduction to his grandfather's diary with which I would become involved 14 years later as the first Diary Project volunteer researcher in 1989. My last letter to John Steinway was May 12, 1978 when I asked him about the “Wm Steinway History of the American Piano Industry” in serial form that appeared in London, 1890 (not found).

Cynthia Adams Hoover was familiar with my research for some time and in February 1975 she came to my house to take some of the articles I had copied at the Library of Congress from publications such as the Musical Age, American Art Journal, the Musical Courier, the Music Trade Journal, Musical World, etc.

In September 1975, Mr. Huether and I visited the Sohmer & Company warerooms in New York and went through their early history files held in the basement. My notes state I gave a copy of what I had written down to Cynthia. On January 7, 1976 I had written to Elmer Brooks, President of the Aeolian American Piano Corporation in Rochester, New York, to set up a 2–3 day meeting between he, Mr. Huether and I to view their ledger books, files and documents relating to the histories of the various piano companies of old now under the control of the Aeolian Corporation. Cynthia had visited Aeolian in the late 1960s and saw much material that she thought should be copied and archived. Since 1976 was America’s Bicentennial year she asked me to give her a list of & size of the shipping records which she had seen on the shelves of books and material in their Conference room.

We spent two days at Aeolian and I recorded and transcribed a conversation we had with Mr. Brooks (5 pages) about the company over the years.  On May 13 and 14, 1976 after leaving Rochester (May 11–12) we drove East to Dolgeville, New York (35 miles East of Utica) to visit the town and library where Alfred Dolge (1874–1898) built his large felt and piano soundboard factory.  We viewed and noted the extent of their holdings of historical data on A. Dolge and his innovative ideas on workers compensation and pensions. All this was passed on to Cynthia in a letter dated May 31, 1976. On December 11, 1978 I wrote to the Metropolitan Music of Art's Nancy Groce, author of Music Instrument Makers of New York, asking about their copy of the Piano Makers Price Book, of 1835. This was not available for viewing for one year. On March 27, 1981, I was able to see this important rare book, the first attempt to regulate prices for each task involved in piano building.


In 1982, the Aeolian Corporation in Rochester, New York closed and Steinway & Sons was sold in 1985 to CBS to be purchased in 1991 by an investment group. In 1982 the LaGuardia Archives was established at the LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, NY and became the repository for Steinway & Sons documents, photos, films, oral histories, etc.  In 1988 Mr. Huether and I spent a day at the Archives. In 1985 I retired from the U.S. Government after 30 years. Having been a member since 1972 of the American Franz Liszt Society, I was asked to create and edit a "Newsletter" which would complement the "Journal" which came out twice a year. I did this for 10 years.


In January 1989, Cynthia Adams Hoover asked me if I would like to be a volunteer researcher with others on a project that she and Edwin M. (Ted) Good were doing with William Steinway's diary. She had on loan copies of the Diary, Steinway & Sons production books, and Steinway & Sons Board of Trustees minute books. Before the first working group met on March 14, 1989, Cynthia and Ted came to my house to review my original issues of J.C. Freund’s first music industry paper, The Music Trade Review (Nov 1875–Jan 1880). At a later date the NMAH Library obtained this on microfilm.  As I became more familiar with the Diary, I could see that it contained a lot of information that would tie together my previous years of research on the strikes in the piano trade and at Steinway & Sons. It also covered the growth of the Piano Manufacturers Society and the New York City piano trade.

At the third meeting of the Diary working group, May 11, 1989, each of the volunteers had agreed to work on a specific topic related to the Diary. My topic was "The History of the Piano Trade."

I met Henry Ziegler Steinway for the first time when he came to the fifth meeting of the working group on September 18, 1989. I told him I had just handed in an eight-page report on the "History of the Piano Manufacturers Society of New York, November 23, 1863–1865" with a copy of their constitution. I asked him if he had a file on strikes and he subsequently answered in a letter that, "He had a file of clippings on strikes and a few of the original letters from the workmen." Henry came back and attended meeting #7, November 27, 1989 and took photos of the group sitting around the conference table. Mr. Steinway attended for the third time our working group meeting #8, January 5, 1990, urging that we not get distracted from the Diary.