The Pianoforte in Pittsburgh

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to travel with a piano across the Alleghenies before the days of trucks, railroads or even canals? Yet an ad appearing in the Post-Gazette of July 20, 1813, suggests someone did just that.

The advertisement of 1813, published some sixteen years before the completion of the canal informs readers only that a fine-tuned pianoforte was for sale. A maker is not identified and it is unknown where the instrument was manufactured. It could be that the piano traveled, somehow, from Baltimore or Philadelphia, but it could also have been made at home.

With advertisements appearing as early as 1814, Charles Rosenbaum was one known maker, and he seems to have worked in the city for five years. The quality of his work suggests a degree of cultural sophistication unexpected in a frontier town and reinforces the complexities and cost of importing goods from the east.

Yet if Rosenbaum was the first manufacturer of pianofortes in Pittsburgh and he set up shop in 1814, then the piano advertised in 1813 could not have been made by him. If it had journeyed across the Alleghenies, it wouldn’t be the only piano to do so. Family history tells us that a Philadelphia-built piano forte owned by General Richard Butler was given to his daughter Mary in 1791, just before leaving on a fateful military expedition. In 1791, the pianoforte somehow made it over Indian trails from Philadelphia to what is now Lawrenceville. It’s now located in the Heinz History Center.

(shown is a New York made pianoforte now at the Westmoreland Museum of Art)

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