Steinways & Modern NY
The Steinways Impacted the Creation of Modern New York
The Steinway interests went far beyond music. They served in important positions of public trust. Their opinions were sought by the press. Elected officials solicited their advice. The family held extensive investments in transportation, real estate and manufacturing – achievements that are more impressive when we realize that they were achieved during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, a period of sustained economic depression.
- The Steinways used the Mansion as an anchor to develop one of the nation’s earliest – and most successful – model communities. The ‘Steinway Settlement’ (as they called their utopian experiment on the waterfront) had affordable model housing, a commercial district, a network of streetcar lines, and civic improvements that included not only sewers and water mains, but churches, schools (one being among the earliest kindergartens in the country), a firehouse, library, post office … and North Beach, an amusement park.
- Originally conceived as a perk for both employees and local residents, the Steinway Free Circulating Library later became the cornerstone for the Queens Library, an institution that boasts the largest circulation in the country. Benefactor William Steinway’s portrait is still at the library’s Steinway branch.
- When their amusement park, North Beach, closed, the location eventually transformed into one of the major transit hubs in the nation: LaGuardia Airport. Here aviation history was made when the Yankee Clipper flew out of LaGuardia’s Marine Air Terminal on the first scheduled transatlantic flight.
- A syndicate organized by the Steinways drew up plans to link New England, New York, and New Jersey with a great railroad network. Years later when the economic climate improved, the Pennsylvania Railroad brushed off the Steinway plans and built the Hudson and East River tunnels, Pennsylvania Station, as well as the New York Connecting Railroad viaduct over the Hell Gate Bridge.
- The Steinways started work on the first transportation links between Queens and Manhattan. The ideas for both Queensboro Bridge and the Steinway Tubes (the subway tunnel between Grand Central and Queens) were developed at the mansion.
- Their tenure at the mansion coincided with developing an extensive streetcar system. It was perhaps the greatest factor in knitting together scattered communities into the Borough of Queens.
- William Steinway was Chairman of the New York City Subway Commission and helped lay out the first New York City subway network.
- A full decade before Henry Ford became involved with automobiles, the Steinways partnered with Gottlieb Daimler to sell gasoline engines. The handful of Mercedes vehicles assembled at their Astoria factory was among the first automobiles in the country.
- In the late nineteenth century, the family figured prominently in the German–American community, the largest ethnic group in the country at that time. They were active in Democratic Party politics. The demands from William’s business commitments forced him to turn down a cabinet position offered by President Grover Cleveland, a personal family friend.