Kurtzmann Pianos | A Golden Era Piano Maker
Among the numerous piano makers in operation during the late 19th and early 20th century, C. Kurtzmann & Company contributed to the true ‘golden era’ of piano making in both quality and quantity. Christian Kurtzmann was born in Mecklenburg, Germany in 1815. A piano craftsman by trade, like many of his fellow Europeans, he set forth to America to stake his fortune. Settling in Buffalo, New York, he began to produce instruments in his personal workshop in 1848. In the late 1850s, he went into partnership with a Mr. Hinze, and the company Kurtzmann & Hinze was born. This partnership did not seem to last long, and within a few years, the partnership was split and Christian began the production of pianos under solely his own brand name of Kurtzmann.
C. Kurtzmann & Co. Piano Makers
Now building pianos with his personal name attached to their fallboards, Christian Kurtzmann set about to grow his business. As fate would have it, the late 19th century saw the rise of the piano industry as a major American manufacturing force. The golden age of the piano was here. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the piano grew to become not just a popular musical instrument, but the premier home entertainment system. Kurtzmann built a reputation for exacting quality and Christian personally supervised the crafting of the factory’s pianos.
Christian would not live to see the full expansion of the piano business, as he passed in 1886. His sons, Louis S. and Charles had been brought into the music industry at an early age. Charles forged out on his own and opened a music and piano gallery in Buffalo. Louis would be the son to continue his father’s manufacturing legacy. He formed a partnership with other area businessmen and took his place as the head of the Kurtzmann piano company.
Louis S. Kurtzmann no doubt appreciated his good fortune. He had risen to become head of a piano industry at a moment when demand was soaring. The company had worked to expand its offerings to include square grand pianos, uprights, and ‘modern’ grand pianos. A new larger factory on Niagra Street in Buffalo allowed the company to output approx. 2,500 pianos each week. Their sales network grew to include 200 dealers throughout the nation. Kurtzmann appears to have had a special focus on the appearance of their instruments and the quality of their veneers is evident in surviving examples today.
“the old motto of thoroughness and honest work is lived up to today as it was a half-century ago.” – Buffalo Express
The 20th Century – Purchase by Wurlitzer
The booming American economy which helped drive the demand for pianos of all sorts came to an abrupt and monetarily violent end. The Great Depression affected the American way of life in virtually every aspect. Kurtzmann was not immune to this incredible economic downturn. Past success unfortunately did not equal survival in this unprecedented time.
In 1935, the Kurtzmann piano company was sold to its competitor, Wurlitzer. Kurtzmann pianos were built under Wurlitzer’s management for several more years, but in 1938, Wurlitzer permanently discontinued the Kurtzmann name.
The Wurlitzer Company
By the 1950s Wurlitzer began to fall behind in the technology race. Their original jukeboxes were a hit, however, other companies soon began to take Wurlitzer’s place in that market.
The company began to go into a decline. In 1973 the company sold its famed jukebox brand to an overseas company. In 1988 Wurlitzer’s piano manufacturing brand was bought by their longtime competitor, Baldwin. After this, most of the piano manufacturing was moved out of the United States to overseas facilities. Production of pianos utilizing the Wurlitzer name continued until 2009 when Baldwin ceased the use of the Wurlitzer name on newly built pianos. The name continued to be used on new jukeboxes until manufacturing ceased in 2013. Today, the ‘mighty Wurlitzer’ brand is a thing of the past. [Click here to read more about Wurlitzer.]
Although no longer produced, Kurtzmann pianos have by no means disappeared. Here at Chupp’s Piano Service, we have maintained and restored a number of beautiful Kurtzmann instruments that bear witness to the exacting quality that Christian Kurtzmann expected of instruments bearing his name. This includes an uncommonly stunning Louis XV Style Art Case grand piano encased in a figured Circassian Walnut. [Click here to read more about this piano’s restoration.] If you are interested in purchasing a Kurtzmann instrument or have one you wish to restore, reach out to us today.