The Estey Piano Company was an offshoot of the older Estey Organ Co. of Brattleboro, Vermont. This ad from 1876 directs the consumer to Saxe & Robertson at 12 Union Square where the Estey organs are sold. The website esteyorgan.com shows views of the building above, with the information, "Originally Established 1869. Reorganized 1885. New Factory completed, January 1st, 1886."
The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission report (2006) on the Estey Piano Factory is available for download at http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/EsteyPiano.pdf. The report includes the following, "The Estey Piano Company was organized by Jacob Estey and John B. Simpson in 1885. Two decades before, Estey had established an organ works in Brattleboro, Vt. that had grown into one of the country's largest producers of reed organs, thousands of which found their way into American parlors every year. Like other organ manufacturers in the late nineteenth century, Estey sought to diversify into the booming piano industry, and his partnership with Simpson - a pioneering North Side piano manufacturer - was a means to that end. When Estey Piano opened its factory, it manufactured upright and grand pianos that would become recognized for their 'superior construction and workmanship.'"
The following is extracted from New England Manufacturers and Manufactories,
1879. "Prominent in the manufacture of parlor organs is the firm of J. Estey & Co.,
of Brattleboro, Vt. The families of the name of Estey, are descended from three brothers,
who came from England and settled in Massachusetts, early in the seventeenth century.
The great-grandfather of Jacob Estey, founder and present head of the firm, also
named Jacob, was a farmer in Sutton, Mass., but moved early in life to Royalston.
His son Jacob owned and managed a farm in that town, and also kept a public house.
Of his seven children, but two attained maturity. The eldest, Isaac, having married
Patty Forbes, of Royalston, went with his brother Israel to Hinsdale, N. H., where they
built a saw-mill and engaged in the manufacture of lumber. This enterprise was a failure.
"Israel Estey left the town and State, and went to Ann Arbor, Mich., where he engaged in farming. His elder brother, Isaac, remaining with his family, was arrested for debt and thrown into the county jail. He remained there thirty days, at the end of which time he took the poor debtor's oath, and was released from his liabilities. He then engaged in farming.
"Jacob Estey was one of eight children, seven of whom, five sons and two daughters, still survive. He was born September 30, 1814, and was, when four years of age, adopted by a wealthy family in the neighborhood. After remaining with them seven years he ran away, and walked to Worcester, Mass., where a brother lived, and where he went to work on a farm. During the next four years he was employed on farms in Rutland, Millbury and other places in that vicinity. At seventeen he engaged with T. & J. Sutton, of Worcester, as an apprentice to learn the trade of a plumber, including the manufacture of lead pipe, and remained with them four years.
"In February, 1835, he went to Brattleboro, Vt., with two hundred dollars, and there purchased the business, tools and real estate of a plumbing and lead pipe concern, and hired a shop on premises opposite the present Brattleboro House. In 1850, the proprietors of a small organ factory, which occupied a part of his building, being unable to pay their rent, he accepted in settlement an interest in the business, and two years later purchased the whole establishment, which then employed six hands, for $2700. Mr. Estey now turned his attention especially to the organ manufacture, and a few years after devoting himself exclusively to it. He continued in successful operation until 1866, when he received into partnership, Levi K. Fuller and his son, Julius J. Estey.
"Mr. Estey was married in 1837, to Desdemona Wood, of Brattleboro. Their surviving children are Abby E., born Sept. 21, 1842, and married to Levi K. Fuller, and Julius J., born Jan. 8, 1845, and married to Florence Gray, of Cambridge, N. Y."
Jacob Estey (1814-1890), the founder of Estey Organ Co., received this brief notice in the New York Times, 16 April 1890, "Deacon Jacob Estey, founder of the Estey Organ Company and senior member of the firm, died yesterday morning at Brattleborough, Vt., of heart-clot after twenty-four hours' illness."
Jacob Estey's successors at Estey Organ Co., who were also instrumental in forming the Estey Piano Co., were his son, Julius Jacob Estey (1845-1902), and his son-in-law, Levi K. Fuller (1841-1896).
Levi K. Fuller was active in Vermont politics and served as governor of the state from 1892 to 1894. His death reported in the New York Times, 11 Oct. 1896, included, "Mr. Fuller was born at East Westmoreland, Cheshire County, N. H., Feb. 24, 1841. His parents moved to Wyndham County, Vt., in 1845. In 1853 young Fuller left the parental roof to seek his fortune. He went to Bellows Falls, where he got employment as a messenger to deliver telegraphic dispatches. ... Young Fuller then turned his mind to inventions, and made an important improvement in steam engines. Subsequently he went to Boston and learned the machinist's trade, and while there he worked in the evenings as operator at the Merchants' Exchange. He was one of the first to note the influence of aurora borealis upon telegraph lines. In addition to his work he pursued a regular course of study in science. In 1860 he became engineer and machinist in the Estey Organ Works. Then he bought a machine shop and went into business for himself, accumulating considerable wealth. In 1866 he became a member of the firm of J. Estey & Co., and obtained more than 100 patents upon inventions of his own. ... In 1880 he was elected to the State Senate. In 1886 he was made Lieutenant Governor, and in 1892 he was elected Governor. ... He married Abbey, the only daughter of Jacob Estey."
