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HEINTZMAN, THEODOR AUGUST (at birth his name was given as Theodore August Heintzmann), piano manufacturer and inventor; b. 19 May 1817 in Berlin; m. there 1844 Matilda Louisa Grunow (Grunno, Grennew), and they had six sons and five daughters; d. 25 July 1899 in Toronto Junction (Toronto).

Before World War I the Heintzman trade mark on pianos was probably better known throughout the British empire than the name of either Sir Wilfrid Laurier* or Sir Robert Laird Borden*. Unfortunately, the background of Theodor August Heintzman, the founder of Heintzman and Company, is not as well known. Several unofficial biographies, encyclopedia entries, and company testimonials exist, but few touch upon the years before his arrival in Toronto in 1860. Those which do are often obscure and contradictory in detail, for he did not leave any personal papers among the company records. Biographical sketches that Heintzman did approve of, and that apparently were later accepted by his family, indicate that his early years were spent in the common or grammar schools of Berlin. Heintzman’s father owned a cabinet factory that also manufactured piano-actions, keys, and boards, a trade which undoubtedly influenced Theodor in his future profession. At one point young Heintzman apprenticed as a cabinet-maker (possibly with his father) and later he learned key-making under Bacholtz. In 1831 he and his brother, Charles, were apprenticed to William Grenew (perhaps an uncle but conceivably Theodor’s future father-in-law), a piano manufacturer in Berlin who specialized in the tradition of producing the entire high-quality instrument from materials refined by a single craftsman. It is not entirely clear whether Heintzman spent all his years in Berlin as a piano-maker; various biographies mention him as an instrument-maker, as an optician, and even as a machinist credited with producing the draft for the first locomotive built there. After his marriage in 1844, Heintzman worked for his wife’s uncle as a piano- and instrument-maker. The military and political unrest in Berlin during the 1840s persuaded her family to emigrate to New York in 1849. The younger couple followed a year later with their children.

Upon arriving in New York, the Heintzmans moved into an apartment in Greenwich Village and Theodor easily found employment with the piano-makers Lighte and Newton. Several sketches have fostered the myth that Heintzman and Heinrich Engelhardt Steinweg, the founder of the Steinway piano firm, worked at the same bench for the above company. They arrived in the same year in North America but historical records demonstrate little more relation between these founders of the continent’s major piano firms. In the year of the Heintzmans’ arrival, two of their children died. Perhaps to escape from these sad memories, the family moved in 1852 to Buffalo, where Theodor worked for the Keogh Piano Company. A year later he entered into a partnership, Drew, Anowsky, and Heintzman. It seems to have backed the Western Piano Company, of which Heintzman was a part-owner. (A square piano built by this firm about 1854 was still in the possession of the Heintzman family in 1980.) Heintzman was able to pull out of the company with several thousand dollars before it went bankrupt during the financial panic of 1857.

There exists little doubt that the Heintzmans emigrated to Toronto in 1860. There does, however, appear to be a great deal of confusion as to how and when Heintzman entered the piano business in this city. The most plausible explanation, one supported by a measure of historical evidence, is that a Toronto piano manufacturer, John Morgan Thomas, met Heintzman in Buffalo and persuaded him to work in his plant, perhaps as foreman. (The later report by an agent of R. G. Dun and Company that Heintzman “faild in conn[ection] with J. Thomas” suggests a closer business arrangement.) Since Heintzman was an exceptionally skilled piano craftsman in comparison to the piece-work assemblers in most North American factories, it is not unreasonable to believe the popular story that he assembled his first Canadian piano single-handed in his kitchen during the first year he spent in Toronto. Whatever its origin, the first piano Heintzman made in Canada sold immediately, the superior detail of the cabinet and the brilliant tone setting it apart from other North American models. Heintzman used the profit from this sale to build several other pianos over the next few years, though he had yet to establish a formal company. The “Heintzman Tradition” of Toronto was nevertheless founded on the high-quality pianos produced entirely by Heintzman in the early 1860s.

