Kimball International started as a piano dealership in Chicago in 1857 as W.W. Kimball and Company, founded by William Wallace Kimball (1828–1904). In 1864, Kimball moved to the Crosby Opera House where Kimball sold pianos made by Chickering & Sons, the J & C Fischer Piano Company, Hallet & Davis, F.C. Lighte, Joseph P. Hale, and the W.P. Emerson Piano Company. The Great Chicago Fire destroyed all of Kimball's commercial assets in 1871, but William Kimball continued selling pianos from his home, and later on rebuilt his dealership business. In 1877 Kimball began assembling its own reed organs, using actions made by the J.G. Earhuff Company and cases made by contractors. After three years, the company began offering organs made entirely in house.
In 1882, the Kimball company was incorporated, and a factory was built to produce reed organs. Soon, the factory was producing 15,000 organs a year; the world's largest organ maker. In 1887, Kimball began building a five-story factory for making its own pianos, and the next year produced 500 instruments of alternate quality. Kimball hired veterans piano makers from Steinway & Sons and C. Bechstein Pianofortefabrik, and these men introduced improvements to the piano line. During World War II, Kimball produced aircraft parts for major military airplane manufacturers such as Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed. After the war, piano production resumed but a series of poor financial decisions by W.W. Kimball Jr led the company into decline. In the mid-1950s, Kimball built a luxurious new factory in the Chicago suburb of Melrose Park, Illinois, but the factory's high costs, its poor performance, and flagging sales brought the company into grave financial crisis. Kimball had slipped from being the world's largest piano maker to the seventh largest, and it was nearly insolvent. In 1959, Jasper, Inc., a maker of television cabinets, kitchen cabinets, and office furniture purchased the W. W. Kimball Company as a wholly owned subsidiary. In 1961 Jasper moved its Kimball piano manufacturing to West Baden Springs 42 km northeast of the town of Jasper, Indiana. The first Indiana-made pianos were plagued with quality problems, but the issues were addressed and the pianos improved.
In 1966, Jasper Inc. bought the prestigious Austrian piano maker Bösendorfer. By 1969, Kimball had returned to its former position as the world's largest piano maker. During its peak years in the 1960s and 1970s Kimball produced some 100,000 pianos and organs annually. An average day saw 250 pianos and 150 electronic organs shipped from the West Baden Springs factory. Grand pianos from Kimball ranged from compact 135 cm models to larger 201 cm models. In Vienna, the Bösendorfer division made concert grand pianos as large as 290 cm: the Imperial Bösendorfer. Kimball also made upright pianos in 110 cm and 120 cm sizes. Based on the success of piano and organ sales, Jasper Inc. determined to leverage the Kimball brand recognition to assist sales of office furniture, home furniture and electronics. Company leaders realized that the Kimball brand had far greater popular recognition than the Jasper brand and in 1974, Jasper changed its name to Kimball International, going public in September 1976 with the initial public offering of 500,000 shares of common stock. Kimball International bought Krakauer Brothers in 1980; a New York piano maker founded in 1869. Kimball operated Krakauer for five years in New York before closing the plant. Because of a worldwide decline in piano and organ purchases through the 1980s and 1990s, the Kimball piano and organ subsidiary was discontinued in February 1996. The last Kimball grand piano was signed by every worker and company executive, and remains on display at Kimball's showroom in Jasper, Indiana. The Bösendorfer piano brand continued unaffected, but was sold back to Austrian buyers in 2002 and was sold again to Yamaha corporation in 2007. Today, Kimball International is a manufacturer of furniture and electronic assemblies serving customers around the world. Kimball International consists of two groups: the Furniture Segment and the Contract Electronics Segment.