The New York Times, 1 April 1929, reported the death of Abigail Estey Fuller (1842-1929), "Mrs. Addy E. Fuller, 86; widow of Governor Levi K. Fuller, died today at her home here [Brattleboro, Vt.]. She had been ill since November. Her husband, elected to the Governorship in 1892, died in 1896."
Extensive additional information on the origins and development of Estey Organ Co. is found at www.waymarking.com. A full length study of the Estey Organ Co. is found in Manufacturing the Muse: Estey Organs and Consumer Culture in Victorian America, by Dennis G. Waring, 2002. Portions of this work are available on the internet as a google book.
The following is quoted from Pianos and Their Makers, by Alfred Dolge (1911), "John Boulton Simpson acquired control of the Arion Piano in 1869, and manufactured high grade pianos until 1885, when he formed a combination with the Esteys, by which the name was changed from Arion Piano Company to Estey Piano Company. A large factory with modern appliances was erected in New York, and the Estey grand and upright pianos soon became a dominant factor in the piano trade. John Boulton Simpson is still president of the company, assisted by Jacob Gray Estey and J. Harry Estey as active managers, maintaining the prestige of the Estey reputation for high-class products."
John Boulton Simpson (1846-1926) was listed as follows in the Biographical Directory of the State of New York, 1900, "Simpson, John Boulton - Pianos, 97 Fifth avenue, New York City: residence 988 Fifth avenue. President Estey Piano Co.; vice-president Empire City Savings Bank and Traders' Insurance Co. Member Union League, New York Yacht, Harlem Church, Adirondack League, National Arts, Lake George Yacht and Lawyers' Clubs. National Sculpture, Municipal Art and New York Zoological Societies. Aldine Association, American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art and New York Botanical Gardens."
Simpson's death notice in the New York Times, 20 June 1926, read, "John Boulton Simpson, formerly President of the Estey Piano Company, died on Friday night at his home, 230 West Seventy-sixth Street. He was 79 years old. For many years Mr. Simpson had a Summer home at Bolton Landing, on Lake George, where as President of the Sagamore Hotel Company, he gave much of his time to the interests of this resort. He was a veteran of the Seventh Regiment and a member of the Union League Club, the Columbia Yacht Club and the Lake George Club. He is survived by two daughters."
Regarding the Estey factory building, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission
report (2006) includes the following:
"The original portion of the Estey Piano Factory was designed by the architectural
firm of A. B. Ogden & Son. Many of the building's features ... are characteristic
of late-nineteenth-century factory building. Its mixture of segmental- and round-headed
window openings, and the Romanesque machicolation of its clock tower, place the Estey
Factory within the tradition of the American round-arched style. Other features,
including the factory's distinctive, red-orange brick, dogtoothed and zigzagging
patterned-brick stringcourses, recessed brick panels, terra cotta tiles featuring
festoons, lions' heads, and foliate motifs - and of course, its dramatic, projecting
clock tower - speak of a building that sought to announce its presence on the urban
landscape, projecting a strong public image for its owner...
"The original building was extended to the east along Southern Boulevard in 1890, with a harmonious five-story addition designed by John B. Snook & sons, and to the north, along Lincoln Avenue, with one-story additions in 1895. The Lincoln Avenue additions appear to have been combined and expanded, and then raised to three stories in 1909, and by an additional two stories in 1919; the 1919 addition near the southeast corner of Lincoln Avenue and 134th Street features broad expanses of industrial sash that were characteristic of the 'daylight factories' of the early twentieth century."
The last listing in the New York telephone directory for the Estey Piano Co. factory, Southern Blvd. & Lincoln Ave., was in 1926. According to www.esteyorgan.com, "In 1917 Estey was purchased by George W. Gittens and in 1927 by B. K. Settergren and moved to Bluffton, IN." In 1935 Settergren was renamed the Estey Piano Co.
The Estey Piano Company sign can be seen in pristine shape in the background of a photograph on the Museum of the City of New York website. This is a Wurts Bros. photo dated 1928. The Welte Mignon building in the foreground is currently (2016) not extant.
Copyright © 2012 Walter Grutchfield