Wm. Knabe & Co.

Wm. Knabe & Co.

Wm. Knabe & Co. was a piano manufacturing company in Baltimore, Maryland from the middle of the nineteenth century through the beginning of the 20th century, and continued as a division of Aeolian-American at East Rochester, New York until 1982. It is currently a line of pianos manufactured by Samick Musical Instruments.


Wilhelm Knabe was born in Creuzburg, Saxe-Weimar, on June 3, 1803. The French campaigns in Germany in 1813 prevented him from studying to become an apothecary like his father, and instead he apprenticed with a cabinetmaker, after which he worked two years as a journeyman cabinetmaker, then for three years for a pianomaker in Gotha, before working as a journeyman pianomaker in different cities in Germany.

, where a brother had settled several years earlier. Knabe worked for the well-known pianomaker Henry Hartge, and eventually abandoned his plans to become a farmer. Four years later he started selling and repairing used pianos from his house at the corner of Liberty and Lexington streets.

Knabe & Gaehle

In 1839 Knabe formed a partnership with Henry Gaehle for the purpose of manufacturing pianos and by 1841 they moved to larger workshops at 13 South Liberty street. ["The Baltimore Directory for 1845", John Murphy, Baltimore, 1845 p.80] In 1843 they opened warerooms at the corner of Eutaw street and Cowpen alley, and four years later removed their warerooms to 9 Eutaw street, opposite the Eutaw house, selling pianos priced between $180 and $400. [advertisement "Matchetts Baltimore Director, for 1847-'8" R. J. Matchett, Baltimore. 1847 p.448.] By 1852 they had expanded to 4, 6, 8, 9 and 11 Eutaw streets. [advertisement "Baltimore Wholesale Business Directory and Business Circular, for the Year 1852" I. Hartman, Baltimore, 1852 p.21] Knabe & Gaehle won first premiums for square pianos from the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of Mechanic Arts in 1848, 1849 and 1850, as well as for grand pianos in 1849.

In 1852 the company reorganized as Knabe, Gaehle & Co. with the admission of Edward Betts as partner, [advertisement "Adams Sentinel and General Advertiser" Gettysburg, Pennsylvania March 29, 1852] and by 1853 advertised their establishment was the largest in the south, employing over 100 workmen. [advertisement "Baltimore Wholesale Business Directory and Business Circular, for the Year 1853" I. Hartman, Baltimore, 1853 p.28] They manufactured six to seven octave pianos with "a double action, like Chickering's" selling for between $200 and $500. [advertisement (Erie Music Store) "The Erie Observer" Erie, Pennsylvania, March 11, 1854 p.4 (issued November 12, 1853)]

In November 1854 their factory at Cowpen alley at the rear of Eutaw House burned, at an estimated loss of $190,000, [David A. Dana "The Fireman: The Fire Departments of the United States, with a Full Account of All Large Fires" James French and Company, Boston. 1858 p.254; the stock alone was valued at $60,000 - "Large Fire in Baltimore" "New York Times" November 6, 1854 p.4] and five weeks later their factory at Baltimore street near Paca burned, [J. Thomas Scharf "The Chronicles of Baltimore; being a Complete History of "Baltimore Town" and Baltimore City from the Earliest Period to the Present Time" Turnbull Brothers, Baltimore 1874 p.547] reportedly with little insurance coverage.

Wm. Knabe & Co.

Proceedings started early 1855 in order to dissolve the partnership. ["William Knabe vs. Henry Gaehle and Edward Betts. Dissolution of Knabe, Gaehle & Co." C17 Baltimore City Superior Court (Chancery Papers) MSA C168; Accession No. 40,200-5143-1/14, MSA No. C168-747 Location: 2/16/6/14. January 17, 1855
"William Gaehle vs. William Knabe, Edward Betts, and Western Bank of Baltimore. Dissolution of Knabe, Gaehle & Co." C30 Baltimore City Superior Court (Chancery Papers) MSA C168; Accession No. 40,200-5371 MSA No. C168-978 Location: 2/16/6/32 August 31, 1857
] Henry Gaehle died, and Knabe advertised he had purchased all the remaining stock and materials and would continue in business as Wm. Knabe & Co. at the old stand at 1, 3, 5, and 7 North Eutaw street, opposite the Eutaw house. [advertisement "Woods' Baltimore Directory, for 1856-'57" John W. Woods, Baltimore p.179] William Gaehle, who had become the senior partner, advertised he was in business as Wm. Gaehle & Co., manufacturing grand and square pianos the corner of Pratt and Green streets and with warerooms at the corner of Eutaw and Fayette streets. [advertisement "Wood's Baltimore Directory" 1856, p.119]