In 1864 Heintzman’s daughter Anna Matilda Louisa married Karl (Charles) Bender, a well-established tobacconist and a fellow member of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church on Bond Street. Bender helped finance Heintzman’s business venture, Heintzman and Company, which was located on Duke (Adelaide) Street in 1866. In 1868 the small concern was able to expand to a shop on King Street West, where it soon employed 12 hands who produced 60 pianos a year. Increasing demand for the old-world craftsmanship of Heintzman pianos resulted in the company’s moving about 1873 to larger premises a few doors away, where there would be space for a factory, an office, and a salesroom. Heintzman devoted his attention exclusively to the technical side of the business. He was able to improve upon the interior quality of his pianos by an invention for which he received the Canadian patent. This was the agraffe bridge, a transverse metal bridge that extends across the cast-iron frame of the piano to keep the strings from slipping and, at the same time, improves the clarity in the treble and produces a brilliant, high tone. Sébastien Érard of Paris had produced such a bridge in 1809, but Heintzman perfected it, obtaining Canadian patents in the process in 1873, 1882, 1884, and 1896. The foundations of the Heintzman piano dynasty in Canada had been laid in under 20 years.

In 1875 Bender retired from Heintzman and Company and two years later he died. The growing firm suffered little from the loss of its major financial backer. Nor did it notice the sudden departure of one of its chief craftsmen, Heintzman’s cousin, Johann Gerhard Heintzman, who left in 1877 after a minor dispute to set up a rival piano shop on Queen Street (it was to be absorbed by the older company when Gerhard died in 1926). By the mid 1870s T. A. Heintzman’s work was ready to be exported overseas and to garner awards. In 1876 Heintzman pianos won a prize at the centennial exhibition in Philadelphia and three years later they were exhibited for the first time at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. By the time of Heintzman’s death in 1899, his pianos had won at least 11 awards and diplomas in the United States and throughout the British empire, including the prestigious William Prince of Wales Medal in London in 1886.

During the 1880s the Heintzman company was producing an average of more than 500 pianos every year, an output that was based on Heintzman’s reputation for high-quality work, his ongoing technical improvements, and tariff protection under the federal government’s National Policy. In Heintzman’s opinion the growth of the dominion would produce an upward demand for his pianos and consequently he took steps to acquire larger premises. In 1882 the Canadian Pacific Railway bought 46 acres just west of Toronto, an area later named Toronto Junction. In 1888 Heintzman moved his factory there, to a site on what became Heintzman Avenue. The property on King Street was retained as a warehouse and a show-room. That same year he became a naturalized Canadian citizen and the Heintzman and Company name was legally registered. By 1890 the firm was to be counted as one of Toronto’s largest manufacturing concerns, employing more than 200 craftsmen and producing 1,000 pianos a year.

In 1890 Heintzman moved into a magnificent Victorian villa, the Birches, on Annette Street, a few feet away from his new factory. His home soon became a residential showpiece and a frequent meeting-place for the German Reform Club, of which he was a member. Heintzman was also a freemason and a major benefactor of First Lutheran Church when it rebuilt its wooden structure on Bond Street. Though he witnessed the continued growth of his company during the last years of his life, personal loss and poor health were taking their toll on the ageing craftsman. On 22 Jan. 1890, three days before the Birches was completed, his wife had suddenly died. Heintzman’s health began deteriorating soon afterwards. In 1897 a lavish and well-publicized 80th-birthday party was held for him at the Birches, attended by most of his employees, many local officials and dignitaries, and members of the German Reform Club. Reports of the festivities noted Heintzman’s good health, but in reality he was on his final journey. Increasing frailty (attributed by some to cystitis) was evident soon after his birthday. In December of that year his son Charles Theodore, who had managed the Toronto Junction factory, died.

