George Petersen is SVC's Senior Consulting Editor. He grew up in Italy, where he performed in rock bands, opening for acts such as The Searchers. Returning to America for...more

THE FAMILY WAY: Dr. Fritz Sennheiser, 1912-2010

FEW MAJOR COMPANIES IN PRO AUDIO are family owned—among these, examples such as Meyer Sound, Peavey and Sennheiser come to mind. Yet 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.

Dr. Fritz Sennheiser
Dr. Fritz Sennheiser
Born in Berlin on May 9, 1912, Fritz Sennheiser’s 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 and instead entered the electrical engineering/telecommunications program at Berlin’s Technical University. After attaining his PhD, World War II broke out and Dr. Sennheiser continued his research, heading the Institute for Radio Frequency Engineering and Electroacoustics in Hannover.

In 1945, post-war Germany was in shambles. In June of that year, Sennheiser founded Laboratorium Wennebostel (“Labor W�) with a staff of seven employees in an abandoned laboratory of Hanover’s Technical University. German scientists were then prohibited from doing radio technology research, so Sennheiser used his savings to create a business making millivoltmeters for Siemens.

Soon after, Labor W was contracted to build microphones for Siemens. Later, the team designed its own mic, debuting the MD2 dynamic 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 Sennheiser always returned to the community, splitting his time between running the company and teaching at Hannover Technical University—a tradition continued by his son, current company chairman, Prof. Dr. Jörg Sennheiser.

In 1982 on Dr. Fritz Sennheiser’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 & Sciences for the industry-standard MKH 816 shotgun mic, and a 1996 Emmy for developments in RF wireless.

Sennheiser Electronics is successful, but the business integrity instilled by Dr. Fritz Sennheiser remains a priority. Son 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. Yet this concern for others has always been the company way, a policy dating back to the early days of Labor W, when Dr. Fritz Sennheiser invested his savings to create jobs for his co-workers.

Dr. Fritz Sennheiser’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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George Petersen is an internationally recognized expert on audio production; he has written five books and more than 1,000 articles and lectured worldwide; he has been a writer and editor for SVC for 10 years and a leading voice at Mix since 1981. As an IATSE Journeyman, he has done sound reinforcement, 35/70mm motion picture projection, Dolby Stereo theater installs and film/video production. He also operates a record label, ASCAP publishing company, 24-track recording studio, and performs with the Bay Area rock ensemble ARIEL.
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