Knabe purchased a former paper mill at the corner of West and China streets for a new factory, and by 1859 had established warerooms at 207 Baltimore street. [advertisement "Philadelphia Press", Mar. 21, 1859] He won gold medals for square pianos from the Maryland Institute in 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858 ["Pianos! Pianos!" "The Republican Compiler" Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, January 18, 1859 p.2; reportedly Knabe only had seven weeks after the dissolution of Knabe, Gaehle & Co. to prepare his piano for the fair in 1855] silver medals from the Metropolitan Institute in Washington, D. C. in 1857, a medal from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 1856, and first premiums from the Mechanics' Institute, Richmond, Virginia in 1855 and 1856. [advertisement "The Republican Compiler" April 18, 1859 p.3]

In 1860 Knabe started building a new five story factory on Eutaw and West streets, but had only completed one of its wings at the outbreak of the American Civil War, which compelled them to seek new trade in the West to make up for the loss of their principal market in the South. [Spillane p.133; James W. Sheahan and George P. Upton "The Great Conflagration. Chicago: Its Past, Present and Future." Union Publishing Co., Chicago. p.354; Julius Bauer & Co. acted as Knabe's Northwestern agent as well as their New York agent from 1862 until 1873] William Knabe died May 21, 1864, and was succeeded by his sons William and Ernest J. Knabe , and son-in-law Charles Keidel.

In 1866 Wm Knabe & Co. introduced their "agraffe treble" with agraffes threaded into a heavier piece of brass instead of directly into the iron frame. [William Nordhoff "Improvement in Pianos" United States Patent no. 57,257 April 14, 1866]

By 1866 they employed about 230 workmen and manufactured about a thousand pianos a year, [James Parton "The Piano in the United States" "The Atlantic monthly" vol.20 no.117 p.93] including uprights as well as squares and grands, producing as many as thirty pianos a week. The factory was equipped with a convert|30|hp steam engine, as well as steam powered elevators and drying rooms, and had been augmented with a second convert|40|ft|m|sing=on wide (12 m) building where grand cases, sounding boards, and actions were manufactured and cases varnished and iron frames gilded. ["The Piano Forte Manufactory of Knabe & Co., Baltimore" "Debow's review, Agricultural, commercial, industrial progress and resources." vol.2, no.1, p. 71-73] Further additions and a cupola completed the factory in 1869, fronting 210 feet (64 m) on Eutaw street and 165 feet (50 m) on West street. ["The Great Southern Piano Manufactory" "Debow's review, Agricultural, commercial, industrial progress and resources." vol.1, no. 2, 1866, p. 209] Their sales ranked third in the United States, after Steinway & Sons of New York and Chickering & Sons of Boston. ["Piano-fortes" "The Great Industries of the United States: Being an Historical Summary of the Origin, Growth, and Perfection of the Chief Industrial Arts of this Country" J. Burr & Hyde, Hartford. 1873. p331] and by 1870 their output was estimated to be about forty pianos a week, priced between $600 and $2,000. ["The Knabe Piano" "The Columbia Spy" Columbia, Pennsylvania August 20, 1870 p.3]

In 1873 Wm. Knabe & Co. established their own warerooms at 112 Fifth avenue in New York. They exhibited grand, square, and upright pianos as well as a Tschudi & Broadwood harpsichord at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, ["International Exhibition, 1876. Official Catalogue" John R. Nagle and Company, Philadelphia. 1876. p.265] and due to the revised awards system they claimed highest honors along with many of their coexhibitors. ["Piano Award - Knabe Victory - Unanimous Award of Highest Honors to William Knabe & Co." "New York Times" October 1, 1876; all of the awards had equal value, but each included specific comments from the judges that the exhibitors could publish as they saw fit - "The Centennial Awards" "New York Times" September 28, 1876.] In 1882 they delivered a rosewood concert grand to the White House for President Chester A. Arthur. ["A Knabe in the White House" "New York Times" December 16, 1882 p.5]

William Knabe, jr., died in 1889 . [Daniel Spillane "History of the American Pianoforte" D. Spillane, New York. 1891. p.132] The company was incorporated with a capital stock of $1,000,000 the same year, with Ernest J. Knabe as president.

Ernest J. Knabe died in 1894 [Henry Hall, ed. "America's Successful Men of Affairs" vol.2 The New York Tribune, New York. 1896 p.477] and was succeed by his sons, both of whom had trained at the factory. Ernest J. Knabe, jr. was elected president and William Knabe, vice president and treasurer. [Alfred Dolge "Pianos and their Makers" vol.2, Covina Publishing Company, Covina CA, 1913. p.121.]

