This Week in History


The Piano Man

This story was initially published in 2007

On July 25, 1899, Theodore August Heintzman passed away in Toronto, Ontario. Founder of the Heintzman & Co. piano company, it was said that his name was more familiar throughout the British Empire than that of Sir Wilfrid Laurier!

Heintzman & Co. Waltz for Piano by D'Arcy Hulme
© Library and Archives Canada
Little is known about his early years. Theodore was born in Berlin, Germany, to a modest family. It is reported that his father owned a cabinet factory that also manufactured piano keys and boards for other craftsmen. Heintzman apprenticed as a cabinet maker, likely under his father first, and then under piano manufacturer William Grewnew, well-known for his high-quality instruments.

He married Matilda Louisa Grunow in 1844 and began working, for his wife’s uncle as a piano and an instrument maker. Berlin in the 1840s was awash in political upheaval, so in 1850 the Heintzmans immigrated to New York where Theodore found a job with piano manufacturers Lighte & Newton. Two years later, the Heintzman family moved to Buffalo, New York, where he worked at the Keogh Piano Co. before opening his own company, Drew, Heintzman & Annowski. This venture failed shortly after Heintzman left the partnership in 1857.

Toronto storefront display of Heintzman pianos (ca. 1920s)
© The Montreal Star / Library and Archives Canada
In 1860, the family moved, yet again, to Toronto on the invitation of John Thomas, a local piano manufacturer. That year, Heintzman built his first piano in the family kitchen, an instrument that would stand out in the industry because of its high-quality sound and the beautiful wood detailing. Heintzman & Co. was officially incorporated in 1866 and, by 1873, a much larger factory had to be built in Toronto’s west end. Heintzman pianos were synonymous with old-world craftsmanship and viewed as vastly superior to many North American models. While attending a Royal Albert Hall recital, Queen Victoria was taken aback by the beauty and rich sound of the instrument.

In the 1880s, Heintzman & Co. produced more than 500 pianos, pushing him to move to an even larger factory. The popular Heintzman pianos were being shipped throughout the British Empire and across the United States. At the time of his death in 1899, Heintzman’s pianos had won at least 11 awards and had been featured at prestigious exhibitions throughout the world. The Heintzman family business continued to fabricate pianos until the 1980s and many fine quality instruments bearing his name remain cherished possessions in Canadian homes today.

For his contributions to the Canadian music industry, Theodore August Heintzman was designated a National Historic Person in 1974.

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