Twentieth Century – Second World War
This war caused less disruption to the piano industry than the First World War. There was a smaller industry to disrupt: some smaller firms had been made bankrupt during the recession, and the Bluthner factory in Leipzig had been bombed during the war.
Post Second World War
The single most important factor after the conclusion o the Second World War was the emergence of Japan in the piano industry. In 1959 total output was less than 10,000 units, but by 1969 this had risen to 257,000 units per annum. The Japanese have had a longer experience in the piano industry than many realise: Yamaha was founded in 1887, and began making their first pianos soon after 1900. The firm of Kawai was founded in 1925.
At first Japanese pianos were considered a novelty. Pianos had appeared abroad since 1905/6, but were generally dismissed as unsatisfactory. By 1916 the Japanese had replaced instruments in their own schools with pianos that were made in Japan. By this latter date also they were being exported to China, India and Australia. Japanese firms made the whole instrument and imported only strings leather and felt. Their manufacturing system is an extension of the American System – mass production keeps cost low. The first Yamaha pianos appeared in the UK during the 1960s, and today there is also a manufacturing plant in Milton Keynes. Today Yamaha make about 230,000 units per year, whereas Steinway make approximately 5,000 per annum.
The Player Piano
The Player Piano was developed originally from the reed organ and harmonium, and worked on a system of air pressure. The Player Piano, as we know it, was invented by E S Votey in 1897, and was an automatic piano player. The pianist operated the bellow by pumping the pedals below the keyboard. (these were eventually operated by an electric motor). Air was then sucked through a perforated music roll, which in turn operated the mechanics of the action, and notes were accordingly sounded. The term Pianola was often used, but this was really the brand name of the Aeolian Company in New York.