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"Improvements on Piano-fortes." Patent no. 2915, filed by Theodore A. Heintzman, 1873

 

Patent no. 2915. Filing year 1873.

"Improvements on Piano-Fortes," Theodore A. Heintzman.

Arriving in Toronto in 1860, German immigrant Theodor August Heintzman built a piano manufacturing business that produced Canada's best-known brand of pianos and lasted 125 years. His development of a special bridge for piano-fortes, patented in 1873, improved the tone of his pianos and cemented his company's reputation for quality.

Heintzman was the son of a Berlin cabinet-maker; he learned his craft by apprenticing with his father and with piano-makers in the city. Political unrest in Prussia in the 1840s convinced Heintzman to emigrate to the United States in 1849. He worked for piano-makers first in the city of New York City and later in Buffalo, New York, where he became part owner of a piano manufacturer. With the onset of the American Civil War, the Heintzmans made their final move, to Toronto in 1860. The story goes that Heintzman single-handedly built a piano in his kitchen within a year of arriving in Canada. Due to its superior craftsmanship it sold immediately, and Heintzman used the profits to build more instruments, eventually attracting the investment to start a company. By 1868, Heintzman's King Street workshop employed 12 craftsmen who produced 60 pianos a year.

Heintzman's most successful invention, though, was the agraffe bridge, patented in 1873. Prior to this, strings were typically fixed to the wooden piano frame with metal pins. Over time, the string vibrations could loosen the pins and diminish the piano's tone. Heintzman's improvement consisted of a metal bridge solidly attached to an iron piano frame that prevented the string from slipping and improved the tone, especially in the high end. Although a version of the agraffe bridge had been invented decades earlier, Heintzman perfected it, and it gave his company a competitive edge. As he confidently noted in his patent, "The advantages of my improved bridge need no recital."

Heintzman patented two more bridge designs in early and late 1881 (no. 12470 and no. 14021, respectively), refinements that focused on the "ringing points" of the bridge. Other patents followed, for a music desk (no. 17022) and an action (the mechanism that sounds each note) for an upright piano (no. 20313).

Heintzman's pianos went on to win awards throughout the United States and the British Empire, and the company's export market flourished. By 1890, Heintzman and Company was a major manufacturer in Toronto, employing more than 200 craftsmen and producing 1,000 pianos a year. Theodor died in 1899, but the company's success continued under his sons George and Herman, and the business was family run for most of the 20th century. In 1981, the family sold the business to Canadian manufacturer Sklar-Peppler, which eventually discontinued the Heintzman line in 1987.

References

Comeau, Gayle. "Heintzman, Theodor August." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=40275&query=Heintzman
(accessed November 10, 2005).

Comeau, Gayle. "Theodore August Heintzman: Creating a Grand Sound." Canada Heirloom Series. Volume 6.
http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/205/301/ic/cdc/heirloom_series/volume6/volume6.htm
(accessed December 3, 2005).

Kallmann, Helmut, and Patricia Wardrop. "Heintzman & Co. Ltd." Historica: The Canadian Encyclopedia.
www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=U1ARTU0001587
(accessed November 10, 2005).