William Steinway diaries an example of how personal stuff turns history's big events into footnotes
There are just a few weeks left in the Smithsonian's Steinway exhibit, and I finally had a chance to check out the diaries of William Henry Steinway, a portion of which which the museum has made available online. He was the main driving force in the rise of Steinway & Sons, the developer of his own little section of Queens, as well as being a significant force in New York City's civic life.
The most striking thing about the entries is how earth-shattering events (in this case, the first big clash between Union and Confederate armies in the American Civil War) are reduced to footnote status -- Sunday, July 21, 1861: "Battle of Bull Run" -- while we find out that Steinway's wife Regina got seasick on the boat crossing from Niagara to Toronto on Aug. 20. The next day, he was given a tour of the city by a Nordheimer (one of Toronto's two big pianomaking families). "Splendid place," he writes.
(The picture at left is of him in front of the Steinway mansion in Astoria, which happens to be up for sale right now for $2.5 million.)
The diaries brim with the little details of the very busy life of a keen entrepreneur. Steinway died, aged 61, in 1896. Here are the entries for June 3 & 4, 1877:
At 9 A.M. to factory, see Kroeger talk everything over with him, & see that Iron Resonator in Grand is dropped, & Alberts improvement made. Then drive to Brosi, but do not find any of the Tafelrunde there. Take dinner with mother then drive to Kroegers house, to Astoria with him with him & Luther through the factory, third floor is completely finished, we talk over everything I then with Williams, Judge Pierce & Theodore Schultz look over my Rapalye Property on Winthrop Ave to locate auxiliary Waterworks, I then walk to Stonehouse Luther says that he will move during this week Drive to 52d str. leave horse & buggy there then home by 4th Ave. find my children and many other children at supper, George celebrating his 12th birthday which falls upon tomorrow. Mr. Tretbar, Chas & Henry & I play Skat, lose 5 Cents
Yesterday & today slight touch in Elbow pit of right arm, take lunch at Rathskeller, Dr. Auerbach there. Take a Steambath in afternoon, my 6th this season, at home in eve'g, draw up my will
It doesn't look like there are any thunderbolts of enlightenment in these diaries, but it is a fun way to pass some time in another time and place, so different and yet so similar to our own.