The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991 Page: 635
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focused consumer ethic of the early twentieth century. The piano in
Victorian America came to symbolize the virtues of hard work, disci-
pline, and, above all else, the socially crucial role of women, family, and
home, all of which were seen as palliatives and correctives to the mas-
culine virtues of competitiveness, will, and assertion that were at the
basis of an industrializing and urbanizing society. By the turn of the
century, the great hulking upright piano was ubiquitous in the Ameri-
can home, the essential center of any respectable Victorian parlor. In
1909 alone more than 350,000 pianos were manufactured by almost
three hundred manufacturers and the sixty-nine firms that supplied
them with parts and equipment. The piano industry proved remark-
ably adept at pioneering and absorbing new developments in industrial
technologies and commercial organization and, more crucially, in ad-
vertising and marketing. For instance, it pioneered the use of brand
name and national advertising, and it depended to a remarkable de-
gree on credit purchasing. In the first two decades of the twentieth cen-
tury the creative and resourceful industry became tremendously suc-
cessful by producing and marketing the "player-piano," which was
perfectly attuned to the age's fascination with novelty and instant grati-
fication and with the music industry's efforts to create a "musical de-
mocracy." The piano industry fell victim to its own success, though,
when the fickle public turned from the player piano to those even more
recent inventions, first the phonograph and then the radio. Only by ac-
commodating itself to the public's taste for smaller instruments and by
emphasizing the domestic virtues that enjoyed a rebirth during and im-
mediately following the Great Depression did the industry manage to
recover to an extent by 1940.
Roell's study of the years of the industry's heyday, decline, and partial
recovery is a fine piece of scholarship. He has worked extensively and
effectively in the archives of the great piano houses that survived, in the
records of the several national industrial and professional groups that
were created by piano makers and piano teachers during this period,
and in the advertising literature that the industry produced. Indeed,
the illustrations of that advertising are among the book's most enjoy-
able and useful features. This is, however, a study of the piano industry
and is strongest when it focuses on the significant developments among
the "piano men" and on their part of the music industry. Its sections on
the piano as cultural symbol are weaker. They are very much indebted
to Loesser and are too often repetitive rather than innovative. Still and
all, here is a fine study, diligently researched, thoughtfully organized,
and competently written.
University of Texas at Austin
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991, periodical, 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/m1/713/: accessed August 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.