Cunningham Piano Company
Cunningham Piano Company began manufacturing acoustic upright and grand pianos in 1891. The founder, Patrick J. Cunningham, had recently emigrated from Ireland. He was a well trained craftsman and woodworker. Within their first decade of manufacturing, Cunningham Piano Company had gained recognition and had become one of Philadelphia's most respected makers of pianos. Alfred Dolge Alfred Dolge, the author, industrialist, and respected piano man commented on Cunningham Piano Company, among others, "...as true to the traditions of honest values in pianos as any the old Quaker City has ever produced."
Throughout his tenure as President of the company, Patrick J. Cunningham saw his company expand and thrive, gaining awards for both quality and design. During the 1920s, the heyday of the pneumatic player piano, Cunningham Piano Company was the largest manufacturer of player pianos in Philadelphia and shipped their wares to the entire East Coast of the United States. Noted musicians praised the instruments, including Vincent Persichetti, a native Philadelphian and noted composer and professor at the Juilliard School, who said:
"In the beginning, God created a Cunningham player piano. I was two and played Verdi, Schumann, and Nevin piano rolls, hanging onto the music rack as I tried to reach the pedal mechanism with my feet."
Also, one of America's greatest composers, George Gershwin, used a Cunningham Piano to write his opera "Porgy and Bess" in Folly Beach, South Carolina. That model of Cunningham was praised in Dorothea Benton Frank's book, Folly Beach:
"...Cunningham Piano Company, coincedentally also from Philadelphia, has been building pianos for symphonies, academies, and concert pianists since the 1890's and they were treasured by those who played them. Considering my rudimentary skill level, I was humbled to own one."
However, The Great Depression was a huge detriment to all businesses and just before the beginning of World War II, Cunningham Piano Company ceased production and their staff focused on helping the war effort.
After the Second World War, Louis Cohen, a young piano technician who had worked for Patrick J. Cunningham, took over and changed the face of Cunningham Piano Company. He saw that it was not a viable business model to continue building a small number of hand built pianos. He also saw that there was a growing specialty in this mature industry, that of piano restoration.
After World War II
Louis Cohen determined that building a small number of pianos by hand without the national recognition of companies like Mason & Hamlin, Steinway, or Baldwin was difficult in the economic climate of the Post World War II era. He went about gathering talent from those manufacturers and other areas of piano technology to set up a restoration facility dedicated to rebuilding only the finest names in pianos. The location he chose in Germantown, Philadelphia was historic, but easily accessible to New York City and Washington, DC.
The Return of The Matchless Cunningham Piano
During the 1980s there was a strong desire at Cunningham Piano Company to begin manufacturing the Cunningham Piano again in Philadelphia by hand. The cost however of actually manufacturing a piano in the U.S. they found was prohibitive. This led them to enlist the help of George F. Emerson, the well known piano engineer, to help design a piano that could be mass-produced, to their specifications.
The response of the artistic community was immediate. Famous artists, like Andre Watts and Marc André Hamelin have had high praise for these instruments. Additionally, many Universities and professional musicians have given their stamp of approval in the most sincere way possible - by investing in owning one themselves.
"Because we don't make the parts or assemble them here, I don't consider us a piano manufacturer," said Timothy Oliver, who, with fellow longtime employee Richard Galassini, purchased Cunningham. The new Cunningham pianos are manufactured by Ningbo Hailun Musical Instruments Co. Ltd., Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China. Hailun manufactures their own line of pianos that are also distributed in the U.S.
- "Inventing entertainment: The player piano and the origins of an American Musical Industry" Brian Dolan pg. 145
- Hodousek, Carrie. "Cunningham Piano: One of Germantown's Hidden Cultural Treasures". Germantown Beat. Germantown Beat. Retrieved 10 July 2015.