Presidents who had Chickerings
in the White House- Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, & Teddy
Roosevelt. Roosevelt's piano is now owned by the Pierce family
(Pierce Piano Atlas- the bible and blue book of piano values-
Famous Piano players
using Chickerings- Franz Listz, Von Bulow.
The piano building trade
in Boston apparently began with Benjamin Crehore (1756-1831) in
nearby Milton in the late eighteenth century. Around 1800 Lewis
Babcock (1779-1814) and brother Alpheus Babcock (1785-1842) worked
as apprentices to Crehore in Milton. Sometime between the years
1810 and 1814, a period during which Crehore was working with or
for the Babcock brothers and Thomas Appleton in Boston proper,
John Osborn (c. 1792-1835) apprenticed under Crehore.
Jonas Chickering was born
in 1798 in Mason Village, New Hampshire, the son of Capt. Abner
Chickering and Eunice Dakin. Soon after his birth the Chickering
family moved to New Ipswich, New Hampshire. He came to Boston in
1818 after serving his apprenticeship as a cabinet maker to John
Gould in New Ipswich. During his first year in Boston he worked as
a journeyman for James Baker, a cabinetmaker. He then worked as a
journeyman for John Osborn, a piano maker until he entered into a
partnership with James Stewart (d. 1843?) on February 15th 1823 in
a company known as Stewart and Chickering. In 1825 Stewart
returned to Europe and the company was dissolved in 1826. From
1826 until 1830 Chickering ran the company as the sole proprietor.
In 1830 Jonas teamed up
with a businessman and wealthy sea-captain, named John Mackay (d.
1841). Mackay had earlier been associated with Alpheus Babcock.
Chickering was the artisan, while Mackay was the entrepreneur and
organizer. In the 1830's Chickering rose to preeminence assisted
by this partnership. John Mackay was a partner of Jonas Chickering
from 1830 until 1841. In 1841 Mackay was lost at sea on a voyage
to South America to sell Chickering pianos and to buy fine woods
for the factory.
In 1837 Alpheus Babcock
began working for Jonas Chickering and worked there until his
death in 1843. Also in 1837, Chickering attempted to patent a full
iron frame for square pianos but was refused on a technicality. In
1840 he patented a complete metal frame for the square piano and
then applied the 1840 knowledge to the grand. It was in this year
that he built his first grand. In it he used an iron frame.
In 1843 Chickering
received a patent on his complete cast-iron grand frame in which
he adapted Babcock's cast-iron frame principles with his own
modifications Also, in 1843 Edwin Brown (1806-1890) patented an
action that was used by Chickering for about the next 60 years.
In 1845 overstringing was
applied to both grand and upright pianos. In 1848 Jonas took his
sons into the business.
At the Great Exhibition
of London in 1851 the iron framed instruments of Jonas Chickering
led the American entries. Chickering won a medal for its
iron-framed grand. In 1852 the Chickering factory at 334
Washington Street, Boston was totally destroyed by fire. A larger
factory, completed in 1854, was built on Tremont Street. When it
was completed it was the largest building in the US except for the
Capitol Building in Washington. On Dec. 9th. 1853, just prior to
its completion, Jonas Chickering died very suddenly. C Frank, the
middle son became head of the company, his older brother Thomas E.
handled the business end and George H., the youngest worked
various positions in the factory.
During the 1850's
Chickering and Sons were producing around 1000 pianos per year. It
was during this period that Louis Moreau Gottschalk(1829-1869),
the first American concert pianist, 'the American Chopin', toured
North and South America with two Chickering concert grands given
to him by the Chickering company in 1855.
During the 1860 and
1870's there was great rivalry between Chickering and Steinway. By
the end of the Civil War in 1865, Steinway's were making over 2000
piano's a year and shortly over-took Chickering's output. In 1867
the Chickering pianofortes were awarded at Gold Medal at the
International Exhibition in Paris and the Emperor Napoleon III
bestowed upon C. Frank the Imperial Cross of the Legion of Honour.
for his 'distinguished service to the art of music'. C. Frank
Chickering presented a Chickering to Franz Liszt (1811-1886) in
Rome who pronounced it ' imperial' saying "I never thought a
piano could possess such qualities; The Norwegian composer, Edvard
Grieg (1843-1907), recalled playing for Liszt on 'the glorious
In 1871 Thomas E.
Chickering , the eldest son, died. In 1875-1876 Hans von Bulow
(1830-1894), the great German pianist, was contracted to tour for
Chickering. Chickering provided the instrument and its name was
prominently displayed during the concert.