|Founded||1823 in Boston, Massachusetts|
|Headquarters||Boston, Massachusetts, United States|
Chickering & Sons was an American piano manufacturer located in Boston, Massachusetts, known for producing award-winning instruments of superb quality and design. The company was founded in 1823 by Jonas Chickering and James Stewart, but the partnership dissolved four years later. By 1830 Jonas Chickering became partners with John Mackay, manufacturing pianos as "Chickering & Company", and later "Chickering & Mackays" until the senior Mackay's death in 1841, and reorganized as "Chickering & Sons" in 1853. Chickering pianos continued to be made until 1983.
It was P.T. Barnum who persuaded Jenny Lind - the Swedish Nightingale - to make a concert tour of the United States. After her agreement, Barnum commissioned the Chickering company to manufacture a custom grand piano for her nationwide tour, ultimately involving 93 performances. The piano was completed by August 1850; Lind arrived in September and the concert series began in Boston. Her pianist was Otto Goldschmidt, whom she married at the end of her tour.
Coincidentally, as the tour began, Henry E. Steinway (Steinweg) and his large family arrived in New York as immigrants from Germany. Henry attended the opening night of the NYC concert series but showed little interest in the diva. His profound interest was in the Chickering piano, to which he dashed for such careful examination that he nearly had to be hauled away so the concert could begin.
On December 1, 1852, a massive fire destroyed Chickering's piano factory located at 336 Washington Street in Boston. One policeman was killed. The walls of the building collapsed, and set adjoining structures on fire. A new factory was built in 1853-54 at 791 Tremont Street in Boston. From 1860-1868 space in the building was the location of the Spencer Repeating Rifle Company, who made over 100,000 rifles and carbines for the U.S. Army and sportsmen from 1862-1868. This structure still stands today. It was renovated into artist studios in 1972.
Jonas Chickering made several major contributions to the development of piano technology, most notably by introducing a one-piece, cast-iron plate to support the greater string tension of larger grand pianos. Jonas Chickering also invented a new deflection of the strings and in 1845 the first convenient method for over stringing in square pianos. Instead of setting the strings side by side, the company introduced substituting an arrangement of the string in two banks, one over the other. This does not only save space but also brings the powerful bass strings directly over the most resonant part of the sound-board, the principle which completes to this day in the construction of all pianos, both grands and uprights.
Chickering was the largest piano manufacturer in the United States in the middle of the 19th century, but was surpassed in the 1860s by Steinway. In 1867, Jonas's son Frank Chickering had the Imperial Cross of the Legion of Honour, then one of the world's most prestigious non-military awards, bestowed upon him by Emperor Napoleon III for services to the art of music, one of more than 200 awards the piano manufacturer garnered over the years.
The company became in 1908 part of the American Piano Company (Ampico), and continued after the merger in 1932 of American with the Aeolian Company, to form Aeolian-American. That company went out of business in 1985, and the Chickering name continued to be applied to new pianos produced by Wurlitzer and then the Baldwin Piano Company. The brand is now defunct.
The firm operated a concert hall in Boston in several successive locations:
The firm also ran the "Chickering Hall" concert auditorium in New York City at no.130 Fifth Avenue, 1875-1901. The building was situated on the north-west corner (not north-east contrary to some sources) of Fifth Avenue and West Eighteenth Street, and was the venue for Oscar Wilde's first lecture in America. [Source: New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age, Robert A.M. Stern (Author), Thomas Mellins (Author), David Fishman (Author)].
Portrait of George H. Chickering (d.1899)