Frederick Mathushek

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Frederick Mathushek

Frederick Mathushek (June 9, 1814 - November 9, 1891), was a piano maker working in Worms, in Rhineland, Germany and in the United States at New York City and New Haven, Connecticut during the second half of the nineteenth century. His name continued to be used by several different piano manufacturers through the 1950s, and was filed independently as a trademark for musical instruments in 2005 and 2008.



Frederick Mathushek was born in Mannheim, in Baden, June 9, 1814, and apprenticed with a pianomaker of that city until the age of 17, when he travelled visiting piano making facilities in Germany, Austria, Russia, and eventually Paris, before establishing his own workshop in Worms, where he built pianos influenced by those he had seen in the factory of Jean-Henri Pape. [1]

New York, 1850s[edit]

In 1849 Mathushek emigrated to New York (after holding a prominent position with Erard in London according to his obituary), and worked for John B. Dunham, who was one of the first piano manufacturers to introduce overstringing in America several years earlier.[1] Alfred Dolge wrote Mathushek perfected a simplified press for applying felt covering to piano hammers in 1850, and in 1851 he patented a method for overstringing in cast iron frame square pianos to allow a greater number of strings with larger diameters.[2] The arrangement was intended to improve tone and stability, and it became known as the sweep scale[3] because it distributed the strings much farther apart on the sounding board than more conventional methods of stringing.

Mathushek started his own workshop in New York in 1852, and that year listed his address at 118 East 21st street, but piano historians Daniel Spillane and Alfred Dolge wrote that by 1857 he had been engaged to bring some of Spencer B. Driggs' designs to practical form. Driggs had moved to New York from Detroit, Michigan in 1856 after patenting his linguine repeating attachment, and campaigned to improve the piano through a series of patents he concentrated around the construction of violins. The identifying feature was the use of two un-barred sounding boards, one of which was meant to form the bottom of the instrument instead of the usual heavy wooden base or frame, and they were intended to be bent into arches to increase their stiffness and coupled using a sound post.[2]

By late 1859 Mathushek was associated with Wellington Wells, and coassigned him patents for a repetition action and grand pianos.[4] These overstrung pianos had closely spaced strings arranged at sharp angles to the keyboard following the same principles as the bichord parlor grands introduced in America by Chickering and Sons in the early 1850s (now known as cocked hats) as well as spinet harpsichords, and were also meant to have string clamp bridge agraffes deflecting the strings in order to draw the concave sounding board upwards.[5]

Mathushek & Kuhner[edit]

In 1863 Mathushek was a member of Mathushek & Kühner, a copartnership with Leopold Kuhner, and they were awarded a bronze medal for a "piano of new and elegant shape" at the American Institute Fair that year.[6] The firm was listed at 34 Second Avenue in 1864[7] and 10 Second Avenue by 1866.[8]

Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Company[edit]


In 1866 Morris Steinert, newly established as a music seller in New Haven, Connecticut, convinced Mathushek move from New York to superintend a piano manufacturing company newly organized as the Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Company.[3] Steinert and his investors soon backed out of the concern, and ownership of the company passed to Henry S. Parmelee, whose relative Spencer T. Parmelee of New Haven had patented the tuning pin bushing, individual tubular wooden plugs pressed into a sockets in the cast frame to hold the tuning pins instead of a single structural wooden wrest plank bolted to the frame, and iron frame squares almost entirely lacking wood structural components in 1862 and 1865.[9] Mathushek's grandson described in a report in Music and Drama from 1882, that Parmelee was involved in the firm from the start but by 1868 "managed, by certain obtain control of all the stock except that belonging to...Mathushek".[10]

Alfred Dolge, who had worked at the factory between 1867 and 1869, wrote the newly formed company conducted a series of experiments in sounding board construction, and reported their preference for the now conventional construction,[11] but they also introduced radical string arrangements in square pianos. Their tiny 4 feet 10 inch long (147 cm) Colibri had earned the highest awards for any piano at the 1867 American Institute fair,[4] and both it and their 6 foot 10 inch long (208 cm) Orchestral made use of the entire sounding board instead of only the right hand side as in conventional square pianos. This combination of straight bridges - the linear bridge - and the distribution of strings across the sounding board and iron frame - the equalizing scale, they claimed, produced "a volume and beauty of tone found elsewhere only in concert grands."[12]

