Heintzman & Co. Ltd.

Heintzman & Co. Ltd. Piano manufacturing and retailing business based in Toronto 1866-1978 and relocated in Hanover, Ont, 1978-86 under the amended name Heintzman Ltd.

Heintzman & Co. Ltd.

Heintzman & Co. Ltd. Piano manufacturing and retailing business based in Toronto 1866-1978 and relocated in Hanover, Ont, 1978-86 under the amended name Heintzman Ltd. It was founded by Theodore August Heintzman (b Theodor August Heintzmann, Berlin, 19 May 1817, naturalized Canadian 1886, d Toronto 25 Jul 1899) who had been apprenticed to the piano-building trade about 1831. It is not likely that Heintzman spent all his Berlin years in the piano trade, for various biographical sketches refer to him as a machinist, an instrument-maker, and a cabinet-maker, and one source even claims that he drew the patterns for the first locomotive built in his native city. All these skills must have been of benefit to the future piano builder.

As a result of the political troubles of 1848 the family of Heintzman's wife went to New York, and the young couple followed in 1850. For some time Heintzman worked for the piano makers Lighte & Newton. The story that he worked in the same factory as Henry E. Steinway is not confirmed, but it is true that the two Germans who were to establish the most famous piano firms in Canada and the USA respectively both arrived in North America in the same year. From New York Heintzman in 1852 went to Buffalo, where he worked for the Keogh Piano Co. He then entered the partnership of Drew, Heintzman & Annowski. A square piano built by this firm ca 1854 was still in the possession of Heintzman Ltd in 1980. In Buffalo Heintzman was associated with the Western Piano Co, which may have been an alternative name for Drew, Heintzman & Annowski and which failed in 1857.

Heintzman stayed in Buffalo until the political unrest preceding the Civil War and an invitation from the Canadian piano builder John Thomas caused him to move to Toronto in 1860. He is said to have built his first Canadian piano that year in a Toronto kitchen, to have sold it immediately, and to have continued and enlarged his business with the proceeds. However, the city directories for 1862-5 list Heintzman as working for the Thomas Piano Co at 86 York St. The year often given as the official founding date of the company - 1860 - appears to be justified as the starting point of Heintzman's private piano building in Toronto (probably at his home at 73 Queen St W), but the company was incorporated only in May 1866, with the financial and managerial help of Heintzman's son-in-law, Charles Bender, a prosperous tobacconist. (In 1873 the firm advertised that it had 'commenced business 12 years ago'.) Heintzman's first factory - as distinct from workshops at his residence - was opened at 23 Duke St, but by May 1868 it had been relocated at 105 King St W (where it soon employed 12 hands and began turning out more than 60 pianos a year), and by 1873 it had moved down the street to 115-17 where there was space for factory, offices, and sales rooms. That year the company offered eight models of square pianos and one upright or 'cabinet' grand, its most expensive piano. Bender retired in 1875 and died two years later, but the enterprise continued to grow. (A grandson of Bender and a great-grandson of Heintzman, Charles Bender, b 1899, was to be general manager of the company until the mid-1950s.)

In 1876 the young company won awards at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, and by 1879 it had built nearly 1000 instruments. In that year, too, Heintzman exhibited for the first time at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (CNE). By 1884 nearly 2000 pianos had been manufactured, and in 1888 a new factory was built in the Junction district of Toronto. The King St premises were retained as sales rooms and warehouse. As a result, production was able to rise from an annual 500 pianos during the 1880s to about 1000 in the 1890s and 2140 in 1906. The trade mark 'Heintzman & Co'. was acquired in 1888.