During the 1890s control of the company fell increasingly into the hands of Heintzman’s son George Charles*, born the year the Heintzmans settled in Toronto. While all sources confirm that it was the elder Heintzman’s superior craftsmanship that established the Heintzman tradition in Canada, there is little doubt that George was the aggressive salesman behind the company’s national and international success. It was he who foresaw the potential for expansion during the early years of the National Policy and insisted upon opening the huge factory in Toronto Junction. When the Toronto market appeared to be temporarily saturated with Heintzman pianos, he passed out advertising handbills to farmers in northern Ontario, taking cattle and horses in payment for pianos (many of these animals, however, died in the Heintzman warehouses before they could be sold). When the first transcontinental train to Vancouver arrived in 1887, George was on it with a carload of pianos for sale. (Some may have found their way west earlier: apparently a Heintzman piano was played in the Regina barracks of the North-West Mounted Police during the North-West rebellion in 1885.) As well, it was George who insisted on exhibiting pianos at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886. Not only did the company win the Prince of Wales medal, but George sold the 30-odd pianos he had brought with him, laying the basis for a worldwide export business. In 1888 he was able to have a Heintzman piano played at the Royal Albert Hall before Queen Victoria, who was overheard to remark, “I didn’t realize such beautiful instruments could be made in the colonies.” George was the natural choice to continue the company’s affairs during the 1890s, although a co-partnership agreement signed in 1894 legally split the operation between the elder Heintzman, George, Charles, and two other sons, Herman and William Francis.

In January 1899 Theodor August Heintzman underwent an operation at St Michael’s Hospital but his health continued to deteriorate. In July he was still able to visit his factory but a chill, caught one evening while sitting on his porch, was enough to cause him to lapse into a coma. He died on 25 July in his home and was buried beside his wife in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. He was survived by three sons and three daughters. Heintzman and Company passed into the hands of his sons Herman and George. Under the terms of his father’s will, George also received the Birches and its contents “for his faithful devotion to the interests . . . of Heintzman & Co.” He would serve as its president until his own death in 1944.

Gayle M. Comeau

AO, MS 571; RG 8, I-1-D, 1903, file 2470; RG 55, I-2-B, liber 72: f.46; liber 275: f.82; partnership records, York County, Toronto, nos.112, 399; Toronto East, no.1136; Toronto West, nos.1704, 1706. Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 26: 360 (mfm. at NA). Can., Parks Canada, Ontario Region (Cornwall), Parks Canada, “In commemoration of Theodor August Heintzman” (1979). Mount Pleasant Cemetery (Toronto), Reg. of burials, Heintzman family tombstone. York County Surrogate Court (Toronto), no.13506 (mfm. at AO). Canadian Manufacturer (Toronto), 7 Dec. 1888. Daily Mail and Empire, 26 July 1899. Evening News (Toronto), 25 July 1899. Evening Telegram (Toronto), 25 July 1899. Toronto Evening Star, 25 July 1899. Toronto World, 26 July 1899. Commemorative biog. record, county York. Encyclopedia of music in Canada (Kallmann et al.). Toronto directory, 1860–99. L. P. Barbier, Follow the footsteps of your forefathers: 1898–1978, 80th anniversary of the building of our First Lutheran Church . . . ([Toronto, 1978]); The story of the First Lutheran Church, 1851–1976 ([Toronto], 1976). Alfred Dolge, Pianos and their makers . . . (2v., Covina, Calif., 1911–13; repr. In 1v., New York, [1972]). Hist. of Toronto, vol.1. C. P. Mulvany, Toronto: past and present; a handbook of the city (Toronto, 1884; repr. 1970). C. C. Taylor, Torontocalled back,” from 1894 to 1847 . . . (Toronto, 1894). Toronto, Board of Trade, “Souvenir”.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gayle M. Comeau, “HEINTZMAN, THEODOR AUGUST,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 29, 2017, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/heintzman_theodor_august_12E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/heintzman_theodor_august_12E.html
Author of Article: Gayle M. Comeau
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: March 29, 2017