By 1871 the company also offered "harp form" parlor grands as well as concert grands,[13] and within ten years introduced a 5 foot 9 inch (175 cm) long square, and an upright incorporating their tuning pin bushings for the purpose of holding tune better than more conventional designs.[14]

In 1880 the Mathushek Piano Mfg. Co. established their own New York warerooms at 23 East 14th street, and advertised having more than 5,000 in use.[15] By 1897 their factory was located at Washington avenue, at the corner of Brown in West Haven,[16] and they advertised having sold more than 30,000 pianos.[17]

The Parmelee Piano Works where Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Company's instruments were made had one of the first non-experimental fire sprinklers, installed by M. Seward & Son, of New Haven based on the design patented by Henry S. Parmelee in 1874.[18] Parmelee licensed the patent and improvements on a royalty basis by 1879 to the Providence Steam and Gas Pipe.[19] Henry S. Parmelee patented seven improvements for sprinklers between 1874 and 1882, and also received patents for sounding board construction in 1884 and upright piano cases in 1885, with the central part of the case angled to form a music rest.[20]

Parmelee died in 1902,[21] but the company continued manufacturing at the same address.

New York, 1870s[edit]

According to the account in the 1882 Music and Drama article, by 1870 Mathushek had returned to New York and was only nominally associated with the Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Company; Dolge dated this one year later, when he was listed there in unassigned patents he received for a system compensating wires arranged to counteract the bending strain of the main strings, and vertically bent key levers for upright pianos.[22] Barlow & Mathushek, with Warren Sumner Barlow and are listed in 1869 directories, with listed at the same address.

A later account describes that Mathushek manufactured his own pianos through 1873 as a member of Mathushek & Co., with warerooms on 9th street near Broadway and a factory at 145th street and Brook avenue, in partnership with his daughter Hermine, who as early as 1869 was listed as a member of Barlow & Mathushek, with W. S. Barlow selling pianos at 694 Broadway, and that Mathushek continued alone for the next three years, assisted by his grandson who was then "known publicly and privately as the son of Frederick Mathushek.".[23]

In 1874 he was associated with David H. Dunham, of Dunham & Sons, with whom he patented improvements in iron frames and wrestplank bridges,[24] and in 1877 the Mendelssohn Piano Company advertised their latest trichord squares used "Mathushek's new Duplex Overstrung Scale, the greatest improvement in the history of Piano making," and claimed to have received unanimous recommendation for the highest awards at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876,[25] where the Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Co. had also exhibited pianos.[26]

Mathushek & Son[edit]

In 1879 Frederick and Hugo Mathushek, jr. patented a new arrangement of bridge agraffes combined with a development of the front terminations introduced in the 1860 patent. The bridge arrangement, styled the equilibre system, involved deflecting the strings alternately toward and away from the soundboard to two different levels of hitchpins - a difference claimed to be as much as 15 degrees in one advertisement - in order to minimize the downward strain applied to the sounding board (which is usually less than 2 degrees with conventional pinned bridges).[27]

The following year, the Mathushek Piano Mfg. Co. cautioned the public against "bogus instruments represented as genuine Mathushek Pianos, at auction sales and elsewhere."[28]

In 1881 "the only genuine Mathushek with the equilibre system" was advertised having been "invented and manufactured by the original Mathusheks in New York", and the public was informed that "Mathushek, New York" should be cast in the iron frame and warned against pianos manufactured in West Haven, Connecticut under the same name.[29]

Victor Hugo Mathushek

From 1882 to 1886 the name was claimed by Mathushek & Kinkeldey, at 210 East 129th street, New York, which had been founded by Frederick Mathushek's grandson[5] Victor Hugo Mathushek (who had changed his surname from Doehler legally in early 1876[30]) and who was joined by Charles Kinkeldey, the former superintendent for (John B.) Dunham & Sons,[31] which had failed unexpectedly toward the end of 1880.[32] V. H. Mathushek became sole owner of the company in 1886 and the firm became Mathushek & Son, located at 108 East 125th street and 242-244 East 122nd street and showed $35,000 in assets in 1887, but in April, 1888 the company was turned over to assignors.[33]

Mathushek & Son was incorporated under the laws of New York in 1890, directed by Frederick and Victor Hugo Mathushek, and Charles and C. Albert Jacob,[34] of piano manufacturers Jacob Brothers, founded by them in 1877 in New York.[35]

Frederick Mathushek died November 9, 1891 at 242 West 123rd street, where he had lived with his grandson for five years. He had been superintendent at Mathushek & Son, at 344 and 346 East 23rd street.

