Tickling the Ivories in Syracuse


Fall board illustrating the D.L. Fry & Co. logo on a piano in the OHA collection. (OHA)

Fall board illustrating the D.L. Fry & Co. logo on a piano in the OHA collection. (OHA)

D.L. Fry & Company, Piano Manufacturer

How long have Americans been able to buy an American-made piano? Probably since John Behrendt made the first one in Philadelphia in 1775. Almost fifty years later Jonas Chickering opened a very successful piano factory in Boston in 1823. By 1860 other large piano makers opened factories in Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore. What about Syracuse, NY? Were pianos made in the Salt City? As a matter of fact, yes. One well known 19th century piano factory was D.L. Fry & Company.


The Fry Building, which was located on the southeast corner of Canal and North State Streets.

In 1855, three brothers – David L., James W., and Thomas M. Fry banded together to make pianos in Syracuse, NY. D.L. Fry & Company, as the brothers called their nascent company, at first had to secure the services of experienced workmen for they were entirely unfamiliar with making pianos. But they soon learned, and until 1885 manufactured some of the finest pianos in the United States. The company’s first location was at 29 Orange St., now McBride St. From there the Fry brothers moved their factory to South Salina St. and then to the Fry Building on Lock St. (now North State St.) at Canal St. The six floor building afforded ample space for about forty skilled employees to make grand, square, and upright pianos from rosewood and butternut.

An 1862 advertisement for D.L. Fry & Company reported that the company would “take in payment old pianos, merchandise, farm produce, lumber, wood, or anything that can be used by a large number of workmen, and sell on terms to suit the purchaser.” One wonders just how many pianos the Fry brothers sold in exchange for local fruits and vegetables! The Fry brothers guaranteed their pianos for five years and also offered tuning and repair work by appointment.

The Fry brothers continued making pianos until 1885 when by mutual consent they dissolved the partnership and the factory closed. It is unclear why the Fry brothers decided to close the factory. Both Daniel and Thomas had sons, but in 1885, Daniel’s son was a medical doctor and Thomas’ two sons were too young to operate the business.

The Fry Building later became the first large tenement house in Syracuse, conspicuous for the tiers of porches or balconies which enclosed it on three sides. Unfortunately, it is no longer extant.