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The Steinway Victory Vertical Piano Project

The Victory Vertical Piano Project is coming to Fort Dodge Friday at 7 p.m. at Tompkins Celebration Center at Friendship Haven.

Rural Humboldt native Dr. Garik Pedersen will present this historical tribute.

The Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association is bringing the event to town. It is free, but freewill donations will be accepted.

“I am so happy to be bringing something like this to Fort Dodge,” said Shelly Bottoff, FDFAA executive director. “This beautiful project that combines history and art is something that will appeal to all ages.”

Pedersen has performed as soloist and chamber musician throughout the United States and in Europe, Canada, Central America, Taiwan and the Philippine Islands. He has presented programs for the U.S. State Department, the National Federation of Music Clubs, Music Teachers National Association, the European Piano Teachers Association, Canadian Federation of Music Teachers Associations, the Royal Conservatory of Music, and on numerous public television and radio broadcasts. Currently a professor of piano at Eastern Michigan University, he has taught undergraduate and graduate students from many U.S. states and 17 other countries, producing prize winners in national and international — as well as numerous regional and state — competitions.

Dr. Garik Pedersen

Pedersen became fascinated with the “Victory Vertical” pianos just a few months prior to Henry Z. Steinway’s death in 2008, when he first learned about the project from Steinway himself. The Victory Vertical Piano Project was launched by Pedersen in November 2017 to tell the little-known story of these special pianos that were built during World War II.

During World War II, Steinway was prohibited from building instruments due to government restrictions on iron, copper, brass, and other raw materials, as was nearly every other domestic instrument-maker. Those resources were diverted to the war effort and piano makers were forced to manufacture other products or go out of business. Steinway’s New York factory stayed open by constructing tails, wings, and other parts for troop transport gliders. As the war continued, Steinway & Sons was also contracted to make coffins for the National Casket Co., a venture that was both morbid and unprofitable.

The first prototype for the Victory Vertical pianos was prepared for government inspection by June 1942, after Theodore E. Steinway received a request from the U.S. government’s War Production Board for heavy-duty military pianos. Because Theodore had four of his own sons serving in the military along with several of their cousins, he instantly recognized music’s potential for boosting troop morale. Henry Z. Steinway and Roman de Majewski developed the plan to build a small, lightweight, inexpensive upright piano that could be packed into a crate and shipped to soldiers in the field with that goal in mind.

The 40-inch pianos were very boxlike and came with sheet music, instructions and tools for tuning and repair, as well as handles for easy transport. Steinway had to make due with nontraditional materials for these pianos as well. Keys were made with coverings of white celluloid and soft iron was used instead of copper for windings on the bass strings due to the copper restriction. While the pianos were painted with “three coats of olive drab lacquer, slightly dulled,” other colors were used for the Navy, Marines, Army Air Corps, and Coast Guard.

The War Production Board initially requested 405 of these O.D.G.I. (Olive Drab Government Issue) “field” pianos. The response to that first shipment was so great, 800 more orders rolled in for these pianos eight months later. The U.S. Armed Forces eventually bought 589 pianos so that each unit would have four of its own pianos. By the time production ended in 1953, Steinway had shipped more than 2,400 pianos to soldiers on three continents, which provided countless hours of diversion, education, entertainment, worship, enrichment, and outreach had been provided for the troops.

By the time the war ended, Steinway had shipped approximately 5,000 instruments, but not all went to the military. Some were bought by religious organizations, educational institutions, hotels and other places of public gatherings as they were deemed to be “approved essential users.”

Pedersen said his piano teachers in Humboldt included William Mekemson, Elizabeth Mitchell, Phyllis McIlrath and his aunt, Eunice Pedersen Fevold.