Victor Hugo Mathushek continued to develop designs like his grandfather's, and received patents for soundboard construction in 1891 (the duplex sounding board) and 1895, and metallic frames in 1896.[36]

Mathushek & Son piano factory, corner of Broadway and 47th st. ca. 1903

Mathushek & Son's factory and warerooms were at 1569 Broadway, at the corner of 47th street, New York in 1900,[37] where they sold a series of small upright pianos of their own manufacture, as well as Apollo, and later Regal players, and pianos by more famous manufacturers, and in 1903 they opened warerooms in Red Bank, New Jersey.[38]

The firm listed $50,000 capital in 1901,[39] and by 1908, James P. Beckwith joined the directors as secretary.[40]

Jacob Brothers[edit]

Victor Hugo Mathushek died in 1910,[41] and by the following year the company was owned outright by the Jacob brothers, who at this time also owned piano manufacturers James & Holmstrom as well as the Wellington Piano Case Company and Abbott Piano Action Company.

Mathushek and Behning piano factories ca.1918

In June, 1912 the Jacob brothers purchased a controlling interest in the Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Company, it having been for sale following the death of Charles Buckingham, who with William Harney had leased the factory after Henry Parmelee's death in 1902. At the time of the sale Charles Jacob issued a statement that while no plans had been finalized, they contemplated combining the best features of the pianos of the two former rivals,[42] and that fall, the equipment and stock at the West Haven factory was removed to the former Kroeger Piano Co. factory[43] in the Bronx, at Alexander avenue and 132nd street.[44]

Mathushek & Son was located at 37 West 37th St. from about 1918 to 1930.[45]


By 1930 the Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Company was located 88 Elm Street, West Haven,[46] and 43 West 57th street, New York.[47]

In 1931[48] the Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Company brought out Spinet Grand square pianos which occupied "only the space of a lounge"[49] updated the old colibri design and substituted current grand piano actions and dampers, based on a patent issued to Fernando A. Wessell, of Red Bank, New Jersey in 1935.[6]

C. Albert Jacob, president of both Jacob Brothers and the Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Co. died 1940[50] and was succeeded by his sons C. Albert Jacob jr., vice president of the firm and former president of the National Piano Manufacturers Association, and Charles Hall Jacob.

Charles Hall Jacob died in 1953[51] and in 1954 the Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Company was sold to Alexander P. Brown, an inventor who held nineteen patents for spinet piano actions and cases, and production moved to from 138th street and Walton avenue, Bronx to 4401 11th street, Long Island City.[52]

2005 to present[edit]

Burgett Brothers, Inc., owners Mason & Hamlin and Sohmer & Co. filed to use the name for pianos in 2005 but abandoned the trademark in 2007.[53]

Geoffrey Sive, of Woodbridge, Connecticut, who in 2006 also registered the name Gildemeester & Kroeger, another long defunct piano firm,[54] filed to use the name for pianos in early 2008.[55]


