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Wonderful Method of Construction Employed in Modern Labor, Utopia,
where it takes years to make a single instrument.
VERY now and then some sociologist discovers a certain labor Utopia, whose abiding place is in the Middle Western States. The said Utopia is a giant
factory where hundreds are employed and where the workers are treated much as members of one big family. Hardly a newspaper or magazine in the whole country but which has at times commented upon the existence of the great Western factory, dwelling at length upon the fellowship that exists among all the
cleanest factories in the world.
REMARKABLE CONDITIONS OF MANUFACTURE. Everyone, of course, knows the international reputation of the Steinway piano, although but few know of how it is made and under what remarkable conditions it is prepared for the grand service to which it is eventually put. It will therefore be the object of this article to carry the reader through the wonderful workrooms of the Steinway model factories, showing as clearly as possible just what goes into a Steinway piano and why its place of manufacture is the certain realization of the Utopian dream.
There are three Steinway factories in New York. Two of them are located at Steinway, Long Island, a booming little town just opposite and paralleling the Upper eastern section of Manhattan. The site of Steinway comprises about four hundred acres, which in mense tract was purchased by the original Steinway about fifty years ago. At that time the ground was only nominal in value, but to-day it is worth millions of dollars.
THE PIANO'S ORIGINAL HOME. The third factory, which was the original Steinway factory, is located in Manhattan, at the corner of Fifty-third Street and Park Avenue. It has been standing for fifty years, and, although at one time all Steinway pianos were manufactured under its roof, it is now used only as a finishing factory, while the operation of manufacture begins at Steinway, at what is known as the Riker Avenue factory. From this factory it proceeds to the Ditmars Avenue factory, which is a mile distant, and thence to the Manhattan finishing factory.
At the Riker Avenue factory site are also located the immense lumber yards of Steinway & Sons, possibly the most remarkable lumber yards in the world. It is well known, of course, that lumber composes the main parts of a piano, and consequently the utmost care is employed in its selection and care.
In the construction of the Steinway piano about twenty different kinds of lumber are used, and more than six million feet are always on hand in the yards. The method of seasoning the lumber is unique. It remains in the yards and sheds for from five to ten years before it is ready to be used for piano parts. This means that the manufacturers have constantly tied up in lumber alone a sum of money approximating half a million dollars. As the lumber is used, it is immediately replaced, so that at all times the yard is full.
COMPARED TO A MOTHER'S LOVE. The care taken of the Steinway lumber may be compared to that of a mother for a child. In the first place, it is a well-known fact among those conversant with the making of pianos that the house of Steinway pays a substantial bonus to owners of lumber yards for the privilege of having its buyers take their pick of the lumber before any one else has an opportunity to get at it. In this way the finest lumber is obtained exclusively by the Steinways.
The Steinway lumber buyers are no doubt the best judges of piano lumber in the world. They go into a lumber yard and examine every plank minutely. Seleeting just exactly what they want, they keep guard over it until it is delivered safely into the Steinway yards at the Riker Avenue factory. As soon as it reaches this destination each plank is recorded, just the same as a bank cashier would record dollars. Then the lumber is piled, and across the end of each plank a small strip of wood is nailed so that the plank is prevented from checking. In addition, the date of its reception is stamped upon the plank, as well as the name of the buyer.
REMAIN IN LUMBER YARDS FOR YEARS.
as perfect enough to start on their way through a seasoning shed, where they remain on an average of about two years, and thence through a series of drying kilns. After making the proper test, a test which is secret, by the way, in the drying kilns, the lumber is ready to become a part of a Steinway piano, but it is many months, and sometimes years, before it is finally put out as the finished Steinway piano.
It is little wonder, in view of the lumber preparation, that a Steinway piano lasts perfectly through several generations. In fact, a very considerable part of the reputation of the Steinway piano is based upon the preparatory treatment of lumber.'
