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I WEnt to the library today and found a book, "Music at the White House," by Elise K Kirk. Published in 1984 but it has good info. It reminded me of this thread. I went through and found anything I could related to the pianos, in case anyone else is interested. The White House has a lot of pianos.

In 1789, Washington traded his harpsichord spinet (made by Plinius in South Audley Street, Grosvener Square, which also came with extra strings) for a piano made by Thomas Dodds. The price of the piano was 20 guineas, but he got a discount of 4 guineas on trade-in value for the spinet. Washington also imported a harpsichord from Longmand and Broderip, No 26 Cheapside and No 13 Haymarket, London. Washington apparently cut a very dashing figure while dancing the minuet.

[Linked Image]

Jefferson didn't want to spent government funds on a piano, but owned a Kirkman harpsichord, an experimental keyboard from John Isaac Hawkins (costing $264, it was a portable grand which he returned because it wouldn't stay in tune), and a piano made by Astor and Company.

Dolley Madison imported a piano, haggled down from $530 to $450, "of such superior tone in strength and sweetness." Probably a Clementi, Broadwood, or Astor, but it burned in 1814; it was replaced with a used, square gilt-mounted grand, until an Erard arrived from France.

The Monroes purchased an Erard with colonial legs, four pedals, and a tambourin. The pedals could make the piano sound 'plucked', 'reedy like a bassoon,' or maybe mellow. The tambourin (maybe a triangle+drum) went well with Turkish marches.

[Linked Image]

In response to criticism of the Monroes for being too French, the younger Adams presidency bought an American piano, a mahogany and rosewood square grand made by Alpheus Babcock of Boston.

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Andrew Jackson bought a $400 piano (for $300 on account of trade-in of a French piano), made by D. B. Grove of Philadelphia. Jackson wasn't known for sophistication, but he liked the piano.

John Tyler in 1841 bought two pianos from Emilius N Scherr, who had migrated from Denmark.

Fillmore bought a piano in 1852, probably a Boardman and Gray, Albany. Jacob Hilbus tuned the pianos in the White House for 30 years thereafter.

A Chickering was bought in 1857 under Buchanan. A "first rate grand piano without inlaid pearl or papier mache that give it tinsel appearance" was requested. Chickering responded with three choices, and the White House chose the medium priced model for $800.

Lincoln loved music, and his wife got a piano free by trade-in (even free delivery!), made by Schomacker Company of Philidelphia.

[Linked Image]

Andrew Johnson bought two Steinway pianos, complete with over-stringing, but he sent them to his daughters' houses, so they never stayed in the White House.

Grant kept Lincoln's Schomacker (indeed, it seems many pianos were kept around for a long time, as more got added), but his wife ordered a Bradbury in 1871. Grant actually had a preference for military bands.

In 1879, the piano fights started. Knabe requested to place a 7 1/3 octave rosewood grand piano in the parlor of the executive mansion. William Bradbury (then owned by Freeborn G Smith) donated an upright to replace Lincoln's piano, but at the same time Hallet and Davis also tried to donate a piano for the same location. Eventually Freeborn G Smith donated so many pianos to the White House (under Hayes, Garfield, Aurther, Harrison and Cleveland) that he called the Bradbury "The Administration Piano." The book calls them the Steinway of the nineteenth century (with regards to the White House). This is also the first mention I found of a black satin piano.

[Linked Image]

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Grover Cleveland was actually friends with William Steinway, and Steinway gave him a piano as a wedding present. As you may or may not be aware, Cleveland was the only president to get married in the White House.

[Linked Image]

Harrison's son gave his mother a gilt-incised Fisher upright for Christmas their first year in the White House.

Somewhere along the line an A. B. Chase upright came into the building by McKinley's day, and during his presidency Kimball managed to donate a mahogany grand. The agent for Kimball was actually a huge supporter of McKinley. The white house had a bunch of different pianos by that time, but they didn't have a player piano. Several player-piano companies tried to donate pianos, but the McKinley's refused.

Teddy Roosevelt's administration favored American things, and ended up with the 100,000th Steinway built. It was covered with gold leaf, decorated with the coat of arms of the thirteen original states, and painted (by an American author) with the nine muses being received by the young republic America. R. D. Hunt and J. H. Hunt designed the case, and it stayed in the White House until Franklin Roosevelt. Steinway was calling their piano, "The Instrument of the Immortals," and the Steinway round table at Luchow's restaurant on 14th street became a meeting place for musicians from all around the world. Joseph Burr Tiffany, who was head of Fine Arts at Steinway, also took care of a lot of the arts of the White House of the time.

[Linked Image]

Baldwin made their first appearance during the Taft administration, with a style B parlor grand in empire design with ivory finish. The piano was trimmed in gold to match the motifs in the Blue Room.

Harding played the sousaphone.

Mrs. Hoover took an interest in musical history, and borrowed a square Astor grand from the Smithsonian.

[Linked Image]

Rachmaninoff played three White House concerts for Coolidge.

Hoover was friends with Paderewski, and gave him the Rose Bedroom. Paderewski kept his Steinway in that room. Steinway was the liaison for soloists performing at the White House, and Horowitz played his first White House concert.

Eleanor Roosevelot was an old friend of Theodore Steinway. The FBI investigated artistic director Henry Junge of Steinway for possibly using the musical programs in the White House for espionage. In 1934, Steinway decided to donate piano number 300,000 to the White House. It is 9 feet 7 inches! It was designed by New York architect Eric Gugler. Nixon apparently played that piano in a concert.

