Back When: Carbondale settler said to be maker of first upright piano in U.S.

By Eileen Davis, Osage County Archivist

A cabinet maker who settled with his family in the Carbondale area in 1870 is remembered for building the first upright piano in the U.S.

John Joseph Dietrich was born July 28, 1824, in Eltville of the Rhine, Herz Nassau, Germany. He married Mary Magdalena Roessler in May of 1850 in Heidelberg, and left immediately for the “New World”.

Their first child, William Joseph Dietrich, was born May 28, 1851, in New York City, where they lived about five years.

Although there are no records to prove it, a family story states John Joseph Dietrich built the first smaller sized upright piano cabinet in America. It was said to be exhibited in the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1853-1854.

Dietrich was known as an excellent cabinet maker. At age 14, he worked in Paris as an apprentice learning the cabinet maker’s trade.

The family moved to Metamora, Ill., where their second child and several more children were born. In 1870, John Joseph, his wife and family arrived in Topeka and settled on a farm three miles northwest of Carbondale. The northeast corner of their farm was given for Towhead School.

A family story relates an incident of John Joseph and his sons camping on Burnett’s Mound while doing some work for Chief Abram Burnett’s family.

This following was found in one of the 35 obituary scrapbooks at the Osage County Historical Society, in Lyndon, and was originally published in the Osage County Chronicle at Burlingame on Aug. 12, 1915:

“John Joseph Dietrich, born in Germany 91 years ago, died at his home in Scranton July 31. He came to this country in 1850 with his bride, locating in New York, where he built the first upright piano ever made in America. This piano was exhibited at the Crystal Palace exposition at New York in 1853. He came to Kansas in 1870, locating near Carbondale.”


Eileen Davis is the archivist at the Osage County Historical Society. For more information, contact the historical society at 785-828-3477, see www.osagechs.org, email [email protected], or visit the museum at 631 Topeka Ave., Lyndon.


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