Unlike some of his competitors Heintzman aimed at high-quality rather than low-cost instruments. He was able to establish and maintain a high reputation from the beginning. Grand pianos were introduced about 1886, and two years later one was demonstrated before Queen Victoria at Albert Hall in London, winning the monarch's praise and thus helping to pave the way for an export trade. As early as 1867 Heintzman advertised its instruments as 'full Agraffe Bar Pianos,' referring to a transverse metal bridge across the cast-iron frame which helps to keep the strings from slipping and makes the tone more even. The agraffe had been introduced in 1809 by Sebastien Erard in Paris, but Heintzman effected some improvements, obtaining Canadian patents in 1873, 1882, and 1896.

After the founder's death in 1899 his son George C. Heintzman (1860-1944), who had been superintendent and general manager since 1885, became president, although other sons - Herman (1852-?), William F. (1856-?), and Charles Theodore (1864-97) - all joined the family business. Early in the years of George C. Heintzman's presidency the first branches were opened, and a 'quarter-grand' piano (1.7 m) was introduced in 1905. The sales and office headquarters at 195 Yonge St, Toronto, which were to remain the nerve centre of the firm until 1971, were occupied in January 1911, at which time the staff, including office personnel and travelling salesmen, numbered about 400. Besides its main lines, Heintzman manufactured player-pianos (grand and upright, manual and electric) until the 1920s. After the temporary drop in business during World War I demand returned sharply in the 1920s. At the beginning of that decade about 3000 Heintzman pianos were sold annually. There were 18 branch stores and 13 distributors, from coast to coast, and the export trade was significant. Two competing companies were acquired when their heads retired in 1927: that of Theodore August's nephew Gerhard Heintzman, and the Nordheimer Piano & Music Co.

The effects of the Depression on piano sales, however, were severe; only 200 Heintzman pianos were built in 1934. To broaden the base of its operations the company introduced the sale of sheet music, phonographs and records, Hammond organs, and other instruments - and eventually non-musical household appliances - in all its branches. Under the presidency 1942-56 of George C. Heintzman's son George Bradford (1892-1961) there were 7 branches and 40 agencies, but pianos accounted for less than half of the sales, averaging about 900 annually at the beginning of the 1950s.

In 1956 Edward L. Baker, a former comptroller of Canadian Breweries Ltd, was appointed president, the first not to be a member of the family. However, Herman Heintzman (b Toronto 1922, d 1969), a great-grandson of Theodore, owned a controlling interest in the company and was a vice-president, and other family members continued to occupy key positions: Bradford Craig Heintzman was sales manager until 1968, and William D. Heintzman (b Toronto 17 May 1923, d Toronto 16 Nov 2008) was factory manager until 1964. In the latter half of the 1950s the annual production of pianos was about 1000. Baker dropped the side lines (such as sheet music and hi-fi equipment) and restored the operations to their original scope, emphasizing the manufacture and sales of pianos, although the sale of electronic organs was continued. Baker increased the number of branches from 9 to 16 and introduced more aggressive sales methods. In 1960 production was about 1450 upright and 50 grand pianos.

In 1962 an up-to-date factory (supposed to be the first built in Canada in the 20th century, but more likely the first after World War I) was built in Hanover, replacing the Toronto Junction plant, although the building of grand pianos continued until 1977 at a Don Mills (Toronto) location, and was moved only in 1978 to Hanover. The Hanover plant was enlarged in 1967, giving it a potential capacity for an annual production of 5000 pianos. Heintzman acquired D.M. Best and Co Ltd in 1973 and continued to operate it as a subsidiary.

Baker remained president until 1969; after a period of litigation Ann Heintzman (widow of the former vice-president, Herman, who had died in 1969) became president. Meanwhile, another great-grandson of the company's founder, William D. Heintzman, had become president of the Sherlock-Manning Piano Co and in 1978 a merger of Heintzman and Sherlock-Manning under William's presidency was announced, the name Heintzman Limited was adopted, and headquarters were moved to Hanover, Ont. (The Don Mills plant, which had become the company's head office in 1971, was sold in 1976, although the head office continued to be located in Don Mills until 1978.) The new company continued to produce instruments under both names, with the Heintzman grand piano the top line. All branch stores were sold in 1976, but some dealerships retained the name as agents of the company.