[Linked Image]

Truman had a piano by his desk. He considered Josef Lhevinne the greatest pianist since Liszt. Margaret Truman's piano that famously fell through the floor was her own, given to her as a child. Baldwin donated an ebonized style D in 1952.

Eisenhower apparently had a Hammond organ which his wife played, having learned to play by ear. There was a 'scandal' when Rubinstein refused to play on the Eagle Steinway, and brought in his own Steinway. Some people felt he insulted America's piano. He felt the piano lacked brilliance.


Under Nixon, most performers used the state Eagle Steinway, but Leonard Bernstein played on a new Baldwin concert grand that was brought in. John Steinway was now arranging a lot of the performances for the White House. Nixon 'donated' the second floor Steinway to the Truman library, which surprised Steinway, since it was only on loan to the White House. John Steinway just smiled and said, "now it's on loan to the Truman Library."

Under Reagan there is a picture of some kind of upright.

That is all. It took longer than I thought so time for bed. I am sure there are plenty of people here who have interesting things to say about these pianos.


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This is a very cool thread. The Pierce Piano Atlas has a list of pianos owned by US presidents, but not all of them agree with this book, so it may have just referred to their personal pianos - or one of them is wrong.

I think I need to buy this book!


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Phantom,

What an excellent addition to this thread!

I must admit, I busted out laughing when I came to this bit of text!

"Harding played the sousaphone."

This solves the long standing controversy concerning the inspiration for the John Phillip Sousa masterpiece opera: Die Zauberalphorn


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One can only wonder where some of these pianos are today. The Steinway donated in 1903 is at The Smithsonian. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a wonderful collection of period instruments. Perhaps a few found rest there. Fascinating subject. Thank you.


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"Dolley Madison imported a piano, haggled down from $530 to $450, "of such superior tone in strength and sweetness." Probably a Clementi, Broadwood, or Astor, but... it burned in 1814."

A foggy corner of my mind insists that there was a bit more to the story of that fire than the destruction of the piano.

But let bygones be bygones...

Great post!



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"Grant kept Lincoln's Schomacker (indeed, it seems many pianos were kept around for a long time, as more got added), but his wife ordered a Bradbury in 1871. Grant actually had a preference for military bands."

Grant is said to have remarked, "I know only two tunes: one of them is 'Yankee Doodle,' and the other isn't."

Last edited by ClsscLib; 02/09/14 12:43 PM.


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Originally Posted by bkw58
One can only wonder where some of these pianos are today. The Steinway donated in 1903 is at The Smithsonian. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a wonderful collection of period instruments. Perhaps a few found rest there. Fascinating subject. Thank you.


As of the last time I visited a couple of months ago, the Eagle Steinway was at PianoCraft in Gaithersburg, MD. I'm not sure if it was for repairs. Maybe Keith K. could enlighten us?



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Originally Posted by ClsscLib
"Dolley Madison imported a piano, haggled down from $530 to $450, "of such superior tone in strength and sweetness." Probably a Clementi, Broadwood, or Astor, but... it burned in 1814."

A foggy corner of my mind insists that there was a bit more to the story of that fire than the destruction of the piano.

I try to focus on the important things wink


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Originally Posted by Minnesota Marty

I must admit, I busted out laughing when I came to this bit of text!

"Harding played the sousaphone."

This solves the long standing controversy concerning the inspiration for the John Phillip Sousa masterpiece opera: Die Zauberalphorn


That picture is worth a look. He claimed to play every brass instrument but the trombone and the E-flat cornet. He apparently won $200 as third prize in a band competition in Findlay. While he was president, he sometimes picked up an instrument to play with the Marine Band rehearsals.

[Linked Image]


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Originally Posted by Rich Galassini
This is a very cool thread. The Pierce Piano Atlas has a list of pianos owned by US presidents, but not all of them agree with this book, so it may have just referred to their personal pianos - or one of them is wrong.

I think I need to buy this book!


The thing that captured me while skimming through the book was how much people used to enjoy the experience of music, both playing and listening. Although the book is a bit dry at times.

It does have references though, so if you'd like me to try to figure out where any of this info came from, let me know.


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The White House "Eagle" Steinway D was sent back to the factory for some rebuilding work in the late 1980's if I am remembering correctly. I heard it played once over televised media in the 1990's and it sounded a bit dull.


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Who cares about work done in the 80's?

Keith, are you currently working on the Eagle?


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I'm curious about the pianos under Ford-Obama. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a paucity of pianists in those years, aside from Condi during the Bush Jr. years.

Though I remember Clinton preferring young women to play his organ. Sorry, had to say it.


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Rusty - We could have you banished to one of the lesser isles.

Read the companion thread which is linked from the OP. It seems that both Sasha and Malia have brought back some active playing in the WH.


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Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT
The White House "Eagle" Steinway D was sent back to the factory for some rebuilding work in the late 1980's if I am remembering correctly. I heard it played once over televised media in the 1990's and it sounded a bit dull.

It looks like it has seven inches of wood in the back. If that's true, not an optical illusion, it could explain some of the dullness.


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The Eagle casework is built around a standard S&S-D. The 'false end' is purely cosmetic to create the lines of a harpsichord.

I have never found the piano to be "dull." But please remember, there is only one technician alive who can create 'sparkle.'


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I bet some of the technicians who glued mirrors to Liberace's pianos are still around.


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smirk


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Very interesting, thanks for the info!


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It's been mentioned in past threads that a White House Christmas card from the Kennedy years featured an Ivers and Pond grand, which would make sense since that's a Boston piano (from Kennedy's home state).

Last edited by Sir Lurksalot; 02/09/14 10:40 PM.
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