One of the most illustrious piano manufacturers of all time was Sebastien Erard of France. Erard began building superior harpsichords in Paris in the mid 1700s, and he built his first small square piano in about 1777. Erard's instruments were so renowned that he obtained a license from King Louis XVI to produce pianos for the French Court.
In 1789, the French Revolution destroyed his business, so Sebastian Erard moved his family to London and immediately began building pianos there. Sebastian Erard returned to Paris in 1796, although some of his family remained in London building Erard pianos in London throughout the 19th Century. Sebastian Erard owned and controlled both the French and the English Erard factories, with the London factory being operated by extended family members.
Erard continuously improved the design and manufacturing techniques of the piano-forte. Erard is credited for a multitude of patents, many of which are still used in piano manufacturing today. Sebastien Erard died in 1831, and his nephew Pierre took over the firm. Pierre was a marketing genius for his time, and he ensured that pianos were owned by renowned figures such as Queen Victoria, Franz Liszt, and Felix Mendelssohn.
Erard pianos were marketed as the finest pianos in the world, and their instruments were some of the most elaborate, expensive pianos ever produced. Erard continued to enjoy huge success on an international level until the first decades of the 20th Century. Erard's pianos were known for their unique 'forte-piano' quality, not dissimilar to the American square grand piano of the 19th Century. As musical taste changed in favor of the more modern 'harsh' tone, Erard's instruments began to be perceived as outdated and old fashion. After World War 1, Erard suffered a great many setbacks, and continued to decline due to the favor of the modern piano sound and great financial difficulty. During the middle 20th Century, the Erard name was bought and sold among several prominent manufacturers, and in 1971 the Schimmel Piano Company of Germany acquired the rights to the Erard name.