History - A.E.Rittenhouse Chimes
Founded in 1903 by Arthur
E. Rittenhouse (1878-1965)
Later managed by his
son Lloyd Rittenhouse (approx 1915 – 2003)
The following was sent
to me by the village historian of Honeoye Falls NY, in reply to
my request for information about the history of Rittenhouse Chimes.
It appears that it was written in the mid 1970’s.
Emerson Electric has
been providing jobs and producing quality products since 1890 when
it was founded in St.Louis. Emerson ahs been responsible for major
developments in electrical manufacturing. Currently, Emerson is
engaged principally in the manufacture and sale of a broad range
of electrical/electronic products. These products and systems are
sold primarily through independent distributors and to original
equipment manufactures and to a lesser extent to retailers and other
The Rittenhouse Company
was founded in 1903 by Arthur E. Rittenhouse and had its beginnings
as a manufacturer of small electrical devices and wiring accessories.
One of the first successful hand conduit-benders was a patented
invention of the founder and was one of the first products made
by the new company.
In spite of its long
history as a transformer manufacturer, Rittenhouse is probably most
widely known today for its door chime line. Rittenhouse first entered
the field back in 1935 at a time when the chime idea was very much
an underdeveloped novelty. At the time Rittenhouse entered the field,
there were only about three companies making chimes—mostly
the old, established signaling equipment companies. Within the next
three or four years, no less than fifteen new manufacturers entered
the field and during the late 1930’s the industry went through
usual growing pains of having the market flooded with a lot of inexpensive
and poorly designed merchandise. As usually happens, most of these
newcomers dropped out of business and today, there are again only
about four chime manufacturers in the US.
Through experience and
know-how, Rittenhouse was responsible for many new developments
and innovations in this business. Among these were the first multi-note,
bar-type chime (sometimes called a resonator or short tube type
of chime), the first “dollar” chime – long since
a casualty of inflation – the first floating percussion chime
At this time, Arthur
Rittenhouse’s son Lloyd joined his father in the business
and started devoting full time to developing new chime ideas and
designs. In 1941, Lloyd Rittenhouse was made president of the company
when his father retired.
During World War II.
The company converted to war production and was busily engaged in
the fabrication and assembly of aircraft radio equipment. During
the war, employment reached a peak and experience was gained that
was to serve well in later years when the company entered the residential
In 1952, the Rittenhouse
and Pryne companies joined sales forces and the outcome of this
was the formation of the Pryne-Rittenhouse Sales Corporation. Then
in 1957, the Pryne Company merged with Emerson thus beginning the
association of Emerson and Rittenhouse. This relationship was formally
consummated in the form of a merger on October 31, 1961.
At about this time, research
and development came up with our first intercom, the RM-1. Since
the first effort in electronics, we now have a line of electronic
products which includes radio-intercom systems, intrusion systems
and a programmable door chime.
Another product added
tiot he Rittenhouse family of products is a surface mounted intercom
which is available with or without the radio feature.
The chime is probably
the most well known product at Rittenhouse. Since 1974 and electronic
chime has been installed on luxury automobiles of Ford Motor Co.
and General Motors.
Arthur Rittenhouse began company to make a toy electric aeroplane
and a hand operated conduit bender
After World War 1
Began to manufacture small audio and R.F. transformers for the new
radio industry. Introduced a line of low voltage doorbell transformers.
Grew from 5 to 35 employees.
A disastrous fire wiped out the entire business. A new plant was
built (which is now the old plant) and expanded three times.
Business was incorporated.
Rittenhouse invented, developed and introduced the first electric
door chime and sold by direct mail through the Saturday Evening
Post. Sold products through manufacturer’s representatives.
Lloyd Rittenhouse named president. World War II production- aircraft
Domestic production of the door chime resumed.
Entered the radio intercom systems business. Later, introduced the
first transistorized radio intercom.
Joined with Pryne manufacturing Co. to form Pryne/Rittenhouse sales
Pryne Manufacturing Co. was acquired by Emerson Electric Co.
Rittenhouse merged with Emerson
New plant built- 35000 sqft combined with the old plant of 25000
Joined with the Atrtolier Lighting Co. to form a new division.
Lloyd Rittenhouse retired from Emerson Electric
Became a separate division of Emerson Electric Co. along with the
Sold Artolier Lighting to NuTone. Entered the automotive industry
with a chime signaling device for seal belt warning systems.
plant expansion of 43,000 sqft added (completion January 1979).
Now 103,000 sqft.
Introduced an electronic programmable door chime.
Since the above document was written, the company has changed hands
at least one more time. In 1988 whatever remained of Rittenhouse
was sold to Fasco, operating in the same building that was constructed
in the 1960's, but now making electronic components mostly for automotive
the emphatic statement that Rittenhouse invented electric chimes
in 1935. The patent record makes it crystal clear that such claim
is simply not true. It is however likely that the first Rittenhouse
chime dates to 1935.
There are a few interesting
footnotes that I have uncovered about Rittenhouse. One of the very
few references to be found on the web for this company concerns
an electric powered model airplane:
Possibly a predecessor
to the control model airplane was an electrically powered model
airplane produced by A.E.Rittenhouse of Honeoye Falls, New York.
Introduced in 1913 and produced for almost twenty years, these models
would take off and fly in a circle by a combination of centrifugal
force and the power of the wings while tethered to a revolving ceiling
fixture by two light wires. The heart of the system was the special
swiveling counterbalance mounted on a screw hook that was inserted
in the ceiling of the room where the model was to be flown. Electrical
power was from 6 to 12 volts AC or DC and could be operated from
dry cells, a storage battery, or alternating or direct current by
means of a transformer or direct current reducer. The first model
airplane introduced by Rittenhouse in 1913 as a 22-inch wingspan
model of a Bleriot that could be flown in a circle of 5 to 100 feet
in diameter and would attain an actual speed of 12 miles per hour
on 8 dry cells. By 1915 two more airplanes ...
Design at Rittenhouse
I find little background info about Lloyd Rittenhouse on the web,
but there is one mention that he was a promising painter in his
youth and hoped to pursue a career in art. It seems those aspirations
were put aside as he studied electrical engineering and later took
over the helm of his father's company. However, many of the company's
design patents are authored by Lloyd. I would say he did a decent
job of acting as amateur industrial designer. It is also apparent
that he had some interest and respect for the design profession.
I find a web reference that Rittenhouse was a client of pioneering
industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes for a chimes design project
during years 1942-1946. It's also clear that Russel Wright did some
work for Rittenhouse, as I have seen two models where the Wright
attribution is molded into the chime cover. To my knowledge, these
are the only doorbells with a designer's name marked right on them.