Top Left Edge Main Banner Top Right Edge

The Horse & Buggy Era (1880-1900)

John Stevenson's Pianos

Wormwith Piano

Piano by Wormwith & Co., Kingston, 1894.
Wormwith purchased the company from John Stevenson.

John Stevenson, lumberman, prosperous businessman, and first Warden of Lennox & Addington, was invloved in various manufacturing enterprises in Napanee. Throughout the 1850s-1860s, he engaged in loan, mortgage, and real estate activities in the Napanee area. In the 1860s, he acquired a piano making factory in Kingston. DISCOVER MOREReadmore Arrow

This splendid instrument, made of quilted maple veneer and other hardwoods, represents the peak of the evolution of the upright piano. The piano factory in Kingston was started by John C. Fox in 1862 at Ontario and Princess Streets, most recently known as the location of the S & R Department Store. A few years later, Fox was in financial trouble and sold the factory building to John Stevenson of Napanee, a well known business man and politician. When Fox died in 1868, the company assets were auctioned off to pay Stevenson back rent. Some of the assets were purchased by the former workers, led by foreman George Weber. By 1871 they were able to move back into the factory building, and with additional funding from Stevenson, were able to add a wing to the building, making it the largest piano factory in Canada. The name was changed to Weber & Co.

It was around this time that William Henry Wormwith joined the company, starting as an office boy and becoming foreman by 1884. Through the 1880's the company was controlled by the Stevenson family and the factory turned out pianos bearing the Stevenson name. By 1893, the Stevenson family lost interest in the piano making operation and sold the business to Wormwith and two partners. The factory building was sold to another party which began making carriages there. Wormwith moved the piano making operation up the street to a tiny building to the east of Vandervoort Hardware at 75 Princess St.. The company name changed once again.

Wormwith began his production of pianos with serial number 12000. The Wormwith piano on display at the Canadian Piano Museum bears serial number 12005, making it the fifth piano that Wormwith and his Company constructed. The date appears on the back of the hammer rail. If we compare this piano to one made by the Stevenson Company a few years earlier we find one significant improvement: the use of a full cast iron plate to fully support the 18 tons of tension on the strings. Up until that time, manufacturers were having problems with cracking and separating pinblocks and tuning instability. Wormwith did not invent the full cast iron plate, but was among the first to use it. There have been no significant improvements in the fundamental design of the upright piano since this piano was constructed more than a century ago. New materials have been tried, with sometimes disastrous results, but the fundamental design of the modern upright piano is exactly as Wormwith had designed it in 1894. Wormwith made well-constructed pianos and by 1900 was able to buy back the old factory building.

When comparing the Wormwith piano to the Stevenson piano made around 1889, we see that the legs and some of the cabinet details are almost identical, and the bass bridge and lower plate are very similar. However, the Stevenson piano had what is called a plate (not gong all the way to the top) and only two pedals. By the turn of the century, the public felt that they were being cheated if there were not three pedals, although often the third pedal did absolutely nothing. The Wormwith piano has a tone modifier rail which is activated by the middle pedal.

The Wormwith and Stevenson pianos are on display at the Canadian Piano Museum, which is located in the house built for John Stevenson in 1859. Stevenson was a noted politician and Wormwith was at one time a popular alderman on the Kingston City Council.

Submitted courtesy of the Canadian Piano Museum, Napanee

Back ArrowHIDE

Back in Timeline 1784-1799 : 1800-1820 : 1820-1840 : 1840-1860 : 1860-1880 : 1880-1900 : 1900-1920 : 1920-1940 : 1940-- Forward on Timeline
Bottom Left Edge Bottom Edge Bottom Right