Richard Williams began The Williams Piano Co. operations in Toronto in 1849. In 1888 the Williams firm purchased the former home of the Joseph Hall Works in Oshawa and began renovating the building for the manufacture of pianos and organs.
The building was originally constructed in 1852 and was initially used by the Oshawa Manufacturing Company. The factory, a three storey brick building, occupied an entire town block on Richmond Street. Williams spent more than $40,000 adapting the facilities for the production of pianos. To this end, the buildings were re-roofed with slate, new hardwood floors were laid and new buildings built. All of this retrofitting and new construction turned the former Hall Works into a building with enough floor space for what was the largest piano works in Canada. The company’s total floor space was approximately 100,000 square feet. In 1890, the new Williams Piano Factory began producing pianos and organs. The company was also located at other locations such as the lumber yard and some other smaller buildings in Oshawa. Only this part of the business moved to Oshawa, as the centre of the business remained in Toronto. Smaller instruments such as guitars and banjos continued to be manufactured in Toronto.
The Town of Oshawa granted Williams $20 000 in ten annual installments as an inducement to move the plant to Oshawa. The Town also granted the new firm a fixed taxation rate of $250 per year for a number of years. Once in Oshawa, the newly acquired space allowed the firm to manufacture its first large church organ. This first organ was constructed for a church in Brighton and consisted of more than 100 pipes.
The company was reorganized in 1902, and the piano was revised. The piano was adjusted in scale, touch, case-design, acoustic, and tone. It took ten weeks to three months to make one piano. The company constructed its pianos to “the highest degree of excellence in every detail of workmanship” and the quality of its product determined its success. The ‘New Scale Williams Piano’ and ‘Player Piano’ soon became one of the world’s most demanded products.
In 1903 after much hard work, Mr. R.S. Williams became ill and sold his business. The company was renamed “Williams Piano Company”. The president of the company was Fredrick Bull and the vice-president was E.C. Scythes. The factory was huge and prosperous by the year 1911, and employed 250 skilled workers. The company produced approximately 3,000 pianos/player pianos annually.
After the creation of the victrola in 1926, many people found records to be more convenient and popular than pianos. The Williams factory was forced into the radio business. Eventually, after three years the company became the seventh largest manufacturer. The Williams Piano Factory even widened its horizons in order to build canoes and row boats. The company was branching out and business was great. People from foreign countries wanted a Williams Piano and the company exported their product on a regular basis. The Williams piano was well known all over Canada, from coast to coast, and overseas.
The company prospered and began to construct 4,000 pianos per annum. The company was shipping pianos to seven different countries. The Williams Piano was also displayed in an exhibit at the Wembley Exhibition in London, England in 1926. In 1927, one hundred and thirty-five men worked for the company and payroll hit a high of $200,000 a year. At this time, the company was prosperous, but it did not last forever.
The successful company that was known to so many individuals all over the world was required to change with the times. Unfortunately, both the depression and mass production of the neutrodyne radio contributed to the demise of the company. After the closure of this company many other businesses occupied the premises including: Cole of California; Sklar Furniture; and Coulter Manufacturing Company. The building even acted as a barracks during the war years.
The building was torn down in 1970 in order to make room for the Durham Region Police Headquarters and the Oshawa Times.
Cselenyi-Granch. Under the Sign of the Big Fiddle: The R.S. Williams Family, Manufacturers and Collectors of Musical Instruments. Winnipeg: Hignell Printing Limited, 1996.
The Oshawa Daily Reformer, October 25, 1926.
The Oshawa Daily Reformer, June 20, 1927.
Oshawa Daily Times, December 8, 1930.
Oshawa Daily Times, September 19, 1930.
Kaiser, M.D., T.E. Historic Sketches of Oshawa. The Reforming Printing & Publishing Co., 1921.
3 thoughts on “The Williams Piano Company”
My grandfather (Frederick George Smith) was a furniture finisher (french polish) for the Williams Piano Works for many years, I believe, until it closed. He then worked for GM until retirement but still kept up his woodworking/refinishing skills on the side in his garage workshop. I remember in the 60’s that he was tasked with refinishing furniture pieces for the museum down at Lakeview Park. I have often wondered if those pieces survived.