Robert Estrin - piano expert

Is There a Piano in The White House?

Learn about US presidents and pianos

In this video, Robert talks about "pianos at the White House". Just in time for this upcoming Presidents' Day's celebration!

Released on February 10, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, and welcome to I'm Robert Estrin with a really important subject today that you'll be interested in with President's Day right around the corner. What pianos did Presidents have in the White House?

This is a really rich history. Did you know that from the very beginning there were pianos in the White House? In fact, George Washington had not only a piano, but he also had a harpsichord in the White House. Think back at that time. This would've been a Mozart era piano so very much like the forte pianos that Mozart played. Rutherford Hayes as well as Grover Cleveland, they had pianos and harpsichords as well, so the rich history going all the way back.

A lot of pianos in the White House, believe it or not, were upright pianos. There were about half a dozen Presidents that had uprights. Equally important, back in the 1800s, there were about half a dozen pianos that were square grands that Presidents had. Square grands, if you've ever seen them, they're sometimes referred to as coffin pianos because when they're closed indeed they look like a coffin. It's kind of an interesting footnote in the development of the piano. Not the greatest piano really, but they were very large and really radically different design from the modern piano.

Well, perhaps one of the most significant pianos in the White House is the Steinway given to the White House by Steinway during FDR's - Franklin Delano Roosevelt's - administration. It was designed by Eric Gugler, beautiful gilt stenciling by Dunbar Beck. This was a really extraordinary instrument that is still there. Since that time all Presidents have been able to enjoy the Steinway. In fact, aside from FDR, you also had Theodore Roosevelt and later Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan all with Steinways in the White House.

Is that the only brand that was in the White House? No. As a matter of fact, Theodore Roosevelt had not only a Steinway, but he had a Chickering. Chickerings were also very popular in the White House going all the way back to Franklin Pierce. James Buchanan also comes to mind. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln had not one, but two Chickering pianos in the White House - an upright and also a square grand. Chickering at that time was the largest piano factory in the United States producing more than anyone. They were around actually decades before Steinway even existed.

Moving forward, you wonder were there any other substantial brands that were very popular in the White House. Yes, there are a couple of more really important ones, Knabe, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and later Lyndon Johnson had an upright Knabe in the White House.

Is that the end of it? No, we're not there yet, because the largest piano manufacturer in the 20th century, Baldwin, was very popular in the White House going all the way back to William Taft. Not only that, Harry Truman not only had a Baldwin in the White House. He also played. as did Richard Nixon. In fact, he did a performance accompanying Pearl Bailey in the East Room on his Baldwin.

There's a rich history of pianos in the White House. Next time on President's Day, think about the rich history of pianos in the White House.

I hope you enjoyed this. Once again, I'm Robert Estrin here at Living Pianos, the online piano store. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Amy Macdonald * VSM MEMBER * on February 14, 2016 @9:24 am PST
I seem to remember that President Kennedy had an Ivers and Pond in the White House.
That caught my ear because I have an Ivers and Pond upright that is now over 100 years old.
I've always loved the touch and the particular tone of my piano - my only problem is finding a good tuner.

Thank you Robert, for an the interesting info.
Robert - host, on February 15, 2016 @12:47 pm PST
You are right. There were actually several other pianos in the White House which I didn't mention in the video. I just hit the brands that were pervasive over the years and a sampling of presidents' pianos. Fortunately there were even more pianos in the White House!
Sharon Boser on February 10, 2016 @6:13 pm PST
I really enjoyed this article. I often share the information you provide at my piano recitals.
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