- Historic Sites
The Great Chicago Piano War
The battle between eastern and midwestern manufacturers hit fortissimo when the world’s most famous wizard of the keyboard turned up for the opening concert of the Columbian Exposition
October 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 6
A few days later Paderewski left for Europe, after cancelling his last New York appearances because of Chicago-induced fatigue. Years later he said, “It took all the energy and skill and tact of Theodore Thomas and all his friends to obtain the agreement of the committee to my playing on a Steinway piano,” which shows that he certainly missed some of the fine points of the proceedings! Vicious post-mortems of the affair and slanderous personal attacks ran for months in the Chicago press, eventually driving Thomas out of his job as music director of the fair and almost losing him the Chicago Symphony.
For several days after the opening concerts the Chicago Evening Post mounted a vitriolic campaign against the Steinways. On May 5 the Chicago Herald ran a full-page ad from Lyon, Potter, the music store with the local Steinway franchise. Lyon, Potter piously and somewhat impishly denied that either it or the House of Steinway had been paying the Evening Post for all that free publicity. “At the same time,” Lyon, Potter added, “we beg to tender to the publishers of said newspaper our thanks for having brought the S TEINWAY P IANOFORTE so conspicuously to the attention of the public, and we invite all persons who have any curiosity to see the pianos manufactured by STEINWAY AND SONS to call at our warerooms, where we will be pleased to ... show them the merits of those superior musical instruments, of which we are the sole representatives.”
The piano that Paderewski had played at the fair was put on display in the main showroom of the music store, and for days crowds stretched around the block waiting for a chance to file by and look at it. In the end it was the only real winner in the Great Chicago Piano War.