American Piano Company

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Ampico reproducing piano in the Bayernhof Music Museum

American Piano Company (abbr. Ampico) was an American piano manufacturer eventually located in East Rochester, New York. The company was formed in a merger of Chickering & Sons of Boston, Wm Knabe & Co, of Baltimore and Foster Armstrong of Rochester, New York. It was formed in response to the increasing demand for player pianos, and, as well, the then current impetus towards larger economic entities and aimed at the achievement of economies of scale. The company was established in the period from 1907-1908 and in 1908 floated a prospectus and offering for shares under the name "American Piano Company."

    After the merger the individual units of the company, especially Chickering & Sons and Knabe continued production of their designs at their factories in Boston and Baltimore, along with lesser known lines. Design collaboration of the expertise of both factories, particularly, and, others as well, led to a refinement of designs and new products with more modern characteristics such as bent rims, more conventional actions, and, in general, more suitability for the addition of player mechanisms.    In response to the increasing demand for smaller pianos Chickering had already been producing its line of "quarter grands", introduced around 1902-3, enjoying robust sales of these lines as well. 
    The company flourished in the teens and early twenties, acquiring Mason & Hamlin in 1924, eventually, owning 9 piano factories scattered around the eastern part of the US and, building on the expertise of Chickering and Knabe,  producing an impressive suite of modified designs, suitable for players. However, the demand for pianos began to rapidly weaken in the early twenties with the introduction of radio and electronic amplification of records, until then only of the acoustic, Victrola type. 
    Forseeing the ongoing collapse of the industry, the President of Ampico, a gentleman named Foster, sold his common stock to Bankers' Trust, retaining the preferred. Bankers' Trust installed its own president who altered the companies marketing plan.  This substitution of the preexisting marketing approach, at that point sucessful, by the new one had a drastic effect, along with the contracting market, on sales, eventually resulting in bankruptcy for the company around 1928.    These alterations are still considered in business schools to be a classic case of how to ruin a market franchise and still an example held up as a model of what not to do in business. 
    The company emerged from bankruptcy as the American Piano Corporation in 1929.  As Foster's holdings were now only preferred stock he had a claim on the assets during the bankruptcy and was brought back to manage the company.  Notwithstanding the crash of 1929, the company was profitable for the first two years of the new decade, but the complete crash of the economy as the depression depended forced it into bankruptcy again.  A similar, large holding company producing pianos and players brought the company out of bankruptcy once more in a new entity known as the Aeolian-American Corporation and continued the process of consolidation of production in Rochester, New York.  Aeolian-American continued in production until 1983 and was liquidated in a bankruptcy in 1985.                   

From 1913 Ampico was one of the leading producers of reproducing pianos, the others being Duo-Art (1913) and Welte-Mignon (1905). The player piano and reproducing mechanism was designed by Charles Fuller Stoddard (1876–1958).[1][2] A great number of distinguished classical and popular pianists, such as Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), Leo Ornstein (1892-2002), Winifred MacBride, and Marguerite Volavy (1886–1951),[3] recorded for Ampico, and their rolls are a legacy of 19th and early 20th century aesthetic and musical practice. By 1929 Ampico was in essential economic difficulties and was finally taken over by the Aeolian Company, a manufacturer of player pianos and organs. The combined company, known as Aeolian-American Corp., went through several ownership changes before declaring bankruptcy in 1985.

Despite the Ampico's decline, the company did not officially close until 1941. The last model introduced was the Ampico Spinet Reproducing Piano, which had all the functionality of a reproducing piano, and although having a low cost of $495, still failed in sales.[4]

Rythmodik Music Corporation[edit]

In May 1918, The Music Roll Division of the American Piano Company became a separate company and henceforth was named Rythmodik Music Corporation, based in Belleville, New Jersey.[5]


Originally named Despatch after the transportation company that spawned several dozen car shops in the area, the town was also home to a musical manufacturing giant for the better part of the 20th century.Nestled in between the New York Central Railroad tracks and Commercial Street, the 250,000 square-foot edifice designed by Henry Ives was the first industrial building in the United States to be constructed from reinforced concrete.

Renowned for its fine craftsmanship, the American Piano Company was the largest distributor and manufacturer of pianos in the world by the mid-1920s. The instrument’s popularity reached its peak that decade thanks to a growth in prosperity and an increased interest in music stimulated by phonographs and radio.Piano producers across the country would not fare as well the following decade. While over 347,000 pianos were purchased in the United States in 1923, only 51,000 units were sold eight years later.[6]


General references

Inline citations

  1. ^ Biography Index, A Cumulative Index to Biographical Material in Books and Magazines, Volume 4: September 1955–August 1958, New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1960
  2. ^ Obituaries on File, two volumes, compiled by Felice D. Levy (1917–1990), New York: Facts on File, 1979
  3. ^ Who Was Who in America, Volume 7, 1977–1981, Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1981
  4. ^ Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau, Bd.: 50, Leipzig, 1929-30, p 240 and 274
  5. ^ Music Trade Review, March 11, 1918
  6. ^