At the cost of about $100,000 an immense lumber shed was erected at the Riker Avenue plant, the only lumber shed of its kind in the world. It has an area of
27,000 square feet, with a capacity of about five million feet of lumber. The shed is built, on open pillar work, with open work under its roof, so that at all times there is perfect circulation of air, as well as protection from rain, etc.
GLUE A VERY IMPORTANT FACTOR. Glue plays a very important part in the making of a piano. It may be surprising to know that, although the Steinways for Afty-four years have used only the Peter Cooper glue, every shipment of glue received at the factories is subjected to a chemical analysis, and unless it conforms perfectly to such a test it is thrown out.
A similar test is made of the mixture of iron, which, as used to-day, is identically the same as that used forty years ago, and which has never been improved
strength of between 42,000 and 48,000 pounds to the square inch.
All the tests are made in the offices of Mr. A. J. Menzl, who is in charge of the Riker Avenue factory, and who has been making Steinway pianos for twentyfive years, and is an expert in every sense of the word.
AN ENTIRE ABSENCE OF "HUSTLE." One thing very noticeable as one goes through the Steinway factories is the entire absence of hurry on the part of the workmen. They take plenty of time in preparing the wood products, and do not allow themselves to be disturbed in any way while at their tasks. They are not urged to make haste, and would probably rebel if they were required to relinquish their work before they, and not the foreman, were satisfied with it. Nearly all of these men have been making Steinway pianos for years. Many of them began as boys and are now grown old in the service. - It is not uncommon to meet men who have been there thirty or forty years, and some who have spent half a century there. As one old gentleman put it:
"We never think of leaving. We live and die right here."
A great many of the men now thirty and forty years in the Steinway factories followed in the footsteps of their fathers, many of whom came to this country at the behest of the first Steinway, from Germany.
MANY BUILDINGS MAKE VAST PLANT. The Riker Avenue factory, complete, includes a two-story administration building, a five-story piano case factory, a four-story drying kiln, a two-story sawmill, a three-story metal factory, a foundry, a plate-casting storage building, a platecasting shop, a plate-japanning and bronzing shop, a glue-boiler-house, three lumber storage buildings, a boiler-house, a pump-house, a coal and coke shed, and a foundry sand shed. One hundred and twenty-two machines are in use in the cabinet and metal shop. They are driven by 9,000 feet of belting.
Nearly five hundred men are employed at the Riker Avenue factory, who furnish about $1,000,000 worth of the raw product to the Ditmars Avenue factory, where the next steps are taken in building the Steinway pianos.
In the Ditmars Avenue factory the piano cases are assembled, the sounding. boards placed in them, and the varnishing done. This factory covers several city blocks and is three stories high. The sounding-boards are made in this factory. There are some wonderful machines to be found here. The immense rubbing machines are so perfect that they do the fine rubbing equally as well as could be done by hand. The varnishing process in vogue is the most thorough and complete to be found anywhere.
GOING THROUGH THE VARNISH ROOMS. Every grand piano case receives six coats of varnish. After the varnishing has been completed the pianos are put away for two or three months, and then they are ready to be rubbed. And such a rubbing they do get! They are rubbed until they are as smooth and as brilliant as a mirror, and when the rubbers are through with them they get the last coat of varnish, technically known as the “flowing coat," and then, after drying several days, they are sent to the big factory in Manhattan where the action and keys are placed in them and all the fine work necessary to make them playable is done. Here also the cases are hand polished.
After going through several departments the pianos reach the finishing floor, which is in charge of Mr. Otto Koch, who is seventy-five years old, and who has been making Steinway pianos for more than fifty years. He has seen more Steinway pianos made than any other living man. Mr. Koch came to this country shortly after the founder of the Steinway house, and from the first day he landed here until the present time he has been employed in the Steinway factories.
EVERY FOREMAN HAS AN "UNDERSTUDY." While every department in the Steinway factories is presided over by men who have devoted their lives to making the famous piano, each executive has an