William Knabe was born in Germany , had an excellent education, but decided to learn the art of piano making. He came to Baltimore where he mastered English then went in business with Henry Gaehle. Gaehle eventually left the company. Knable was an excellent businessman also and he controlled the piano market of the southern states. The Civil War was a difficult time and the toll was Knabe’s life. His two sons, William and Ernest took over. William managed the factories and Ernest the business/financial side. Ernest borrowed $ 20,000 for six months with “nothing (as security) but the name of Knabe.” Without the loan many people would have been out of work. Ernest went north and west and within two months had enough sales to meet his needs. He did not need the loan. He opened branch manufactory houses. The pianos are prized for their superior construction and workmanship. William died suddenly just as the company was doing so well. Ernest took over double duties but this caused his death five years later. The business became a corporation which became the American Piano Company The “Nouveau Art” grand is an art piano of Knabe.

Knabe 1889 Piano Ad

Knabe piano advertisement, published in 1889

The firm began by William Knabe in 1839 was established in Baltimore, Maryland. He was a German immigrant who studied the English language and piano building for six years prior to his beginning his own business. He built instruments of very high regard and his pianos were very popular in the southern US. The American Civil War hurt his business and he died in 1864 leaving his company to his sons. After a somewhat shaky economic time after the war his son, Ernest Knabe got the firm back on sound financial ground by making a dramatic sales trip to the northern and mid-western states. It was a big success and that assured the company’s future. Knabe’s pianos were very highly regarded by pianists such as Camille Saint-Saens, an enthusiastic user, and by 1900 the company was making around 2000 instruments per year. The Knabe piano is known in some circles as “a singer’s piano” because of its somewhat more mellow tone than many of its contemporaries.

In 1908 Wm. Knabe & Co., with Chickering & Sons and the Foster-Armstrong Co., of East Rochester, New York, formed the American Piano Co. under the laws of New Jersey, headed by Ernst J. Knabe, Jr., president, and C. H. W. Foster of Chickering & Sons, and George G. Foster, of Foster-Armstrong, controlling their respective companies as well as Haines Brothers, Marshall & Wendell, Brewster, and J. B. Cook & Co. with a combined output of about 18,000 pianos a year.

As of 2001, Wm. Knabe & Co. pianos are manufactured by Samick Musical Instruments, Ltd., which acquired the name from PianoDisc, owners of Mason & Hamlin.