J. Bauer Piano Company: The Story of William Bauer, The Most Creative Piano Designer

We’ll start with his father.

Julius Bauer was born in Berlin on July 20, 1831. At an early age showed natural talent for constructing musical instruments and by the time he was 18, had accumulated many years of experience working on pianos and violins. At this time, the revolution of 1848 was erupting, so he left for America and arrived in New York.

Immediately opening his own store, within 8 years his company had grown rapidly. He leaves his brother John in charge of the New York store and comes to Chicago in 1857 with his other brother Herman. They sold several piano brands such as Behning, Miller, McCammon, and Knabe.

In the great Chicago fire of 1871, his business was destroyed. For the next year and a half, he operated in a church while having a new building built. During this time of tragedy, his brother John dies, and so he closes down the New York branch.

Although Bauer started as a retailer, he soon began to build pianos that sold under his name. Bauer pianos became known for being exceptionally well made pianos.

With his success, Bauer was able to afford lavish warerooms in two major cities, Chicago and again in New York by 1880.

Julius dies in 1884 and his wife Anna Marie takes over management of the company.

Their son William was born in 1870, and after graduating from High School, he goes on a European vacation. When he arrives back in Chicago, he starts his career in the factory learning everything he can about pianos from the ground up.

Now the fun begins. William turned out to be a gifted piano maker with an inventive mind. In my opinion, he was one of the most original thinkers in piano technology history.

(The following may be a little technical.)

His designs seem to be based on stiffness. His plates are designed so that the string tension is placed in a horizontal plane inside the middle of the plate, whereas in a “regular” grand piano, the string tension is horizontally on top of the plate.

He goes one step further in his upright. A major flaw with uprights is that the sound can be smothered by the cabinet. William tackles this issue by placing the soundboard in the back of the instrument for maximum sound exposure, but the plate and the strings are in the middle of the instrument. He connects the soundboard to the bridge and strings with dowels.

Quite amazing!

I recommend that you should see his patents which are accessible online by searching Google Patents.

Another example of his unique approach is the soundboard itself. You can easily spot a Julius Bauer piano because his soundboards have ribs on the top and the bottom.

Later he even invented a piano with no steel plate at all. It features a wooden plate to replace the traditional cast-iron plate with the goal of giving the piano a sweeter tone.

His piano designs and methods of construction were very unique and highly praised in his day. Today they are worth a second look, and they are very much worth restoring.

He sold his company to the Wurlitzer Piano Company in 1930 being hit hard during the Great Depression.

Wurlitzer continued to build the Julius Bauer name up until about 1938.