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The Baldwin Piano Legacy
Largest Piano Retailer in USA
Reed organ and violin teacher Dwight Hamilton Baldwin opened the doors to his music store in Cincinnati, Ohio. During the next quarter century, Baldwin became one of the largest piano retailers in the Midwestern United States.
1890 - 1895
First Grand Piano
With an eye on increased growth opportunities, Baldwin decided to manufacture “the best piano that could be built” in 1890. The first Baldwin piano, an upright model, was available one year later. In 1895, the company introduced its first grand piano, a 5’4″ model.
The New Leader
On August 23, 1899, D.H. Baldwin died. Fortunately, one of his strengths had been hiring young men with the potential to lead his company. Lucien Wulsin, who was raised in Alexandria, Kentucky, displayed such promise.
Leading Piano Builder
In 1866, Wulsin was a bookeeper for Baldwin. Within seven years, he had become a partner. With a devotion to both business and art, Wulsin helped Baldwin evolve from a successful retail enterprise to a leading builder of pianos.
Baldwin established a worldwide reputation by winning top awards at key expositions. A Baldwin concert grand was honored with the Grand Prix Award at the 1900 International Exhibition in Paris, the first American-made piano to earn the award. It then took top honors in St. Louis (1904) and at London’s Anglo-American Exposition in 1914.
Establishing International Business
By 1913, Baldwin enjoyed a robust international business, exporting pianos to 32 countries around the globe. Three years later, the company boasted retail divisions in Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Louisville, New York, St. Louis and San Francisco.
Baldwin’s artistic coming-of-age was reflected in the many performers who chose the Baldwin grand for concerts and radio broadcasts. Early Baldwin Artists included concert pianists José Iturbi, Wilhelm Bachaus and Walter Gieseking as well as composers Bela Bartok, Ottorino Respighi and Igor Stravinsky.
In addition to traditional pianos, Baldwin manufactured a variety of player piano models, available in both grand and upright styles. This market segement grew quickly, peaking at 56 percent of the industry’s total piano production in 1923. Unfortunately, due to new forms of entertainment including the radio, movies, phonographs and automobiles, player sales fell 86 percent by 1929.
Compounding the loss, the Great Depression began in 1929. Baldwin’s survival was due to its prudent management. During the early 1920s, Baldwin had created large special reserves for unforeseen needs. These financial resources, along with the direction of Lucien Wulsin II, enabled the company to weather the adversity of this period.
Highest Piano Sales In 15 Years
By 1936 the piano industry had rebounded, as consumer purchases in general had risen. The National Piano Manufacturers Association reported that piano sales during the first six months of 1936 were the highest in 15 years.
Piano Production Stoped
Baldwin business was interrupted in 1942 when the U.S. War Production Board ordered all piano building stopped due to the war effort. Because of its workworking expertise, Baldwin manufactured wings, fuselage parts and center sections for the Aeronca PT-23 training plane and the Curtiss-Wright C-76 cargo plane, as well as parts for fighter, bomber and glider aircraft.
Lessons learned in the construction of multiple-ply aircraft wings became the basis for Baldwin’s 41-ply maple piano pinblock, still in use today for its exceptional tuning stability and strength.
Piano production began soon after the war ended in 1945. A strong post-war economy boosted sales, with Baldwin’s 1953 piano production doubling that of its pre-war peak.
The New Baldwin
In 1965, a revolutionary new Baldwin was introduced. The SD10 Concert Grand was heralded as a major advancement in piano design. A music critic cited in a Time magazine article about the new piano exclaimed, “If Beethoven had had a piano like that, the course of music would have been radically altered.”
Artists such as Earl Wild, Dave Brubeck, Michael Feinstein and Bruce Hornsby, as well as organizations such as the Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati and Philadelphia orchestras have performed with and featured the SD10.
The Rise Of Baldwin’s Upright Pianos
Baldwin upright pianos have earned the recommendations of music teachers for many years. Nearly 500,000 Hamilton studio pianos have been sold since its introduction in 1939, and Baldwin pianos are found in schools, churches, and performing venues across the United States. In terms of overall production, Baldwin built its 1 millionth vertical piano in 1973.
Baldwin Becames A Part Of Gibson Guitar
In late 2001 Baldwin became part of the Gibson Guitar Company (now Gibson Brands), another historic American musical instrument manufacturer. Then in 2007 the Baldwin Zhongshan Factory was opened in Zhongshan, China giving Baldwin a presence in the largest piano market in the world.
The company’s products today include a full line of upright pianos ranging from the classic Acrosonic Console to the 52” Concert Vertical, and six sizes of grand pianos in the new Baldwin Professional Series. Ask your Baldwin dealer for a demonstration today.
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