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ERNI History

Beginning and 50s


Relay 20

The relays from Adelberg take on a wide variety of tasks in automation and are combined with electronic, electromechanical, sensor-based and motorized components on both input and output ends. Take, for example, the system engineering produced at the location in Brüttisellen: “Really nice control and regulation systems can be created by combining our components in a practical manner” (Ernst Erni in the December in-house magazine). Case in point: the fully transistorized remote control system for the air traffic control in Kloten has been in operation for two years, with no problems experienced to date.

Relay 20 developed in Adelberg is very compact, switches with high reliability under the most adverse of conditions and is insensitive thanks to the encapsulated switching contacts.


Adelberg assumes the manufacture of ERNI relays

Just two years after its founding, ERNI Elektroapparate GmbH assumes vast areas of relay manufacturing for the entire group. After the success with relay 60, ERNI continues to develop smaller, higher performance relays that find use in telecontrol engineering applications.

Relay 60 is quasi the mother of ERNI relays: robust, reliable, variable and high performing. Here, the operating principle of a relay is readily apparent.


Start-up with a three-man team

On the first floor, Franz Reisinger is busy with the development and assembly of relay coils, while toolmaker Kurt Schlotz manufactures punched and molded parts at the ground level. Horst Opitz works on the top floor as the company’s first Managing Director. The production locations in Adelberg and in Brüttisellen make mutual weekly deliveries of manufactured components for assembly, whereby product is exchanged halfway between both locations - from “trunk to trunk”. This non-bureaucratic method of goods transport over the border makes customs authorities skeptical. After investigating offices, checking delivery notes, the weight of the goods and production lists, everything is declared OK.

Franz Reisinger performs soldering work on a test set-up.


The founding of ERNI Elektroapparate GmbH in Adelberg

On July 28th, Ernst Erni has “Erni-Elektro-Apparate GmbH” entered into the trade register, with DM 30,000 of capital stock. The company, which is now legally designated the German GmbH business form, registers a business enterprise with the town hall in Adelberg for the manufacture of electrical devices. Number of employees according to the registration: „4 Pcs“. Adelberg is home to 1,160 inhabitants this year. On a national level, the 45 hour workweek is being implemented, with four jobs available for each unemployed person. A three room apartment currently costs around DM 50, while a flight to Australia cannot be purchased for under DM 5,600; the average worker earns approximately DM 200 to 250 per month. One U.S. dollar equals DM 4.20.

The large number of small businesses specializing in optics and precision mechanics brings Ernst Erni to Adelberg. Here, a business partner sells Ernst part of his company. Ernst Erni assumes the employees and can expand his in-house relay manufacturing know-how. The company’s headquarters are at the Eckhard family residence on the grounds of the former Adelberg monastery.


A new era

In order to facilitate exporting from EFTA country Switzerland into other markets, the idea of erecting a manufacturing base in economically expanding Germany is entertained. The plan: by splitting up manufacturing and mutually exchanging components, the certificates of origin of the completely assembled relays are obtained for both markets. The decision to expand across the border is made.

A further advancement combines the chrono camera with a synchronized film camera that takes a photo finish picture every one hundredth of a second, integrating the time counter via a second lens. Just ninety seconds after crossing the finish line, a developed film is ready to be presented to the referee for analysis.


ERNI moves to Brüttisellen

The company moves to Brüttisellen. The new building becomes the main facility of the company group and is considerably expanded over the years. The somewhat cumbersome name for “non-Swiss” ears begins to gain recognition around the globe. Almost 50 years later, a well-known soda company will rent the portion of the building Erni no longer needs. Their red logo fits well with the logo of residing company ERNI Licht-Technik AG. The areas of electricity distribution, heavy current engineering, cable and overhead line engineering are transferred to Erni+Giger AG.

With much optimism and considerable investment, ERNI’s new headquarters complete with offices, workshops and a dwelling for the Erni family are erected in the former farming village of Brüttisellen. “ERNI Elektroindustrie” is now seen on the company sign – no longer a small name.



The range of services offered by the young company quickly grows. For many orders – especially those involving the airport in Kloten – the classic boundaries of heavy and weak current engineering as well as low and high frequency engineering overlap. Activities encompass the distribution and regulation of electricity, cable and overhead line engineering, heavy and weak current relays, runway lighting and time measuring systems.

