Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fathers of the Five Towns: Henry Ziegler

In the last paragraph of a 1909 article in The New York Times  describing the sale of the town of Woodmere to Maximilian Morgenthau's  syndicate of real estate developers, Henry Ziegler (1858-1930) is listed as one of the "present residents of Woodmere and its vicinity."  He is also listed (erroneously) as the President of the Steinway Piano Company.  Although he was a director of the company for many years and the vice president of Steinway & Sons, he declined the presidency of the company which his grandfather, Henry Engelhard Steinway, had founded. 

Trained as a cabinet maker in his father's shop on Bleeker Street Henry's uncle,  C.F. Theodore Steinway discovered the creativity and innovation in his young nephew and took him under his wing.  Steinway became Ziegler's mentor and from 1875 until Mr. Steinway's death in 1889 he received daily instruction from his uncle (one of the masters of the piano industry) in the art of piano construction.  Henry Ziegler became a keen judge of tonal values and patented many inventions which improved and refined the tonal quality and resonance of Steinway pianos.  When he died in 1930 at the age of 72,  his Times obituary described him as

"one of the few men in the piano industry to envision the part which the science of electronics may be destined to contribute to the development of musical instruments ..."

A member of the Rockaway Hunting Club and New York Athletic Club, Ziegler owned a home on Woodmere Boulevard in Woodsburgh.  He raced his own horses in harness-racing competitions.  A small article in the April 12, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported a robbery of "considerable jewelry, a fur overcoat and other articles" from the Woodsburgh home while the family was at dinner. Married to the former Albertine Vogel (1863-1934), their son, Frederick J. Ziegler (1886-1966) was a 1908 graduate of Harvard University.  A sculptor and director of Steinway and Sons, Frederick spent his early years in Woodsburgh.  Their daughter, Eleanor Ziegler Hill, died in 1902.

The Steinway Company remained in the extended Steinway family until 1972, when it was sold to CBS Corporation.  In 1995,CBS sold the company to Selmer Industries.  Henry Ziegler Steinway, nephew of Henry Ziegler, was Steinway's president from 1955 until 1972.  In 2008, H.Z. Steinway was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the government's highest award in the arts, by President Bush.   He remained a guiding force in American music until his death in 2008 at the age of 93.

Further Reading:
  • Dolge, Alfred. Pianos and their Makers. New York : Dover Press, 1972.
  • Lieberman, Richard K. Steinway & Sons. New Haven : Yale University Press, 1995.
  • Ratcliffe, Ronald V. Steinway & Sons. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1989.
 "Beginning eight days after the first shots of the American Civil War were fired and three days before his wedding, William Steinway's diary bears witness to one of the most dynamic periods in American history. The breadth and depth of material covered sheds light on thousands of people, places, and events as seen through the eyes of this key figure in the cultural, political, financial, and physical development of New York City."   (Smithsonian web site)

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