Wm. Knabe & Co. established agencies in Canada and England by 1903, and mortgaged the factory for the purpose of extending the business further. ["Knabe Company Extension - Bond Issue of $450,000 Made by Manufacturers" "New York Times" May 2, 1903] By 1906 the factory occupied seven buildings with the original buildings extensively expanded, with a total of about convert|300000|sqft|m2 of carefully planned floor space ["Three Generations of Piano Manufacturers" "McClure's Magazine" vol.26, The S. S. McClure Co., New York and London. 1906 advertising section p.16m-16n] and 765 employees. Although the plant included modern appliances such as individually powered machines and a dust collection system connected with the boiler, Knabe advertised their standards required their pianos to be carefully handcrafted, so that a plain upright took six months and a grand two years to complete. ["Inspired Handiwork" "The American Monthly Review of Reviews" vol.24 1906. advertising section p.41]

American Piano Co.

In 1908 Wm. Knabe & Co., with Chickering & Sons and the Foster-Armstrong Co., of East Rochester, New York, formed the American Piano Co. under the laws of New Jersey, headed by Ernst J. Knabe, Jr., president, and C. H. W. Foster of Chickering & Sons, and George G. Foster, of Foster-Armstrong, controlling their respective companies as well as Haines Brothers, Marshall & Wendell, Brewster, and J. B. Cook & Co. with a combined output of about 18,000 pianos a year. ["Piano Makers form $12,000,000 Combine" "New York Times" June 10, 1908 p.5]

Knabe Brothers

Ernest and William Knabe resigned their positions in 1909, and following a series of business troubles in New York ["United Surety Loses License" "New York Times" May 2, 1910] they incorporated Knabe Brothers in Ohio in 1911, with offices at Cincinnati, ["Knabe Bros. Co." The Newark Advocate" Newark, OH, May 5, 1911 p.12] manufacturing upright and grand pianos at a former Smith and Nixon factory in nearby Norwood, [William N. Osborne "Music in Ohio" Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 2004 p.494] "free from the yoke of a commercialism that figured out pianos by square inches of wood and decimal points in the allotment of wires". [advertisement "The Newark Advocate" February 25, 1913 p.7] American Piano Co. filed suit over the use of the name but the resulting injunction only prevented Knabe Brothers from using their original nameboard label, and required the brothers to indicate this was a new company. [Six, Baer & Fuller Dry Goods Co. et al. v. American Piano Co. (211 Fed. Rep., 271.) 8th Circuit, November 28, 1913 "The Trade-Mark Reporter" vol. 4, The United States Trade-mark Association, New York. 1914 p.246] The plant burned in January 1912, ["Fires" "The American Library Annual, 1913" Publishers' Weekly, 1913, New York. p.38; the value given is $100,000] but they quickly resumed production at a temporary factory ["Knabe Brothers Piano Company" "The Newark Advocate" February 29, 1912 p.8] before building a modern factory on the old site. The company went into receivership late in 1916 on account of an unpaid loan, ["Receiver for Piano Company" "Van Wert Daily Bulletin" Van Wert, OH December 9, 1916 p.1; the note was for $100,000] and the brothers declared bankruptcy by the end of the year. ["Pianomakers in Bankruptcy" "New York Times" December 31, 1916. p.17; Their combined liabilities were more than $660,000 and their declared assets amounted to $476.38]

Ernest J. Knabe died in 1927, ["E. J. Knabe Found Dead" "New York Times" September 28, 1924 p.S8] and William Knabe died 1939. ["William Knabe, 66, Piano Manufacturer" "Special to the New York Times" March 1, 1939 p.27]


In 1927 Wm. Knabe & Co. removed their New York warerooms from Fifth avenue at 39th street to 657 Fifth avenue, corner of 52nd Street, [advertisement "New York Times" April 14, 1927] and in 1928 moved to to Ampico Tower at Fifth avenue and 47th street as part of American Piano Co.'s move to consolidate the sales of all their brands ["William Knabe & Co. Move" "New York Times" March 1, 1928; "Piano Salesrooms United" "New York Times" September 26, 1928 p.45] in an unsuccessful attempt to make up for a sharp decline in profits. American went into receivership in 1929, and Knabe's liabilities were listed as $286,000 and assets $415,000. ["Business Records" "New York Times" December 27, 1929, p.45 ]

