Steinway Pianos: The Parachuting Pianos

Steinway Pianos created lightweight pianos to boost morale during WWII. The U.S. Government dropped them from aircraft using parachutes.

The pianos were about 1 meter in length and weighed approximately 200 kilograms. Each instrument was covered with a water-resistant composition to avoid moisture damage.

 ● ‘Victory Verticals’ and ‘G. I Steinways’ were parachuted down for the American troops.

 ● The strategic design of the pianos ensured their safe landing on the battlefield.

Steinway Pianos continues to make an effort to bring wartime music back to life.

The German-based piano company, Steinway and Sons, was originally founded back in 1853. It is a firm that dominates the entire grand piano market year by year and has won multiple awards for its distinctive designs.

‘Victory Vertical’ pianos, on the other hand, were produced during the war and were strategically designed to be more aerodynamic, quite simply so they could be easily transported. During World War Two, the piano company manufactured around 5,000 of these pianos and named them the ‘Victory Vertical’ or ‘G.I. Steinways’.

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During that time, ships carried these crated pianos, or aircraft dropped them using parachutes to provide the calming relief of music to the soldiers fighting on the battlefield. The first Victory Vertical was dropped in 1942 and they soon proved to be an invaluable tool on the battlefield to boost morale.

Steinway Pianos ready for active service
The Steinway Pianos were often painted in green as a camouflage.

Occupied Countries

During the war, the U.S. government sent about 3000 pianos to the military; the rest went to schools and churches in the occupied countries. Strangely enough, the American factory of Steinway had been manufacturing coffins due to restrictions on iron, brass, copper, and other raw materials used in the process and art of piano making. Nevertheless, the company got permission to use the restricted raw material to create around 3000 lightweight Victory Verticals for troop use.

During the hard fighting the American troops used music as an escape, so the US government provided and encouraged just that. The government supplied the pianos and thus helped the soldiers by giving them something to remember what it was they were fighting for. The custom-manufactured, lightweight pianos were even allowed to be parachuted down to provide recreation to the soldiers in the most far-flung battlefields of the war.

During the manufacturing period, the President of Steinway and Sons had four sons in the military service himself, which allowed the company to have a closer connection with the military and, hence, a leading edge.

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In 1943, Private Kenneth Kranes, who was stationed in North Africa during the war, sent a letter to his mother residing in New York City. In the letter, Kranes narrated the entertainment they received during two nights of the war when a Jeep pulling a small trailer drove into the camp. He wrote, “The wagon had a light system with a Steinway piano. It was a smaller piano with olive green paint, similar to the Jeep.” Kranes further wrote how they all got a kick-off off the music and from the fun they had after meals when they gathered around the piano to sing songs together.

In his letter, he mentioned how he “kept smiling” and how he “was humming a few songs they sang” even after the jeep and piano had long departed. Unfortunately, a week later, the private was killed on the battlefront.

Victory Verticals

As well as having the capability of being airdropped the Victory Verticals were also light enough for four men to easily lift using the holding handles placed under the keybed. The handles made moving and carrying the instrument simpler and the piano was considered, by 40s standards, as being portable. It also eased the movement of the tuning tools needed by the piano.

The pianos did not have legs as most upright pianos did either, so they were able to withstand the airdrop with relative ease. Other features of the durable pianos included Anti-insect treatments for warmer climates and airtight glue and keys with celluloid and bass strings protected in soft iron rather than traditional copper.

A Crated Steinway Piano
Steinway Pianos Victory Piano in its crate. The piano was able to survive a parachute drop.

Steinway Pianos Legacy Lives On

Due to government restrictions, pianos were designed using a tenth of the metal used to make a standard piano. Moreover, these unique pianos were covered with blue, green, and grey paint to camouflage them on the battleground. The pianos soon began to symbolize joy for the many American troops stationed on the battlefields. They also began to symbolize hope.

Being a German American company and thus having factories on either side of the war, Steinway Pianos had to deal with some inevitable damages to their factory during an American air raid over Hamburg, Germany. In 1948, though, an American initiative, the Marshall Plan, helped restore the Steinway factory to its former pre-war glory.

Even long after the war’s end, after 73 years, Steinway and Sons continue to help bring wartime music back to life. In 2018 Steve Castle discovered a piece of music his grandfather wrote during his service in World War Two. He took that piece of the story to Twitter. Consequently, Classic FM assisted him in bringing the music back to life with a performance in the Steinway Hall, London. The Steinway wartime legacy lives on.