In 1853, Henry Engelhardt Steinweg and his five sons introduced—and eventually patented—acoustic and mechanical improvements that made their grand and upright pianos exemplars of craftsmanship. Maintaining that reputation, sometimes at the expense of market share and profits, has been the company's singular obsession ever since. It still takes a year to make a Steinway, which is made the same way, and in the same factory, as it has been for more than a century. Steinway is the sole American piano maker left (and one of the last major manufacturers in New York City). Since its 1872 opening, what once fostered a 400-acre company town has been whittled down to one four-floor factory complex. Here, the 3,000 pianos turned out yearly are almost entirely hand-made by Steinway's 500 craftspeople, some of whom learned the trade alongside their parents. They saw, sand, bend, carve, and regulate the 12,000 parts of each instrument with tools and machines that were used by 19th century workers. Inventory is still kept with paper and pencil; new processes like the "Pounder Room," where a machine bangs on the strings thousands of times to reveal any flaws, have been introduced to further guarantee time-honored quality.Steinway Village
The old Steinway Village surrounding the factory once featured schools, post offices, and shops. Many of these buildings are still standing; the original workers' rowhouses can be seen on 20th Ave., between 41st and 42nd Streets. The Steinway Mansion is on the corner of 42nd Street and 19th Avenue.
Offered in the fall, winter and spring, the free 2.5-hour tour begins at 9:15 a.m. in the lumber yard and follows the path each piano takes to completion. Highlights include the sauna-like curing room, an enormous cellar stacked with precious veneers, and the famous rim-bending room where burly workers force lengths of wood into piano-shaped moulds. Advance reservations are required; call 718-721-2600 x3164.