The Early Years 1887-1919


Frank Ritter, the founder


The early history of the Ritter Dental Company is a success story and centered around the life of the Founder, Frank Ritter. In August of 1870 Frank Ritter, a cabinetmaker by trade, came to New York City  from his native Germany. The following year after experiencing the heat of a New York summer to which he was unaccustomed, he moved to Amsterdam, New York, where he continued to work at his skill as a cabinetmaker. In 1872 with a friends suggestion, he moved to Rochester where the climate was cooler and more like his native Astheim, a small village in Wurzburg in Bavaria.


Frank Ritter was an industrious and tireless worker. Remarks from his co-workers that he worked too hard were not uncommon. His reply was, "If I did not work so hard and save out of my earnings I would always just work at the bench".
     It was not long before he was repaid for his thrifty and diligent habits. After being in Rochester for only one year and just three years from the time he first arrived in the United States, Frank started his own business. His capital consisted entirely of what he had been able to save from his earnings during these three years, a truly remarkable feat, even for those days.
        Frank's early business was the production and sale of ornamental carvings for parlor furniture. It was not long before he expanded into manufacturing complete parlor furniture of high quality. His small factory, located on the second floor of a building on River Street, was occupied on the ground floor by an iron foundry. 


By 1883 Frank was in a position to expand his business by building a stone and brick building on the "Old River Flats", below the present Bausch & Lomb Company. The upholstering of the furniture, as well as the offices and show rooms, remained uptown for the convenience of buyers.  First located in the Wallbridge Building at the corner of State and Elm Streets and later, in 1886, at 107 Water Street. In 1887 Frank moved the upholstering shop and offices to a new building which he had built on St. Paul Street, above the factory on river flats and directly next door to his residence.

1887 Ritter Dental  Co. on St. Paul Street

By this time Frank Ritter was very comfortably situated. In 1874 he had married and by 1887 had two daughters. In 1876 he had been formally given full privileges of citizenship. His furniture business was a going concern which enjoyed an enviable reputation in the trade for producing the highest quality of merchandise. Under similar conditions other men would have sat back and coasted, but not Frank Ritter. He was constantly looking for more work, for additional things to make, for other business enterprises in which to invest a portion of his profits.


1891 Ritter's personnel - first row, 9th from left is Dewell Stuck, inventor of the first Dental Chair manufactured by the Ritter Company


In 1887 Dewell Stuck of Big Rapids, Michigan came to Rochester with an idea for a new type of dental chair. After being turned down by a barber chair manufacturer in Rochester, a mutual friend introduced Dewell Stuck to Frank. The idea for this new dental chair was only on paper and there were many details to be worked out before even starting production on an experimental model. At this same time, Frank's furniture business was booming with production in full swing. Not wanting to disrupt this profitable activity, Frank made arrangements to start building the original experimental model dental chair in the plant of the Graham Woodworking Machine Company located on Lyell Avenue. In 1888, after a series of trying delays and with the capital investment originally made by Frank growing into a considerable sum of money, Frank's and Dewell's thoughts were finally in agreement that the chair was sufficiently perfected to begin manufacturing. With the Ritter Furniture Company still working at capacity in the production of parlor furniture, Frank made arrangements with the Clark Novelty Company, whose factory was located on Aqueduct Street, near the main Four Corners in Rochester, to build his first 50 dental chairs.

1894 The Entire working force of both Ritter factory and office


The original Stuck Dental Chair 1888


The original Stuck Dental Chair as it was called, had a completely dry movement, no oil being used whatsoever. Following the first 50 chairs, it was found that it would be more practical for this movement to be modified so that the chair was raised with a double clutch and lowered by means of an oil check. 
      The "Stuck Chair" was a real improvement over the chairs which were on the market at that time. This was the first chair to have a disc base, the other dental chairs of that day being supported on four legs. After this modification was made, the first 50 chairs were shipped and were warmly received by the profession.

