Nahum Stetson

print this page

Nahum Stetson (b December 5, 1856 in Bridgewater, MA; d April 11, 1933 in New York) was a 20-year-old when hired at Steinway & Sons as a probationary salesman in 1876 (Diary 1876-10-15). He quickly proved himself and, according to Henry Z. Steinway, Stetson was among the most important formative figures in Steinway & Sons.(5)

Born into a wealthy New England family whose fortune dated back two generations in the Bridgewater Iron Company and whose ancestry traced back to Robert Stetson, a settler in the Plymouth Colony(1), Stetson was instrumental in building an extensive network of Steinway agents (dealers), including N. Stetson & Co., Philadelphia.(3)(4)

 "My father, Theodore E. Steinway, said that William met Stetson at the Philadelphia 1876 expo, where Stetson like[d] to play on the Steinway pianos exhibited there," related Henry Z. Steinway. Whether William personally hired Stetson, however, is in dispute, with Richard K. Lieberman, for example, contending Stetson was hired by Albert Steinway at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.(2) In any event, within seven years of being hired Stetson was in charge of sales and marketing for Steinway & Sons, and William was referring to him as "Manager of Warerooms." (2) William records in his Diary that he named Stetson Manager of the Warerooms on September 14, 1883.

 William’s Diary entries suggest Stetson had a major impact on the policies and practices of Steinway & Sons, both before he was elected an officer and for some years afterward. For example, as early as March 1878, less than two years after being hired, Stetson was in St. Louis under William Steinway’s instructions "to decide whom to give the Agency."(Diary, 1878-03-04) Three months later Stetson was a party to Steinway & Sons’ decision to manufacture organs in Astoria, Queens.(Diary, 1878-06-02) By the end of 1878, Stetson was lunching regularly with William Steinway at the Union Square Hotel in New York. By the late-1880s and well into the 1890s, Stetson was deeply involved with William Steinway in the choice of the creation of subsidiary dealerships, terms of contracts, and terminations of agreements. On October 1, 1893, William writes that he and Stetson "have a long consultation on business matters."(Diary, 1893-10-01) And in 1896, four months before William Steinway’s death, Stetson was involved in a corporate discussion of a proposal to syndicate Steinway & Sons’ business. (Diary, 1896-07-13) What’s more, it was Stetson "who arranged for the one-hundred-thousandth Steinway piano manufactured in New York to be placed in the East Room of Teddy Roosevelt’s White House."(2)

 Later years were not as kind to Stetson, described as, "aging, overweight, and ailing."(2) Henry Z. Steinway, the last of the Steinway family to be president of Steinway & Sons, had the "impression that Stetson deteriorated on the job," specifically suggesting Stetson was simply unable to cope with the pace of the business. By the early years of the 20th Century, Stetson’s assistant Ernest Urchs began to take more responsibility for the management of the Steinway dealers, and by the 1920s, Urchs was in charge of the dealers in charge, ably assisted by his successor, Roman de Majewski for dealers, and Alexander W. Greiner for artists.(6) " . . . Although I was 15 years old at the time he [Stetson] retired [in 1930], I do not recall seeing him except in the office, where of course he seemed enormously old to me."(6) Nevertheless, Henry Z. Steinway relates, "[h]e must have been a good picker of men, as we had many good long[-]service salesmen."(7)



 1. Dolge, Alfred. Pianos and Their Makers: Development of the Piano since the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, 1876. Covina, CA: Covina Publishers, 1913, pp. 188-89.

2. Lieberman, Richard K. Steinway & Sons. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995, p. 153.

3. "N. Stetson & Co. Will Handle the Steinway Piano in Philadelphia," American Art Journal, December 3, 1892, p. 191.

4. "Not A Piano Trust," American Art Journal, January 14, 1893, p. 315.

5. Steinway, Henry Z. "Dealer: N. Stetson & co. Philadelphia." Bio Files. Notes dated March 1992. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

6. ________. "Nahum Stetson." Bio Files. Notes dated April 4, 1987. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

7. ________. "Nahum Stetson." Bio Files. Notes dated March 1992. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.