When we hear the words “high-end piano” we don’t often think of Canada, but for a large part of the late 1800’s and 1900’s, Toronto’s Heintzman Piano Manufactory rivaled instruments built by their American counterparts at Steinway & Sons, leading many to christen Heintzman the “Steinway of the North”.
Founded by German immigrant Theodor August Heintzman in 1866, Heintzman Ltd. followed the same tradition of attention to detail and uncompromising quality over quantity as his better known predecessors.
As the story goes, Heintzman’s first Toronto made piano was built in his daughter’s kitchen, the sale of which allowed him to move into more appropriate surroundings. What followed was a series of progressively larger factories, first downtown on Duke St (now Adelaide), and then two years later at 105 King St (a larger King St building would follow a few doors down in 1873 at what is now the TD Centre). As word of Heintzman’s quality pianos increased, they consistently churned out more and more pianos, reaching the 2000 mark by 1884.
Even as the piano market began to get over-saturated near the end of the 19th century, Heintzman continued with his tradition of building only high-end quality instruments. Theodor was credited with a series of innovations that solidified their reputation as a quality builder and allowed their pianos to carry a superior tone and remain on the cutting edge of piano manufacturing. His pianos would come to be sold overseas, and even be played in Albert Hall for Queen Victoria, who is said to have been impressed that an instrument from “the colonies” could be of such quality.
After Theodor’s death in 1899, his sons took over the company reigns. By this time the company had opened a large factory in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto near Keele and Dundas, and was producing instruments at a much higher rate. Other innovations followed, such as a clever “transposing” piano, which allowed players to shift the entire keyboard several octaves, allowing the player to play in any key, and the first ever full sostenuto pedal on an upright piano (a feature previously only found on grand pianos)
Although the Depression was hard on the company, they continued to manufacture instruments at an impressive rate. Following the second world war, they could no longer survive on manufacturing pianos alone, and diversified into the sheet music market, and even dabbled in the manufacture of house ware products, at which point pianos only accounted for half of the company’s sales. The piano arm would go on to produce economy pianos under economy labels such as the Gerhard, Weber, Stevenson and Nordheimer brands. The company had previously taken over the reigns of Theodor’s nephew Gerhard Heintzman’s rival piano company upon his death, which produced pianos that did not necessarily have the same quality and standards as the Heintzman & Co. brand.
After changing ownership a hand full of times in the latter half of the 20th century, the original Heintzman company closed its doors for good in 1988. While a Chinese/Canadian conglomerate has since purchased the Heintzman name and patents and continues to produce instruments under the Heintzman name, it is not widely considered to be the same company.