Day of the Player Piano


By 1927, when radios were becoming commonplace, the excitement of the player piano had waned. By 1929 both the giants, Aeolian and the American Piano Company, were in financial trouble. Aeolian was in hock to Steinway for several millions of dollars’ worth of grand pianos ready for Duo-Art installation that nobody wanted; Steinway was not inclined to be understanding, but eventually a settlement was reached. However, before anyone could do anything at all, the stock market crash of 1929 dealt the final blow to these expensive instruments. By the early 1930s Aeolian’s organ business had become Aeolian-Skinner, and the piano business merged to become the Aeolian-American Corporation.

The “reproducing” piano made it possible to hear a piece just the way the artist actually played it.

In the years following the Second World War, there have been several attempts to revive the player piano. None were able to restore the instrument to anything like its old prominence. It probably never will be, now, though the sound of old machines can still revive the excitement we knew when players were popular and everyone wanted to own the latest rolls. As Arthur Loesser dolefully observes, “Many persons still wear vests, read books, write their own Christmas greetings, go to the theater, and play the piano.” So, too, there are many people who still put a roll on the old Pianola and listen to it lovingly; it may be a lively performance of “Charlie, My Boy,” or an expensive Duo-Art rendition of that lovely old song “Just a Memory,” but inevitably there will be recall of the days when Lindbergh flew the Atlantic and an apocryphal story said he’d carried a kitten in his pocket, when ladies drove electric cars like tall china cabinets in which they sat in the back seat and steered with a tiller, when all the girls tried to copy Clara Bow’s bee-stung lips, and half the pianos in the land were joyously rattling out “Ain’t We Got Fun?”