In 1930 American's assets were purchased by the American Piano Corporation, newly incorporated under the laws of Delaware, whose officers included former executives from American as well as executives from the Aeolian Corporation. ["Change in American Piano" "New York Times" May 22, 1930 p.47] The Knabe factory was closed, as well as the Chickering factory in Boston, and their production ultimately transferred to East Rochester, New York, where they were established as separate divisions. The old factories, including Mason & Hamlin in Boston and the Amphion in Syracuse, New York, were put on the market. ["The American Piano Company" Harvard Business School case study, 1934, reproduced in the AMICA Bulletin and available from the [http://www.pianolasociety.com/indexa.html Pianola Society] ]


In 1932 the American Piano Corp. merged with the Aeolian Company, Aeolian-Weber's piano subsidiary, to form the Aeolian American Corporation which consolidated the control of more than 20 piano brands, ["Deals & Developments" "Time Magazine" August 8, 1932] as well as action manufacturing and plate casting divisions. ["Piano Merger Links 2 Largest Makers" "New York Times" July 30, 1932. p.17] In 1936 it ranked as the fourth largest producer in the country, after Kimball, Baldwin and Winter & Co. ["Merchants of Music" "Time Magazine" August 10, 1936]

Berthold Neuer, who had been vice president and general mangager from 1927 ["Now Knabe's Vice President" "New York Times" June 1, 1927 p.37] died in 1938, [obituary "New York Times" July 1, 1938 p.19] and his successor Richard K. Paynter died in 1940 [obituary "New York Times" August 10, 1940 p.13]

In 1942 the East Rochester factories were contracted to manufacture military aircraft parts, keeping the plants and personnel in operation, ["Piano Industry to be Converted" "New York Times" June 22, 1942 p.23] but by late 1949 piano production returned to full capacity. ["Piano Producers Optimistic on Fall" "New York Times" July 28, 1949] The Aeolian Company and the American Piano Corporation recapitalized and merged with the Aeolian-American Corporation in 1951, ["Aeolian-American Merger" "New York Times" May 18, 1951. p.54] and in 1957 was purchased by the owners of Winter & Co., based in Bronx, New York. [Trademark Assignment Details, Reel/Frame 0053/0478 May 21, 1959 ; "Reports of the Tax Court of the United States" Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1969. p.110]

By 1981 the combined divisions at the East Rochester factory employed about 300, [Susan Caust Farrell, "Directory of Contemporary American Musical Instrument Makers" University of Missouri Press, Columbia MO 1981 p. 2] and it closed the following year. ["Pierce Piano Atlas" 9th ed.]

ohmer & Co.

In 1985 Sohmer & Co. purchased the Knabe and Mason & Hamlin trademarks and their patterns and equipment from Citicorp Industrial Credit Co., Aeolian's principal creditors. Sohmer & Co. had planned to resume production of the existing models from both divisions but was itself sold and the companies reorganized with Sohmer and Knabe as subsidiaries of Mason & Hamlin. [Larry Fine. The Piano Book Brookside Press, Boston. 1987 p.100; Leslie Brokaw, "Sour Notes" "Inc." Jan 1990]


Wm. Knabe & Co. pianos are manufactured by Samick Musical Instruments, Ltd. .

As of 2007, Knabes are offered in three sizes of vertical pianos - a 119cm (47 inches) in three furniture case styles, as well as 121cm (48 inches) and 131cm (52 inches) models - and four sizes of grand pianos - three case styles each of 158cm (5 feet 3 inches) and 173cm (5 feet 8 inches) models, as well as a 193cm (6 feet 4 inches) and 215cm (7 ft) models.

In early 2006 Samick Music Corporation, distributor for Samick in the United States and Canada announced they had started building a convert|210000|sqft|m2|sing=on distribution center and factory in Gallatin, Tennessee where they plan to manufacture Knabe as well as J. P. Pramberger lines beginning late 2006 or early 2007. [ [http://www.expansionmanagement.com/cmd/articledetail/articleid/17080/default.asp Samick Music Corp. to Relocate North American HQ to Tennessee] "Expansion Management" February 10, 2006]


*"William Knabe" "Baltimore: Past and present, with Biographical Sketches of its Representative Men". Richardson & Bennett, Baltimore, 1871. p.349-352

External links

* [http://www.knabepianos.com/ Knabe Pianos]
* [http://www.samick.co.kr/eng/ Samick Musical Instruments, Ltd.]
* [http://www.smcmusic.com/ Samick Music Corporation]
* [http://www.14to42.net/20street2.5.html Knabe Pianos, 148-152 5th Ave., SW corner of 20th St. (2004)] New York City Signs - 14th to 42nd Street
*James Bartel [http://stage-wgmstest.bonnint.net/index.php?nid=179&sid=563 Knabe Pianos] WGMS-Classical 103.5, Washington, D. C. 2002

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