Bernard Shoninger (1828-1910), an immigrant from Bavaria, settled in New Haven in the 1850s. He became one of the leading industrialists in the city, manufacturing organs and pianos. One of his brothers, Emanuel Schonunger, remained in Germany as a cantor and Hebrew teacher, and the other, Joseph Shoninger, was the rabbi at Adath Israel in Boston from 1856-1874.
Bernard Shoninger came to America in 1841 with his scanty baggage and fourteen dollars and forty cents. According to an advertisement which appeared in 1892, the B. Shoninger Organ Company was established in 1850 when he began the manufacture of melodeons, in a small way, in Woodbridge, Connecticut and had a showroom for their sale at the corner of Chestnut and Chapel streets in New Haven.
His business went along quite well until the Civil War when there were shortages and high prices, but he was not to be stopped. The sales of the store soon outran the capacity of the factory and in 1863 he erected a two story wooden factory on Kimberly Avenue in New Haven. This building with its contents burned in 1865. He then purchased the factory which had been occupied by Treat & Lindsley, near the corner of Chapel and Chestnut streets, to which he made additions reaching to the Chapel street front. Further additions were made to the building, until by 1881, it had a frontage of 300 feet on Chestnut street and 130 feet on Chapel street. A new office was added to the factory in 1881 which was the finest in the city, being finished in polished mahogany, cherry, walnut and curled maple, relieved with delicate tracery of inlaid wood and rich hand carvings. The buildings were six stories high. The average number of men employed at that time was over 300. By 1887 the company held over thirty patents of their own invention, and by 1892 they were producing over two thousand pianos annually.
By the 1880s his trade was world wide and his business was classed with the leading musical instrument manufacturing firms. He demanded no less than the best materials and the most skilled workmanship in the manufacture of his instruments. He also made many improvements in the manufacture of pianos, and in 1875, obtained a patent for the introduction of a bell and chime for the reed organ. He also added other improvements such as the double bellows, self-adjusting reed valves and noiseless safety valves.
Bernard Shoninger retired from the business in 1898, leaving it in the control of his sons. The factory then changed to the manufacture of pianos exclusively.
Apparently the B. Shoninger Co. went out of business in, or shortly after, 1929. It seems that the rights to the Shoninger name were then sold to the National Piano Corp. of New York and pianos with the Shoninger name were made well into the 1960s. National Piano made mostly, if not all, (short) spinets whereas the Shoninger pianos made in New Haven were (tall) uprights.
Shoninger products were awarded medals by the New England State Agricultural Society, 1868; Philadelphia Exposition, 1876; Paris Exposition, 1878, Rotterdam Exposition, 1883; and the New York State Fair, 1886.