Amazing Kids! Magazine

The President’s Piano

By Ryan Traynor, Assistant Editor

 

After visiting several places in Europe and seeing the fabulous musical instruments and pianos, I wondered if there were any instruments of note in the United States. My research led me to the White House. Sitting in the East Wing sits a beautiful Steinway grand piano made specifically for the White House. Let’s trace the steps that put the piano there.

In 1903, the Steinway & Sons piano company was celebrating the 50th anniversary since it was founded. Coincidentally, the company was also celebrating their creation of the 100,000th piano. The company wanted to do something very special for these events, so it offered to create a unique piano for use in the East Room of the White House. They changed their standard concert grand piano into a piece of artwork. In 1903 the gilded and painted piano cost $18,000! Just think of how much that would be today! The golden grand piano was presented to President Theodore Roosevelt. The following Presidents had this piano in the East Wing while they were in office: Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin Roosevelt. You can now see this piano in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

In 1938 a second piano was made by Steinway & Sons (working with President Roosevelt) to celebrate the production of their 300,000th piano. The new piano was designed by New York architect Eric Gugler, a friend of the Roosevelts. Gugler chose a square shape with simple lines rather than the double-curve form. It is nine feet, seven inches long (seven inches longer than the normal grand piano), with a case of Honduran mahogany and gold leaf by artist Dunbar Beck, a muralist. Beck created a gold leaf decoration (gilded stenciling) that depicts the five musical forms native to America – a New England barn dance; a lone cowboy playing his guitar; the Virginia reel; two black field hands, one clapping and one dancing; and an Indian ceremonial dance. A sculptor named Albert Stewart created three gilded mahogany legs carved as American eagles in the Art Moderne style for the piano.

The piano is typically only used when the President is in attendance. Sometimes special guests are invited to play, such as Sir Paul McCartney, Josh Groban and Alisha Keys. The piano is still in the East Room of the White House today.