J. A. Schaff, Piano Strings, was based in Chicago for many years before opening a manufacturing outlet in New York. Their successor company, Schaff Piano Supply Co., is currently (2011) located in Lake Zurich, Illinois. Some of the company history is available on their website at http://www.schaffpiano.com. Information about their early years, however, consists only of "1861: Gotthard and John A. Schaff started a piano manufacturing company in Chicago under the then name of G. Schaff Bros. 1884: John A. Schaff decided to start a bass string manufacturing business. Chicago was becoming the center of production for many major piano companies and there was a large demand for quality bass strings."
Schaff's presence in New York began around 1900. The Annual Report of the Factory Inspectors of the State of New York for the year ending November 30, 1900, recorded John A. Schaff, Piano Strings, at 177 1/2 East 87th St., Manhattan. This seems to have been a modest enterprise: the business employed 8 workmen. In comparison a comparable factory inspection of John A. Schaff at 130 Michigan St., Chicago, Illinois, in 1905, recorded a total of 22 employees.
Schaff had several locations on the east side of Manhattan before moving in 1908 to the building pictured above on East 133rd St., at the corner of Willow Ave., the Bronx.
The founder, John Adam Schaff (1835-1910), was an immigrant from Prussia in the 1850s. He is found the U. S. Census reports of 1870, 1880 and 1900. In each census he lived in Chicago and his occupation was either piano manufacturer or manufacturer of piano strings. His son, William George Schaff (1873-after 1960?), was born in Chicago and was 7 years old in the 1880 census. In 1910 William G. Schaff succeeded as president of the business on his father's death.
John Schaff's older brother was Gotthard Schaff (1831-1917). The 1870 U. S. Census specified Hesse as his birthplace. The 1900 census recorded 1860 as the year of his immigration. He lived in Chicago and worked as a piano manufacturer, but does not seem to have been involved in the piano strings business.
William G. Schaff, age 45, registered for the World War I draft in 1918, when he lived at 30 Castle Place, New Rochelle, NY. At that time he gave his occupation as President and General Manager of the Mapes Piano String Co., located at 767 E. 133rd St., New York City. The Mapes Piano String Co. had been a New York competitor of J. A. Schaff. The founder of the Mapes Piano String Co. was Stephen Simonson Mapes (1868/69-1924). He was a manufacturer of piano strings in the south Bronx from around 1900, located initially at 511-513 E. 137th St. From 1908 to 1918 Mapes was located at 618 E. 134th St. In 1912, as reported in American Machinist, Vol. 37, 11 July 1912, p.77, Mapes incorporated his company. The incorporators were reported as "Stephen S. Mapes, 202 West 86th St., Charles L. Kingsley, 44 West 44th St., and Louis W. Stotesbury, 2170 Broadway, New York, N.Y." Of these three Kingsley and Stotesbury were lawyers. Effectively, Mapes was incorporating his own business.
Some time later William Schaff bought the rights to the Mapes name, and the two companies merged in 1918. At this time, J. A. Schaff Co. closed in New York, William Schaff became president of the Mapes Piano String Co., and Mapes moved into the J. A. Schaff location at 767 E. 133rd St. The Mapes Piano String co. then remained in the Bronx until the early 1970s. William George Schaff Jr. (1912-1971) became president in the 1950s. Early in his tenure, Mapes established a wire mill of its own in Elizabethton, Tennessee. In 1971 Mapes left the Bronx and moved all of its operations to Elizabethton, where it celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. Visit their website at http://www.mapeswire.com/.
Another important figure at Mapes Piano String Co. was George Holz (1869-1922). According to his obituary in The Music Trades, 25 Nov. 1922, p. 5, "[George Holz] had been for about thirty years continuously in the piano string business, beginning with Charles A. Wessell, who sold out to Steven S. Mapes, and Mr. Holz continued with the latter. About ten years ago the Mapes Piano String Co. was incorporated and Mr. Holz was president of this corporation at the time of his death and had been for five years preceding."
This ad for John A. Schaff appeared in the journal Music Trade Review, May 1910.
Copyright (c) 2013 Walter Grutchfield