The 1910 census is generally short on specifics when it comes to employers- though specific occupations are given (buttonhole maker, sheet-iron worker), the employer is usually listed as something generic like “can factory” or “shipyard”.
Not so with William Knabe’s Piano Forte Factory. William Knabe emigrated from Germany in 1831. He repaired and sold pianos at the corner of Lexington and Liberty Streets, before ultimately moving west to Eutaw Street where he opened the more substantial operation you see above (and below). Long story short, Knabe produced some of the best pianos in the world, in factories that were hailed as being among the most technologically advanced in the world.
An 1890 monograph about the piano forte confirmed the renown enjoyed by Knabe: “In the industrial and art history of the ‘Monumental City’, Knabe and Company occupy a pre-eminent place, and all Baltimoreans recognize this fact.” By 1906, the company had over 300,000 sq ft of factory space and was employing 765 people. Because of its size, importance, and likely familiarity with census takers, “Knabe’s Factory” is name-checked again and again in the 1910 census.
Which brings us back to Eager Street. Frederick Tober, who in 1910 lived at 2420 Eager Street, the house you see above, emigrated from Germany in 1905. Along with hundreds of other skilled tradesmen who arrived at the turn of the century, Tober settled in East Baltimore but schlepped across town to work at established outfits like Knabe’s. Tober’s occupation is listed as a “cabinetmaker” at Knabe’s, but this may be misleading.
Knabe himself was a cabinetmaker before he became a pianomaker, and there’s ample reason to believe that the skills of the former profession lent themselves to the latter. Furthermore, city directories from 1907 and 1912, list Tober as a pianomaker and a woodworker, respectively. Tober, then, was likely a skilled artisan. In the photo below of prominent Knabe’s employees, Tober is the one standing in the top right.
Tober did not stay on Eager Street for too long. It appears as though his skills ultimately earned him a gorgeous house in Hamilton, where he worked into his late sixties crafting church furniture.
By 1920, 2420 Eager Street was the home of Frank Giddy, the perfect name for someone who made his living mixing acid at a glass factory. Below is 2420 after we had manually removed the rear wall. We’d hoped to find some traces of Frederick Tober’s career as a woodworker, but so far the only unusual “wood” we’re found is 1970s paneling.
And what ever happened to Knabe’s beautiful old factory? The site it occupied is now the home of our Super Bowl-bound Ravens. In a particularly awesome nod to the past (and further confirming the importance of Knabe’s in Baltimore lore), a patch of landscaping at the stadium was arranged into the piano shape you see below.