Door Chime History - A.E.Rittenhouse Chimes

Honeoye Falls, New York

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.

A.E.Rittenhouse History

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 users.

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 striker.

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 radio-intercom business.

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.

A.E.Rittenhouse Timeline

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 radio components.

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 force.

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 sqft.

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 Pryne line.

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 applications.

Note 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.

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