Jun 2, 2010 12:00 PM, By George Petersen
In pro audio, few major companies are family-owned. Among these, examples such as Meyer Sound, Peavey, and Sennheiser come to mind. In such cases, each of these companies has managed to retain a close-knit family atmosphere among those who work at the company. So it is with great sadness that I heard the news about Sennheiser founder Dr. Fritz Sennheiser, who passed away just a few days after his 98th birthday on May 17.
Fritz was born in Berlin on May 9, 1912. His father wanted him to study landscape architecture, but with the 1929 stock market crash, the 17-year-old saw little future in landscaping during those perilous times. Instead, he entered the electrical engineering/telecommunications program at Berlin Technical University. After Fritz attained his doctorate, World War II broke out, and Fritz continued his research, heading the Institute for Radio Frequency Engineering and Electroacoustics in Hannover, Germany.
In 1945, post-war Germany was in shambles. In June of that year, Fritz founded Laboratorium Wennebostel (Labor W) with a staff of seven employees in an abandoned laboratory of Hannover Technical University. At the time, German scientists were prohibited from doing radio technology research, so Fritz used his savings to create a business making millivoltmeters for Siemens.
Soon after, Labor W was contracted to build microphones for Siemens. Later, the company designed its own mic, debuting the MD 2 dynamic mic in 1947. The company expanded into other products, such as amps, intercoms, transformers, and headphone capsules. Based on a lab model developed in 1949, the 1956 MD 82 was the first shotgun mic. A move into wireless mics followed a year later.
By 1958, the company had 450 employees and changed its name to Sennheiser Electronic. Sales grew tenfold, but Fritz always returned to the community, splitting his time between running the company and teaching at Hannover Technical Universitya tradition continued by his son and current company chairman, Prof. Dr. Jörg Sennheiser.
The New Generation
In 1982, on Fritz’s 70th birthday, the management of the company was transferred from father to son, but this did not change Sennheiser Electronic’s role as a technology leader. The company has received numerous accolades in this regard, including a 1987 award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the industry-standard MKH 816 shotgun mic and a 1996 Emmy for developments in RF wireless.
Sennheiser Electronic is successful, but the business integrity Fritz instilled in the company remains a priority. Jörg Sennheiser once refused a lucrative deal to produce 200,000 weatherproof mic capsules when he realized they were to be used as land-mine triggers. This concern for others has always been the company waya policy dating back to the early days of Labor W, when Fritz invested his savings to create jobs for his co-workers.
Fritz’s years of innovation, combined with a sense of caring and creating a family atmosphere at work, live on in the company he started 65 years ago. He will not be forgotten.
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