Innovation and Invention
After two moves to larger workshops, a small factory was established in 1862. The company had meanwhile grown to 60 workers.
The fame of the Rönisch brand had spread beyond the regional borders, and due to the growing demand new business contacts were established. The main markets at that time were Russia, Sweden, England, Spain and Portugal.
In 1866, he had the epoch-making idea of using a full cast-iron plate in the piano. This frame had five struts and fully covered the pin-block, which allowed for the first time a high tension scale. This revolutionary invention was soon adopted by virtually every piano maker and remains in universal use today providing power, projection, sustain and sonority in the modern piano.
The building of a larger factory was required by continuously growing demand for Rönisch pianos. In 1873, the production started at the new factory in Dresden-Neustadt. Carl Rönisch was one of the first German manufacturers to export overseas. Rönisch instruments were held in high esteem in Southern Africa, California, Mexico, Australia, the East Indies, and in all of the English colonies.
Ronisch Begins in Australia
The long and successful Australian history of Rönisch began in 1879 as Rönisch exhibited two pianos at the Australian International Exhibition in Sydney. One year later Rönisch was represented again by its fine instruments at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880 – 1881. Rönisch won gold medals in the world exhibitions in Sydney 1979 and Amsterdam 1883.
In 1888 – 1889, the now well-established Rönisch Company attended the Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne and displayed one grand piano and two upright pianos on the stand of his agent Nicholson & Co., who then held the sole agency for the Australian mainland colonies, Tasmania, and New Zealand. Rönisch was awarded the first prize for its extraordinary grand. Today, this Rönisch Concert Grand with the serial number 8461 can be admired at the Australian National University of Canberra (ANU). As part of Australia’s musical history it is the centerpiece of the Keyboard Institute’s collection at the School of Music.
Continuing the Legacy
In 1884, Carl Rönisch was appointed Royal Councillor of Commerce; this was followed by the appointment as Royal Purveyor to the Court of Sweden and Norway in 1890. Carl Rönisch died in 1894 at the age of 80. At that time, his factory was producing 1500 instruments per year and employed 250 people. The management of the company was taken over by his sons Albert as the business manager and Hermann as the production manager.
Rönisch won gold medals again in the world exhibition in Chicago 1893 and in Paris 1900. In 1898, Carl Rönisch’s sons established a branch in St Petersburg Russia with an annual production of 1000 instruments. At the turn of the century, Rönisch had become a leading brand known the world over. Famous artists including Hans von Bülow, Richard Strauss, Edward Grieg, Giacomo Puccini, Anton Rubinstein, Sergei Rachmaninov and many others played Rönisch grands and uprights. In 1901, the Rönisch Company was named Imperial Purveyor to the Emperor of Austria and Hungary.
One year later in 1902, a cooperative agreement with Ludwig Hupfeld began. Rönisch supplied grand and upright pianos while Hupfeld installed the pneumatic instrument (Pianola).
A close relation between Rönisch and Sergei Rachmaninov continued as he spent three winters in Dresden with his family from 1906-1908. His Rönisch grand with the serial number 59183 is displayed today at the Rachmaninov Museum in Iwanovka Russia, the former country estate of the family. Among other works, Sergei Rachmaninov composed his world-famous 3rd Piano Concerto on this Rönisch grand in 1909.
The export to Australia grew due to the great demand for Rönisch and new agencies had to be established. Rönisch was represented by Nicholson & Co. in Perth; Paling in Sydney and Carnegie & Sons in Melbourne.
World War I was a tragic time for the Rönisch Company and family. Albert died in 1917, Hermann lost his only son. The factory in St.Petersburg was lost due to the Russian Revolution. In 1918, Hermann Rönisch sold the company to the Ludwig Hupfeld AG company although he remained the manager of the Rönisch factory in Dresden. He died in 1925.
Ronisch Piano Production in Australia
Before the Second World War, the great depression with its economic crisis almost brought the end to the production of pianos. Exports to Australia of the German piano manufacturers dropped down to 25 upright pianos and 39 grand pianos, which was caused by the economic crisis and by an import duty of 55%.
However, Rönisch found the solution to keep the Australian business alive. Since 1936, Carnegie’s Pty. Ltd. in Melbourne was the sole agent for Rönisch in Australia. In 1938, Rönisch licensed Carnegie to manufacture Rönisch pianos in Australia. The production started in the same year in Carnegie’s own piano factory of Francis Howard in Richmond, corner of Vere St and Belgium St. The pianos were labeled on the iron frame with…“Registered Australian Trade Mark No. 14169. Made in Australia under Special Licence”. The pianos were distributed to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne for their own Carnegie stores. In addition, Rönisch was sold through Carnegie to Elvy & Co. Ltd. in Sydney and W.H.Glen & Co. in Melbourne. In South Australia Rönisch was delivered to the Allans Adelaide store, and in Western Australia to Nicholson’s Ltd. in Perth. The agency of Carnegie with the Rönisch piano production in Australia was held over the WWII until 1949.
On 13th February 1945 the Rönisch factory in Dresden was destroyed during bombing raids and was not rebuilt. The original factory of Ludwig Hupfeld in a suburb of Leipzig, which survived the war almost unscathed, became the new home for Rönisch pianos.
On 5th June 1945, the company started again from scratch with 50 workers who had to produce containers for marmalade, pasteboard suitcases and handcarts, under the direction of the Allied Military Command. The dismantling of the factory started as part of the reparation payments to the Soviet Union.
In 1946, the “Leipziger Pianofortefabrik” was established. Regardless of the name, piano production was unimportant; furniture was the main item. Finally in 1948, the piano production was re-started with 13 instruments and the first Rönisch piano after the war was exhibited at the Leipzig Trade Fair with living room furniture. In October 1949, the first export after the war was achieved; five pianos were sent to Mexico.
In 1952, the first 10 grand pianos were produced. Two years later, in 1954, the total production reached the level of 720 pianos per year but the main product line was still furniture for schools, living rooms and bedrooms. Pencils and sports gear also were manufactured. It was not until 1960 that the company concentrated again on its core business of piano building and then reached an annual production of 2000 pianos.
Return of Rönisch to Australia
Exports to Australia resumed in October 1951 with the shipment of 5 Rönisch upright pianos to Carnegie’s Pty. Ltd. in Melbourne. However, the post-war decade was characterised by the rapidly declining market for pianos. Thus, the piano factory of Francis Howard was closed in 1954 and in 1955 Carnegie’s left the piano business.
The Australian Rönisch agency was granted to Caminer Bros in Darlinghurst (Sydney) NSW. In October 1957, this company started with the importation of 2 Rönisch upright pianos and 19 Mannborg harmoniums.