  1. ^ Spillane wrote he worked in all these cities but Dolge, who worked under Mathushek between 1867 and 1869, wrote "he traveled though Germany and Austria, and finally landed in Henri Pape's shop at Paris" before returning to Worms. A table shaped piano he built at Worms was part of the Ibach Museum at Barmen - "Mathuschek-Hammerklavier in Form eines achteckigen Teetischs", Worms 1840
  2. ^ In June, 1855 a piano was displayed at 505 Broadway, New York, that incorporated Driggs' attachment - which was said to add $50 to $75 to the cost - as well as fellow Detroit inventor Hubert Schonacker's tuning mechanisms and "octave scale," which was a direct precursor to the modern duplex scale. In 1857 William Vincent Wallace organized the Wallace Pianoforte Company based on the promise of Driggs' subsequent patents, but it only appears in city directories for two years. By 1859 Driggs' inventions were owned by Driggs, Parmelee & Co., and then the manufacturing interests sold to Driggs Patent Piano Co., and transferred by 1862 to Briggs & Tooker, who offered to resurrect worn out pianos with their newly patented string clamps, J. B. Peck in 1862, and the Driggs Piano Co. in 1864, before the name disappeared about 1870. ("Musical Gossip" New-York Musical Review and Gazette June 30, 1855, p. 210; January 24, 1857 p. 17; July 25, 1857; advertisements. New York Times September 28, 1850; February 2, 1860; February 20, 1862; October 10, 1864)
  3. ^ As late as 1897 Mathushek Piano Mfg. Co. advertised "established 1866" but later pianos have "estab. 1863" in the label as well as cast into the iron frames.
  4. ^ No pianos won first premium and second premiums were also awarded to Manner & Co., for the Union piano, and Ouvrier & Sons, for an upright piano. "American Institute Fair" New York Times October 27, 1867
  5. ^ Victor Hugo Mathushek is referred to as both Mathushek's son and grandson. He was son of Haermine Mathushek, born in Germany about 1835, and who was listed partners in Barlow & Mathushek, a piano store at 694 Broadway, New York, with former portrait seller Warren Sumner Barlow in 1869. Hugo and his sister Alma were listed living with Frederick and Johanna Mathushek (born ca. 1815 in Hesse) in New Haven in 1870. By 1880 Haermine was married to Edward Fischer, the future conductor of the Harlem Conservatory of Music, and Alma lived with them in Manhattan. Hugo lived with them by 1900.
  6. ^ Wessell (January 5, 1877-) was son of Otto Wessel and took charge of the Wessell, Nickel & Gross piano action factory, serving as treasurer after his father died in 1899. He copatented an improvement in grand actions in 1909, which was assigned to WNG, and also patented half blow mechanisms for player grand pianos using movable hammer rest rails in 1920 and 1922. George Von Skal. History of German Immigration in the United States and Successful German-Americans and their Descendants. Frederick T. Smiley, New York, 1910. p. 252-255