In August of 1889 Frank Ritter's original investment in this enterprise had grown to around fifteen thousand dollars, a sizeable fortune for those days. The next model of the "Stuck Chair" was manufactured in a corner of Frank's own furniture factory. By so doing he was able to cut costs and also to be closer to both of his endeavors. While his expectations were to build 100 more chairs similar to the first 50, there developed patent difficulties with a chair made by Wilkerson, that were considered serious enough to redesign the raising and lowering device. It took the rest of 1889 to actually accomplish this development. There were 198 chairs of this model produced, the last one being built early in 1891. Up to this time, all chairs manufactured by Ritter had been called the "Stuck Dental Chair". However, in 1890, experiments began on a new dental chair, which when marketed in 1891 was called the "Celebrated Columbian Chair" and picked up the nickname of the "Jacknife Chair". Two distinctive features on this chair were a first. It was the first chair to use hydraulic pressure for the raising and lowering mechanism. Secondly, it had the greatest range of any chair produced at that time, as it raised higher and positioned lower than other on the market. In all, 215 of the "Celebrated Columbian Chairs" were produced and sold.

"Celebrated Columbian Chair" nickname  the "Jacknife Chair"


The last two Chairs of this model were encased in glass and sent to Chicago for exhibition at the World's Fair of 1893. The fair was named the Grand Columbian Carnival, for the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovering of America. The two chairs were both elegantly finished, one in black with gold plated metal parts and the other in white. ornately decorated with hand painted flowers. They received the highest award at the Fair.

This marked the beginning for the rapid growth of the Ritter Dental Company. To boost this expansion, Frank and his small staff conceived a new theory they felt would be successful. They immediately began working on a new chair engulfing many long days with barely time off for sleep and food. Thus came into existence the "New Columbia Chair". The first chair was finished toward the end of 1893 just in time to also be exhibited in Chicago at the end of the World's Fair. 


Ritter Dental exhibition at the World's Fair of 1893.


This newest chair featured telescoping tubes for raising and lowering, it also had roller bearings. As soon as it was exhibited, it was widely acclaimed, and it was this chair which revolutionized the dental business and established the Ritter Dental Company firmly as the leader in its field. Over 6,500 of these chairs were manufactured and sold. Since the introduction of the "New Celebrated Columbia Chair", the dental business had begun to take on greater proportions. Because of the success of the new chair, Frank began tapering off his furniture business. In 1895 the St. Paul Street factory started to show growing pains, so the building was expanded and the furniture business was completely discontinued.

1893 the New  Columbia Chair


Tool Room 1901


In the year 1895, the Pieper Brothers, Oscar and Alfonse - who later became vice president of the Ritter Dental Company, came from California and offered Frank the exclusive right to manufacture the electric dental engine they had invented. This was actually not introduced on the dental market until late in 1896 because of some additional improvements that they wished to incorporate. As soon as it was introduced, it was enthusiastically received. It eliminated the tiring and inconvenient foot pump dental engine. The motor of the engine was suspended, allowing greater flexibility than had never previously been known and at a greater range of speed control with more power than any other competitive dental motor on the market at that time. It was machined and balanced exceptionally well, thus making it extremely quiet. The original dental engines operated from battery power. This was only one of a series of electrical dental appliances and equipment to be produced by the Ritter Dental Company. Other appliances were the electrical dental laboratory lathe in 1897 and, in August of 1899, the first alternating current dental engine with speed regulation was exhibited by the Ritter Dental Company at Niagara Falls, NY. In each case success was immediate and formed the basis for a further expansion of the Ritter Dental Company's line. In 1899 the Ritter Dental Company added substantially to its St. Paul's street factory in order to enlarge their new product lines as well as to expand their chair assembly and production departments. 

Shipping Department of 1902


Beginning in 1905 the opening of the Chicago, IL sales office brought added services to the dental profession throughout that region. But, it was not just a sales office, or an address out of which salesmen worked. It was the means to bring to dentists in that section of the country the opportunity to learn of and inspect the facilities which were aiding eastern dentists too far greater accomplishments. A service department was added, so that the dentist would not be deprived of any repairs for their equipment if needed. Similar offices were subsequently opened in New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

1900 Operatory 



By 1908 the business had again grown to such large proportions that the Ritter Dental Company was forced to move from its cramped quarters on St. Paul Street to its new location on West Avenue.
      In 1914 the electrically operated air compressor was introduced and the Distributing Panel in 1915, which incorporated electrical and air appliances necessary for a more modern dental practice. In 1917 the Ritter Dental Company introduced the first Dental Operating Unit -  combining the services of air, water, gas and electricity in one compact assembly, thus bringing together all operating essentials to the side of the Ritter Chair.
      Unfortunately, Frank Ritter passed away in April, 1915, just two years before the famous Dental Operating Unit was first introduced.

If you would like to contribute additional history or product information regarding the Ritter Dental Company, please e-mail Rick Schrader