Steinway White House Pianos Pay Tribute to America

1938 White House Piano

In a continuing celebration of its 156-year history, Steinway & Sons commemorates the Steinway piano as a cornerstone of American music and culture. Since 1853, Steinway pianos have captured hearts and inspired generations of Americans, from New York’s Tin Pan Alley, to the stages of legendary jazz clubs and renowned concert halls to Hollywood studios and countless family living rooms in between. Two instruments in particular are notable for their place in American history—the White House grand pianos of 1903 and 1938.

“We’ve always known that Steinway & Sons is a great American original,” said Todd Sanders, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Steinway & Sons. “By producing the finest handcrafted instruments available, our factory in Queens has contributed to a significant part of American culture for more than 156 years. Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Billy Joel, among many other legendary composers and performers, have all drawn their inspiration from the Steinway piano. We’re proud to take a moment to consider how important our company has been in our nation’s history. The White House pianos are also a great reminder of this.”

In 1903, to celebrate the creation of the company’s 100,000th piano—and the 50th anniversary of the firm’s founding—Steinway & Sons offered to transform its standard concert grand piano into an artwork suitable for use in the East Room of the White House. The “Gold Grand” was presented to the White House, and President Theodore Roosevelt accepted the $18,000 Steinway “on behalf of the nation.” The piano served through the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin Roosevelt; it was then donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

The second White House piano was built and presented to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 to commemorate the production of Steinway’s 300,000th piano. The new piano, designed by New York architect Eric Gugler, was more than nine feet long, with a case of Honduran mahogany and gold leaf by artist Dunbar Beck. Last renovated in 1992 during the administration of George H. W. Bush, the piano remains today in the East Room of the White House.

“Steinway & Sons pianos have always had a significant place in American popular culture,” said Dr. Richard K. Lieberman, Director of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives, which houses the Steinway collection. “From references to Steinway in the lyrics of Irving Berlin to the enormous celebration of Steinway’s centennial put on by Ed Sullivan in 1953, the company and the pianos it produces have captured the American spirit. The White House pianos are just one example of how important these pianos have been to America.”