When Heinrich Engelhardt Steinway came to New York City in the 1850’s, the piano was a well established instrument. The British called the piano a Piano Forte and the Europeans, a Forte Piano which means loud-soft. Prior to this, the harpsichord was the instrument of choice but it was played at one volume only. At this time, Steinway built their square grand pianos like everyone else which was parallel strung—strings running perpendicular to the keys and parallel to each other.
In 1855, Steinway produced the first overstrung piano where the bass strings are strung over the treble strings which made it possible to use longer strings. This allowed the moving of the bridge into the center of the soundboard for more volume and a clearer, more powerful bass sound.
The sound was rich and revolutionary. It was awarded a gold medal at New York’s Industrial Fair. On December 20, 1859, Steinway patented #26532—Grand Overstringing. This overstringing design coupled with a single cast-iron plate changed the look of the grand piano (from a square grand to the look it has today) and led Steinway to be generally recognized as building the first modern concert grand.
It may be one of the reasons why Thomas A. Edison wrote to Steinway on June 2, 1890, “I have decided to keep your grand piano. For some reason unknown to me, it gives better results than any so far tried.”