History of Petrof
Find out how a family through enormous hardship saved the family business and preserved a European gem.
The year 1948 stands out in bold red letters in the history of Petrof, as the Communists seized power, violating all the principles of democracy. The world-famous Piano factory was one of the first on the black list and the factory owners had to leave at gun point and their villas were confiscated. The children, Jan (who would later become the 4th generation president of Petrof) and his sister Olga were told “do not go to the factory anymore. Not even to see grandpa, dad, or the workers. Try to stay at home and play in the garden. Have friends come over and go play to their houses. We did not get it at first but gradually we found out. We were “class enemies”, enemies of the new communist regime. But at school our friends and teachers kept treating us kindly. After all, many of their parents worked in our factory”.
Later, their homes were searched and gold coins, jewelry, paintings, and other valuables were taken and displayed in an exhibit which factory workers, school children, and the public were required to attend to have a reason for hatred and to realize who their class enemies were and how rich they were.
The following is in Jan Petrof’s own words: “I remember two members of the State Security Service came to us in April. Our
parents were taken away and me and my sister were kept in another building for about 3 days and nights. Our parents and relatives were held in an underground apartment and our great-aunt took care of us. Every day at 11am as the workers were
going out of the factory to the canteen across the street, all seven members of the Petrof family had to walk in a circle in front of the factory, led by armed State Security guards. Factory workers were told to spit on them and remember the faces of the “class enemies”. Five members of our family were sentenced to jail in April. My parents avoided prison as they had already been
laborers - my dad was a building worker, mum cleaned toilets at the railway station. They also looked after my 14 year old cousin Ivan, whose parents were in prison, and they tried to save the remaining furniture and clothes of our relatives so that they would have something for living when they came back from jail.
My sister Olga, 2 years younger that me, was not allowed to study any secondary school. It was the toughest of times for us, our parents made very little money as class enemies so we had to live very simply. My father and his cousins visited our relatives in prison frequently. The only one who returned early from prison in 1964 was my grandfather’s older brother Antonin’ as he contracted tuberculosis at the age of 83 and posed a threat for other prisoners. Back home Antonin’ died within a week. A lot of
our friends emigrated to the west but our family decided to stay in Hradec Kralove”.
The fame and reputation of Petrof Pianos continued across Europe as they won more and more awards and acclaim. In 1963, the 99th year of the companies existence, the 100,000th piano was made and exported to the Netherlands. The 200,000th piano was sold in 1974 to Mr. Ciampi from Italy.
The third generation of the Petrofs passes away along with the era of socialism. A new start in an utterly new political and economic climate was awaiting the fourth generation.
In the 1950’s pianos from abroad were in big demand particularly in Italy, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and other European countries. Mario Ciampi - the head of Ciampi import company in Italy - was one of the keenest European promoters of Petrof pianos. His company itself was selling 3,000 of them a year.
The success of the pianos from Hradec Kralove was based on strict production criteria but also the final preparation of the pianos before the actual concerts. They made every effort possible to achieve precise regulation of the keyboard, action, pedal system as well as tuning and magnificent intonation. It was this precision that made Petrof equal to global pianomakers such as Steinway, Bosendorfer and Bechstein.
Producers across all fields of trade wanted to be part of the world exhibition EXPO 58, the first world exhibition in Europe after World War II. At the end of the exhibition the exhibits were evaluated. The Petrof pianos were the real jewels of the event and truly deserved their awards - “the D’honeur diploma” and the “Gold medal” providing guarantee of the best quality for foreign customers.
Though all these years since the factory was taken, the Petrof factory had remained a state owned company. In 1997 the state plant was transformed into a joint stock company with the fourth generation of the Petrofs in charge. In 2001 the factory became PETROF Ltd. with Jan Petrof becoming its President. After 53 years the company was also able to repossess the 500 year old home in the centre of Hradec Kralove, where founder Antonin Petrof had constructed his first grand piano. The factory expanded to 210,000 square meters and employing 1200 people.
In 2004, the 5th generation of Petrofs, Zuzana Ceralova Petrofova took charge of the company. Again, huge difficulties had to be dealt with. In 2008, with the global financial crisis and the substantial fall of the US dollar, piano manufacturers had to fight to keep their customers and only the strongest were able to survive. In order to save the company, some unpopular measures had to be taken. The restructuring that Zuzana faced included selling off some unnecessary buildings (including the historical house in the centre) and some of the subsidiary companies, changes in management, and a 50% reduction in the number of employees. She decided to concentrate all key company activities into a single factory in Hradec Kralove and to focus on paying off bank loans as soon as possible, as the family had only obtained a mere 4% of the shares in the privatization of the company. As the bank loans were payed down, they achieved more and more ownership of Petrof. And today is the largest producer of pianos in Europe and the family owned factory moves forward with a passion only found though hardship and family pride with a determination to built the worlds finest pianos.
Petrof vs. Steinway
The PETROF name can proudly stand comparison with the world’s leading piano makers and it’s unfading reputation is reflected in one of the letters of thanks from the head of the Toedman School of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio:
I am writing to express my satisfaction with the new Petrof Grand piano I have purchased. Our school, employing 20 teachers and attended by over 500 students was founded in 1974. For over 20 years we were using a Steinway Concert grand piano in our studio. Recently I found that it required a complete overhaul and I decided to replace it. I had examined several used Steinways before I tried your grand pianos. I was so excited by their wonderful elegant sound, smooth action and overall high quality that I decided to replace the old Steinway piano with a new grand piano PETROF. All of the teachers and students in the school like the Petrof instrument very much and I am sure some of them are going to buy Petrofs in the future. Your pianos offer much higher quality than the Asian pianos and was indeed considerably less money than the Steinway or Bechstein instruments. I wish you great commercial success with your beautiful instruments in the future.