The product label of ERNI & CO.


Winter Olympics in Oslo

The big test is the Winter Olympic Games. Longines “system ernico” time measuring systems clock the competitions on ski slopes, cross-country ski trails and bobsled and luge runs to a hundredth of a second. A time measuring system with large display is also installed in the ice arena. As a member of the Longines delegation, Ernst Erni is personally accountable for his technological invention in Oslo. The entire system is so compact, flexible and reliable that ERNI time measuring systems and chrono cameras are used to document various winter and summer sporting events.


In tune with the times

The Longines “system ernico” time measuring system is used at more and more competitive events. In ice hockey and stadium halls, the units clock the effective playing times, manage the 2- and 5-minute penalties of the teams, output signals and control the clocks of the main display boards. In the years to follow, measurement technology and the chrono camera dominate almost every sport, from track & field all the way to motor sports.

Ernst Erni uses “his” chrono camera at a bobsled race in Poland. Unlike the personnel, the device doesn’t seem to mind the cold! Ernst Erni receives several individual patents for the chrono camera, including for the counter, starter, synchronous motor and film rapid developing unit.


The chrono camera

Commissioned by Longines, Ernst Erni develops the “chrono camera”, the first timer capable of measuring and documenting in one hundredths of a second. A high precision synchronous motor with stable frequency controls a mechanical counter and a film exposure unit comprising a lens, a flasher, synchronized film advance and rapid developing. Every two hundredths of a second, the flash exposes the automatically transported film, creating a “film document” of the counter times.

The core of the chrono camera is the time counter, a mechanical counter whose counter rings indicate ten minute, minute, second, tenths of a second and hundredths of a second intervals (Fig. 2).


Airfield lighting

After Ernst Erni used an in-house developed relay to improve the reliability of power management at the Kloten airport, he receives an order to also erect a runway lighting system. It goes without saying that he saw a way to improve the technology used at that time. Ernst develops lights for the runway and files his first patents. Frequently, Ernst’s sons (who are still in school) are seen on the airfield helping their father.

Airfield lighting systems are part of the repertoire of today’s ERNI Lichttechnik AG. One of the last developments to which Ernst Rudolf Erni personally contributed is an extra flat lighting fixture for runways and taxiways, with FAA approval granted in 1998.


Start in Kloten

In Kloten, the main international airport for Zurich is built. The grounds are a former armory of the Swiss army and have to be cleared of duds. Ernst Erni takes this opportunity to demonstrate his self-developed mine detector. The demonstration is a success and Ernst Erni is commissioned to establish the power supply, power distribution and power control system for the airport.

In 1948, commercial air traffic is routed from Dübendorf to Kloten. In the beginning, the airport is a very simple facility; in 1953, a modern terminal is opened.


Ernst Rudolf Erni goes into business for himself

The history of ERNI begins, as 30 year old electrical engineer Ernst Rudolf Erni took his daring step to independence. As a general partner, he founded ERNI & CO. together with his wife and limited partner Elsa Erni. In a residential home in Nänikon/Uster near Zurich, the married couple erect their first workshop for commissioning electrical engineering orders. In the beginning, Elsa Erni also “pitches in” in the workshop, but later moves on to office work and bookkeeping – in addition to being a mother of two sons.

After acquiring a degree from the Winterthur Technical University and working as an electrical engineer for three years, Ernst Erni goes his own way to found ERNI & CO. together with his wife Elsa.


The family cornerstone

Ernst R. Erni marries his spouse Elsa Erni-Gallmann. The two sons Ernst Peter and Rudolf arise from the marriage. Both of them choose a career outside the family business.

Wedding of Ernst R. Erni and Elsa Erni-Gallmann


The technical cornerstone

Ernst R. Erni successfully graduates from the Technical University of Winterthur, Switzerland, in Electrical Engineering.

Graduation certificate of Ernst R. Erni


A star is born

Ernst R. Erni, the founder of the ERNI Group of Companies, is born in Brüttisellen, Switzerland, being the elder of two sons of Alois and Anna Erni.

Ernst R. Erni as a toddler

ERNI Deutschland GmbH

Seestraße 9

73099 Adelberg