A device similar to the damper pedal in effect was invented by the piano pioneer Gottfried Silbermann; it was operated by the player's hands rather than a pedal. A later eminent early builder, Johann Andreas Stein, may have been the first to allow the player to lift the dampers while still playing; his device was controlled by a knee lever.
Until the onset of the Romantic era in music, the damper pedal was considered a special effect, used only in particular circumstances (see Piano history and musical performance). Only with the Romantics did a fairly constant use of the pedal come to be regarded as an essential element of piano sound.
Appropriate use of the pedal is often left to the musician's discretion, but composers and music editors also notate it. The most common symbol for this is a horizontal line below the grand staff, which lifts up and down with the pedal. An alternative (and older) notation is the use of "Ped." indicating where the pedal should be depressed, and an asterisk showing where it should be lifted. Occasionally there is a general direction at the start of a movement instructing that the sustain pedal be applied continuously throughout. This may be marked with senza sordini ("without dampers"), or similar wording (see Moonlight Sonata for a famous example).
In General MIDI, the sustain pedal information is controlled by Control Change number 64 (CC 64).
The sostenuto pedal is a similar device that sustains only notes which are depressed at the time the pedal is depressed. It is the usual middle of three pedals; but in some upright pianos the middle pedal instead lowers a veil of felt between the hammers and the strings for quiet practicing.