Piano Manufacture

By: Craig H. Roell

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

The great majority of pianos made in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-the golden era of American piano production-were manufactured in and distributed from New York, Boston, Chicago, and Cincinnati. Though Texas hosted hundreds of retail dealers selling a variety of piano brands, the state was not a manufacturing center of musical instruments. Alfred Dolge did not mention Texas in his comprehensive two-volume history, Pianos and Their Makers, published in 1911 and 1913.

Nevertheless, Texas manufactured some keyboard instruments. Undoubtedly, the most familiar Texas name was Thomas Goggan & Bros,, established in 1866 in Galveston. Less well known were K-L Piano Manufacturers of Texarkana, Arkansas, J. R. England of Houston (reed and pipe organs), and Harmon Organ Company of Dallas (reed and pipe organs). Information is sketchy at best regarding these firms; no manufacturing data is known.

More elusive still are dealer-stencil pianos bearing Texas names, giving the illusion that they were made in the state, though in fact they were not. Stencil pianos, common in the United States before World War I, were manufactured without brand name by major makers to be sold to dealers, who would in turn "stencil" their own name or some fanciful one on the pianos to sell as a second line to their name-brand stock. The quality of these pianos varied, and though their manufacture, distribution, and sale were accepted trade practices throughout the United States, they generally were regarded as inferior instruments. Among the known stencil instruments sold in Texas were "El Paso Piano Company," and "Shutes" piano (both in reality manufactured by Haddorff Piano Company, Rockford, Illinois, for the Shutes company of El Paso); "George Allen" pianos of San Angelo (made by M. Schultz Company, Chicago); and "Brooks-Mays" pianos (made for Brooks-Mays of Houston, manufacturer unknown). Not surprisingly, there were also pianos stenciled with names especially chosen to appeal to Texas-conscious consumers: "Alamo," "Indianola," and "Texas," and others. The manufacturers and dealers of these pianos are unknown; merely the names are preserved in trade literature both as testament to dealer ingenuity and as a caveat that they were stencil brands.

Thomas Goggan & Bros., an extensive dealer of musical instruments, may have manufactured pianos, though research sources present conflicting evidence. The company advertised "Goggan" pianos for sale but may have engaged in the practice of selling stencil pianos. Nevertheless, there are rare individual pianos still extant that display "Thos. Goggan & Bros. Texas" cast into the iron string-plate (instead of just being stenciled on the fall board or on the plate). At least one known piano still in use in Texas in the twenty-first century has the name “Thos. Goggan & Bros.” and a four-digit number cast in iron in the sound board. This evidence suggests that the firm did indeed manufacture pianos at some point, or it purchased made-to-order parts (i.e. string-plates, cases, keys, actions, sounding boards, etc.) from the numerous piano supply houses located in the North and Northeast and assembled the "Goggan" piano.

The American piano trade in the late twentieth century was troubled with a limited market and intense competition from Japanese and European firms. But this situation, coupled with the economic attractiveness of Texas, has put the state back in the industry. By the end of the twentieth century there were four piano manufacturers with offices in Texas, all of them German: August Forster Piano Company and Zimmermann Piano Company in Houston, and Bernhard Steiner Piano Company and Dietmann Pianos Limited in Dallas. Interestingly, the Whittle Music Company of Dallas controlled the name commonly associated with the invention and development of the first pianoforte in 1709-Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy.

The Purchaser's Guide to the Music Industries, 1991 (Englewood, New Jersey: Music Trades Corporation, 1990). Craig H. Roell, The Piano in America, 1890–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989).

  • Music
  • Business, Promotion, Broadcasting, and Technology
  • Peoples
  • Germans
  • Business

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Craig H. Roell, “Piano Manufacture,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/piano-manufacture.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995

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