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Jonas Chickering Passes Away

Today in Masonic History Jonas Chickering passes away in 1853.

Jonas Chickering was an American piano maker and innovator.

Chickering was born on April 5th, 1798 in Mason Village (now Greenville), New Hampshire. He was raised in nearby New Ipswich where his father owned a farm and had a blacksmith business. When he was old enough he apprenticed with a cabinet maker for three years.

In 1818, he moved to Boston with the permission of the master cabinet maker with whom he apprenticed. In Boston he worked for a short time with another cabinet maker before going into the piano business. He formed a business with James Stewart, a piano maker in Boston, and the two began producing pianos. In 1823 they had sold 15 pianos at $275 each. They dissolved the business after four years.

In 1829, he joined the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association. The organization was "formed for the sole purposes of promoting the mechanic arts and extending the practice of benevolence." Paul Revere was a member of the organization as well. The "mechanic arts", coming from a medieval concept, are considered to be in contrast to the seven liberal arts and sciences. They were arts unbecoming of a "free" man, considered servile and vulgar. One of the mechanical arts was architecture and masonry.

In 1830, Chickering started working with John Mackay, a local merchant as well as a piano and organ maker. In 1837, the two men built a new five story piano factory which included a concert hall. In 1841, Mackay was lost at sea. Chickering mortgaged the factory in order to buy out Mackay's relatives. In 1852, shortly before he passed the factory burned down, putting 200 workers out of work and causing a loss of $250,000. Also lost were prototypes for a new grand piano. Chickering found a new temporary factory and went back to work. At the same time he ordered a new, steam powered factory be created, providing the specifications himself.

Unfortunately he never lived to see his new factory completed, passing away on December 8th, 1853. At the time of his passing, his company produced 12,000 pianos, roughly 1,500 per year for an annual revenue of $200,000. This was almost twice of his closest competitor. He held several patents including one for a single piece iron frame for a piano. Over 800 people marched in parade at his funeral, many coming from the various societies of which he was a member. The Mayor of Boston ordered the cities Bells to be rung in his honor.

Chickering was a member of St. Andrews Lodge in Boston, Massachusetts. He was also a member of St. Andrews Chapter, Royal Arch Masons and DeMolay Commandery, Knights Templar as well as 32° member of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite.

This article provided by Brother Eric C. Steele.