Schonstedt Instrument Co. Celebrates Diamond Anniversary

The Schonstedt Instrument Co. is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year — the firm has been making magnetometer-based instruments since 1953.

Founded by Erick O. Schonstedt, Schonstedt was initially a subcontractor to the aerospace industry, providing high-grade magnetometers for aerospace and laboratory applications. For many years, in fact, Schonstedt magnetometers were the de facto standard in laboratory work.

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Schonstedt was said to be a “consummate engineer” and eagerly took on just about any interesting project that related to magnetics. Early ventures included forays into airport metal detectors, satellite magnetometers and Schonstedt technology was used in many spectacular shipwreck discoveries — Erick and author/explorer Clive Cussler were good friends.

But sustained profitability was elusive until the early 1970s, when a surveyor’s chance remark led to the development of the industry’s first pin finder. It was a perfect marriage of one man’s genius and an industry’s need. In fact, in the survey industry, ‘Schonstedt’ or ‘Schonny’ is still the de facto term for magnetic locators. Also in the 1970s, Schonstedt Instruments began producing utility locators and today the company is making the most accurate and innovative handheld utility locators available.

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In 1993, Erick Schonstedt died, ironically and unexpectedly, at a funeral. He was 76. His passing was a surprise, but the real shocker was his will; having no heirs, Erick bequeathed ownership of Schonstedt Instruments to Augustana College, a small liberal arts school in Rock Island, Ill.

Augustana College was never more than an absentee owner and never effectively came to terms with Schonstedt’s existing management. The result was predictable and business declined for a couple of years. It looked as if Erick’s legacy might be lost.

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Fortunately, the school decided to get out of the locator business and in 1997 sold Schonstedt Instruments to Redwood Venture Group, a consortium of three venture capitalists specializing in stressed companies. Redwood brought in Michael Head as Schonstedt’s president, and the Schonstedt Instrument Co. was reorganized into a much leaner firm.

The ‘reboot’ began with a return to Schonstedt’s roots. Repair had always been one of the company’s strengths but turnaround had slipped from days to months and an excellent reputation was nearly ruined. That quickly changed, and Schonstedt now completes 98 percent of repairs in two days from go ahead. In some cases, parts are no longer available for some of the oldest instruments and a trade-in is offered.
In 1999, the Schonstedt Instrument Co. convened focus groups of utility location contractors and realized that there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the utility locating equipment available. Schonstedt’s design team went to work, and soon produced the TraceMaster and XT series of utility locators, one of the most innovative new locators in several years.

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To celebrate its diamond anniversary, Schonstedt Instrument Co. will be giving away locators throughout 2013 in the “Great Locator Giveaway.” Details are available at www.schonstedt.com/win_big/. Additional giveaways and specials will be available throughout the year.

After a rough passage in the 1990s, Schonstedt is once again a proud and thriving company, 100 percent  employee-owned, and still makes all its equipment in the United States, at their facilities in Kearneysville, W.V.

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