ABSTRACT

John Christian Malthaner (1810–73), a German immigrant piano manufacturer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, occupied an important position in his community, but his life and career have not previously been studied in detail. This article, based on archival sources, iconographic evidence, and examination of extant instruments, sheds light on the Malthaner family over several generations and considers Malthaner's work in the context of Bethlehem's developing economy and social structure, and of American piano technology and commerce. The article discusses the rise and demise of his business in relation to other contemporary musical instrument production and to events impacting his family, including his joining the Moravian Church in 1841, Bethlehem's incorporation as a free borough, the Civil War, the Panic of 1873, and his sons' and grandsons' competing interests. Bethlehem's Female Seminary emerges as central to Malthaner's dual occupation as piano manufacturer and technician, but in the end, despite endorsement by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Francis Wolle, and others, his small artisanal workshop proved unable to compete with larger, more prestigious, more innovative urban factories.

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