  • Alfred Dolge Pianos and their Makers Covina Publishing Company, Covina, California. 1911. p. 321-325
  • Daniel Spillane History of the American Pianoforte D. Spillane, New York. 1890. p. 226-227
  • Jane Marlin, ed. Reminiscences of Morris Steinert G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London, 1900. p. 169-172
  • obituary , New York Times, November 11, 1891
  1. ^ Spillane, p.183-184
  2. ^ F. Mathushek. Stringing Pianos, United States Patent 8,470, October 28, 1851
  3. ^ William Steinway, "American Musical Instruments" Chauncey M. Depew, ed. One Hundred Years of American Commerce vol.II, D. O. Haynes & Co., New York. 1895. p.511
  4. ^ F. Mathushek. Piano Action. United States Patent 26,550, December 20, 1859; F. Mathushek. Piano. United States Patent 30,279, October 2, 1860
  5. ^ N. E. Michel Historical Pianos, Harpsichords and Clavichords Pico Rivera, California, 1970. "Orchestral harp shaped or 'cocked hat' grand piano", p.90 (also reproduced in Pierce Piano Atlas)
  6. ^ "List of Premiums awarded by the Managers of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Fair of the American Institute, 1863 - Piano Fortes." Annual Report of the American Institute of the City of New York, for the years 1863, '64 Comstock & Cassidy, Albany. 1864 p.34
  7. ^ Wilson's New York City Copartnership Directory for 1864-'65 John F. Trow, New York 1864 p.60
  8. ^ Wilson's New York City Copartnership Directory for 1866-'67 John F. Trow, New York 1866.p.68
  9. ^ S. T. Parmelee. Piano. United States Patent 35,703, June 24, 1862; S. T. Parmelee. Piano. United States Patent 46,759, March 7, 1865
  10. ^ Music and Drama August 26, 1882. p.21-22
  11. ^ Dolge, p.108-109
  12. ^ "Norris & Soper" J. Timberlake, ed. Illustrated Toronto, Peter A. Gross, Toronto. 1877. p.360
  13. ^ advertisement Wisconsin Journal of Education new series, vol.1. Atwood & Culver, Madison, 1871
  14. ^ advertisement Louisiana Journal of Education Seymour & Stevens, New Orleans, vol 3, no.8, Dec. 1881. p268
  15. ^ advertisement. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17, 1880
  16. ^ New Haven Directory, 1894
  17. ^ advertisement Brooklyn Daily Eagle March 7, 1897
  18. ^ Dana Gorham Automatic Sprinkler Protection T. Groom & Co. 1914. p.326
  19. ^ Paula M. Stathakis, Grinnell/General Fire Extinguisher Company Complex Historical Context, 2005
  20. ^ H. S. Parmelee. Piano Sounding Boards. United States Patent 301,068, June 24, 1884; H. S. Parmelee. Upright Piano Case. United States Patent 327,714, October 6, 1885 (an example is shown by Michel, "Mathushek Upright No. 19111", p.201)
  21. ^ "Henry S. Parmelee Dies on His Yacht, the Alert" Brooklyn Daily Eagle. September 28, 1902
  22. ^ F. Mathushek. Piano. United States Patent 113,073, March 28, 1871; F. Mathushek. Piano Action. United States Patent 113,074, March 28, 1871 (an example is shown by Michel, "Mathushek small upright piano made in New York", p.176)
  23. ^ <The Answer of Mathushek & Son Music Trades Review vol. 37 no. 26 (December 26, 1903) p.15
  24. ^ F. Mathushek and D. H. Dunham. Piano-Fortes. United States Patent 154,062, August 11, 1874
  25. ^ advertisement, The Phelps County [Missouri] New Era, April 7, 1877
  26. ^ United States Centennial Commission International Exhibition 1876 Official Catalogue part I, John R. Nagle and Company, Philadelphia, 1876. p.334
  27. ^ F. Mathushek and H. Mathushek, Jr. Pianoforte. United States Patent 212,029, February 4, 1879
  28. ^ advertisement. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17, 1880
  29. ^ advertisement. Business Directory, The Yale Banner, Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, New Haven. 1881. p.51
  30. ^ "Names Changed" Laws of the State of New York, passed at the One Hundredth Session of the Legislature, Weed, Parsons and Company, Albany 1877 p.568
  31. ^ "Mathushek & Kinkeldey" New York's Great Industries, Historical Publishing Co., New York. 1885. p.389
  32. ^ "Failure of the Oldest Piano Manufacturing House in this Country" New York Times, December 3, 1880
  33. ^ "Business Troubles" New York Times April 11, 1888
  34. ^ Facts relating to "The Original Mathushek" Music Trade Review vol. 36 no. 17 (April 25, 1903) p.11
  35. ^ Biographical Directory of the State of New York Biographical Directory Company New York 1900 p.224
  36. ^ Victor Hugo Mathushek, Piano-forte. United States Patent 447,963, March 10, 1891 ; V. H. Mathushek, Sounding Board for Stringed Instruments. United States Patent 534,900 February 26, 1895; V. H. Mathushek, Metallic Frame for Pianofortes. United States Patent 556,273, March 10, 1896
  37. ^ advertisement. Directory of Trained Nurses, Greater New York and Philadelphia, Cornell & Shober, New York. 1900. p.232; and "Victor H. Mathusek Missing" New York Times, October 30, 1900, col. 4
  38. ^ Randall Gabrielan, Red Bank Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC, 1998. p.27
  39. ^ The Trow (formerly Wilson's) Copartnership and Corporation Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and the City of New York vol.XLVIX Trow Directory, Printing & Bookinding Co., New York 1901 p.307
  40. ^ The Trow (formerly Wilson's) Copartnership and Corporation Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and the City of New York 56th year Trow Directory, Printing & Bookinding Co., New York 1908 p.512
  41. ^ Trade Notes Piano, Organ and Musical Instrument Workers' Official Journal vol.12, no.2, March 1910 p.5
  42. ^ Own the two Mathushek Corporations Music Trade Review vol. 54 no. 24 (June 15, 1912) p.9
  43. ^ Few Changes in Bronx Piano Colony during Decade Music Trade Review vol. 66 no. 21 (May 25, 1918) p.53-56
  44. ^ Mathushek Piano Co. in New York Music Trade Review vol 55 no. 12 (September 21, 1912) p.20
  45. ^ "Mathushek & Son" 14 to 42 - 37th Street
  46. ^ New Haven Companies by address 1912, 1930 (MS Excel) Historical New Haven Documents, Yale University
  47. ^ advertisement for spinet grand. undated, ca.1935
  48. ^ Craig H. Roell The Piano in America, 1890-1940. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1989. p.345
  49. ^ Federal Trade Commission Decisions, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C. 1939. p.1151
  50. ^ obituary New York Times December 11, 1940
  51. ^ obituary New York Times June 9, 1953
  52. ^ "Mathushek Piano Co. Sold" New York Times July 18, 1954
  53. ^ United States Patent and Trademark Office, Serial Number 78724381, September 30, 2005
  54. ^ United States Patent and Trademark Office, Serial Number 78906510, June 13, 2006
  55. ^ United States Patent and Trademark Office, Serial Number 77370437, January 13, 2008

See also[edit]