TENO was founded on September 30, 1919 by Otto Lummitzsch to protect and maintain vital, strategic facilities (eg gas works, waterworks, power stations, the railways, post offices, agriculture concerns and food production facilities). At the time, these were under threat from sabotage and attack during a period bordering on civil war caused by the collapse of German society following the end of World War I and a spate of politically motivated wildcat strikes.
The organisation emerged from army units into a volunteer civilian organisation brought about by the demilitarisation requirements of the Treaty of Versailles. Because of the nature of its operations, the background of its personnel was mainly conservative middle class including large number of students. In the Weimar Republic period, TENO was seen as a threat by the working class and aroused the animosity of trade unionists, and more particularly the KPD (German Communist Party). As economic conditions improved and strikes became less common and less aggressive, TENO shift its activities into areas such as disaster relief and air raid protection. From 1931, it began to be more involved in the Freiwilligen Arbeitsdienst (Volunteer Labour Service) and was later controlled by the Reichsarbeitsdienst.
Under the Third Reich TENO focussed on civil defence and air raid rescue and relief work. From 1936 TENO was gradually transformed into an auxiliary police function and came under the ultimate control of Heinrich Himmler. As well as within Germany, TENO was active in Nazi-occupied countries and local branch organisations were even formed in some countries (eg Norway and the Netherlands).
In 1945 the victorious Allies dissolved TENO. Its functions were assumed again in 1950 when Lummitzsch formed THW (Technisches Hilfswerk, lit: Technical Relief) which exists to the present day (2005) with civil defence responsibilities.