Music publishing has been a marginal activity of the company, based on copyrights taken over from Nordheimer (eg, the Canadian edition of Paderewski's Minuet, some TCM graded examination books, and a few pieces by W.O. Forsyth). A Heintzman & Co. Waltz was written under a pseudonym by J.B. Glionna in 1899; there is also a Heintzman & Co. March (no date) by H. Zickel, and another (no date) by S. Minnes.

A Heintzman Piano Company Band was active in the 1880s and 1890s. Under the direction of Herbert L. Clarke until 1892, it had 40 to 45 players, played at Hanlan's Point (one of the Toronto Islands) during summer evenings, and visited the Montreal Exposition in September 1891.

It is reasonable to assume that the serial numbers of Heintzman pianos began at 1000. A few benchmark numbers follow:

1867 .......... 1150

1870 .......... 1400

1880 .......... 2310

1890 .......... 7510

1900 ......... 15,700

1910 ......... 35,600

1920 ......... 61,700

1930 ......... 83,200

1940 ......... 86,300

1950 ......... 93,060

In 1980 Heintzman grand pianos were numbered in the 200,000 series, uprights in the 165,700 series. The production of uprights had ceased in 1979, but was resumed later.

Apart from the Drew-Heintzman & Annowski instrument and an 1874 specimen owned by the company, early Heintzmans may be seen at the Glenbow-Alberta Institute in Calgary and at the Western Development Museum, Yorkton, Sask. Members of the Heintzman family (whose fifth generation continued to be involved directly in the company until 1981) have been continuously active in the encouragement and support of musical organizations and activities in Toronto as well as in business-related organizations. In May 1979 the Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada erected a memorial plaque to Theodore Heintzman at the First Lutheran Church, Bond St, Toronto.

In January 1981 Heintzman Ltd was sold by the family to Sklar-Peppler Inc. of Hanover, Ont, and was operated by Sklar-Peppler as a subsidiary under the Heintzman Ltd name; it redesigned, rescaled and re-engineered both upright and grand pianos, and by 1985 750 uprights and 40-50 grands were produced annually. In 1986 The Music Stand, an Oakville-based franchise music retail chain, purchased from Sklar-Peppler (who retained the Hanover factory.property) the patents and trademarks of Heintzman Ltd., as well as the remaining inventory, which it marketed. However in 1990 a Federal Court judge ruled that it could not place the Heintzman nameplate on pianos built in South Korea and the USA, which it imported for sale in Canada.

See alsoToronto Feature: Heintzman & Company.

Further Reading

  • The Commemorative Biographical Record of the County of York (Toronto 1907)

    Porter, McKenzie. 'The piano with the all-Canadian tone,' Maclean's, 11 May 1957

    Harbron, John D. 'At Heintzman hustle replaces history,' Executive, May 1961

    Gibson, Paul. 'Soon play Yankee Doodle on Heintzman & Co. pianos,' Financial Post, 19 Sep 1964

    Jones, Donald. 'Heintzman's old house enduring as his pianos,' Toronto Star, 10 Apr 1976

    Harper, Tim. 'The Heintzman family: 110,000 pianos later,' Fugue, Sep 1977

    Swimmings, Betty. 'Piano firm remains a family affair,' Ottawa Citizen, 6 Oct 1979

    Dewey, Martin. 'Heintzman piano firm has played its part for 120 good and bad years,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 14 Apr 1980

    Finlayson, Ann. 'They shoot piano-makers, don't they?' Maclean's, 3 Nov 1980

    [Gould, Malcom.] 'Heintzman Pianos,' Canadian Music Trade, Apr-May 1985

    Freeman, Alan. 'Judge rules against Korean Heintzmans,' Toronto Globe & Mail, 22 Nov 1990

    Kelly, Wayne. Downright Upright: A History of the Canadian Piano Industry (Toronto 1991)

    DCB, vol 12