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Emile Berliner
Emile Berliner.jpg
Emile Berliner
Born (1851-05-11)May 11, 1851
Hanover, Kingdom of Hanover, German Confederation
Died August 3, 1929 (1929-08-04) (aged 78)
Washington, D.C., United States
Resting place Rock Creek Cemetery
Nationality German, American
Alma mater Cooper Union Institute
Occupation Inventor
Known for Disc record, microphone
Spouse(s)
Cora Adler (m. 1881–1929)
Children 7; including Henry Berliner
Awards Elliott Cresson Medal (1913)

Emile Berliner (May 20, 1851 – August 3, 1929), originally Emil Berliner, was a German-born American inventor. He is best known for inventing the flat disc record (called a "gramophone record" in British and American English) and the Gramophone. He founded the United States Gramophone Company in 1894, The Gramophone Company in London, England, in 1897, Deutsche Grammophon in Hanover, Germany, in 1898, Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada in Montreal in 1899 (chartered in 1904), and Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901 with Eldridge Johnson.

Early life

Berliner was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1851 into a Jewish merchant family. Though raised Jewish, he later became an agnostic. He completed an apprenticeship to become a merchant, as was family tradition. While his real hobby was invention, he worked as an accountant to make ends meet. To avoid being drafted for the Franco-Prussian War, Berliner migrated to the United States of America in 1870 with a friend of his father's, in whose shop he worked in Washington, D.C. He moved to New York and, living off temporary work, such as doing the paper route and cleaning bottles, he studied physics at night at the Cooper Union Institute.

Career

After some time working in a livery stable, he became interested in the new audio technology of the telephone and phonograph, and invented an improved telephone transmitter (one of the first type of microphones). The patent was acquired by the Bell Telephone Company. In America, Thomas Edison and Berliner fought a long legal battle over the patent rights. But on February 27, 1901 the United States Court of Appeal declared the patent void and awarded Edison full rights to the invention, stating "Edison preceded Berliner in the transmission of speech....."The use of carbon in a transmitter is, beyond controversy, the invention of Edison" and the Berliner patent was ruled invalid.

Berliner moved to Boston in 1877 and worked for Bell Telephone until 1883, when he returned to Washington and established himself as a private researcher. Emile Berliner became a United States citizen in 1881. Berliner also invented what was probably the first radial aircraft engine (1908), a helicopter (1919), and acoustical tiles (1920s).

BerlinerDisc1897
1897 Berliner Gramophone record

In 1886 Berliner began experimenting with methods of sound recording. He was granted his first patent for what he called the "Gramophone" in 1887. The patent described recording sound using horizontal modulation of a stylus as it traced a line on a rotating cylindrical surface coated with an unresisting opaque material such as lampblack, subsequently fixed with varnish and used to photoengrave a corresponding groove into the surface of a metal playback cylinder.

In practice, Berliner opted for the disc format, which made the photoengraving step much less difficult and offered the prospect of making multiple copies of the result by some simpler process such as electrotyping, molding or stamping. In 1888 Berliner was using a more direct recording method, in which the stylus traced a line through a very thin coating of wax on a zinc disc, which was then etched in acid to convert the line of bared metal into a playable groove.

By 1890 a Berliner licensee in Germany was manufacturing a toy Gramophone and five-inch hard rubber discs (stamped-out replicas of etched zinc master discs), but because key US patents were still pending they were sold only in Europe. Berliner meant his Gramophone to be more than a mere toy, and in 1894 he persuaded a group of businessmen to invest $25,000, with which he started the United States Gramophone Company. He began marketing seven-inch records and a more substantial Gramophone, which was, however, still hand-propelled like the smaller toy machine.

The difficulty in using early hand-driven Gramophones was getting the turntable to rotate at an acceptably steady speed while playing a disc. Engineer Eldridge R. Johnson, the owner of a small machine shop in Camden, New Jersey, assisted Berliner in developing a suitable low-cost wind-up spring motor for the Gramophone and became Berliner's manufacturer.

Berliner gave Frank Seaman the exclusive sales rights in the US, but after disagreements Seaman began selling his own version of the Gramophone, as well as unauthorized copies of Berliner's records, and Berliner was legally barred from selling his own products. The US Berliner Gramophone Company shut down in mid-1900 and Berliner moved to Canada. Following various legal maneuvers, the Victor Talking Machine Company was officially founded by Eldridge Johnson in 1901 and the trade name "Gramophone" was completely and permanently abandoned in the US, although its use continued elsewhere. The Berliner Gramophone Co. of Canada was chartered on 8 April 1904 and reorganized as the Berliner Gramophone Co. in 1909 in Montreal's district Saint Henri.

The Gramophone

The Gramophone was presented as an apparatus for making permanent records of the human voice or other sounds, including music of all kinds and for reproducing the same at any time thereafter as often as desired. The records were of hard rubber, solid metal or other indestructible material and could therefore be handled without fear of breaking or injuring them. The sound records were grooves of even depth but of varying direction, as apposed to those of straight lines and various depths in the Phonograph and Graphophone. These records could be multiplied at will to any extent, and each copy would sound precisely like the original.

EmileBerliner
Emile Berliner with a veiled woman
Emile Berliner with phonograph
Berliner with an experimental disc and Gramophone he exhibited in 1888

Berliner's other inventions include a new type of loom for mass-production of cloth; an acoustic tile; and an early version of the helicopter. According to a July 1, 1909, report in The New York Times, a helicopter built by Berliner and J. Newton Williams of Derby, Connecticut, had lifted its operator (Williams) "from the ground on three occasions" at Berliner's laboratory in the Brightwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Between 1907 and 1926, Berliner dedicated himself to improving the technologies of vertical flight through the development of a light-weight rotary engine, which he improved upon throughout the 1910s and 1920s.

Adams-Farwell Gyro Motor Rotary 5
Adams-Farwell rotary engine redesigned for use in a gyrocopter (1909)

By 1910, continuing to advance vertical flight, Berliner experimented with the use of a vertically mounted tail rotor to counteract torque on his single main rotor design. And it was this configuration that led to the mechanical development of practical helicopters of the 1940s.

On July 16, 1922, Berliner and his son, Henry, demonstrated a working helicopter for the United States Army. Henry became disillusioned with helicopters in 1925, and in 1926 founded the Berliner Aircraft Company, which merged to become Berliner-Joyce Aircraft in 1929.

Awards

Berliner was awarded the Franklin Institute's John Scott Medal in 1897, and later the Elliott Cresson Medal in 1913 and the Franklin Medal in 1929.

Death

Berliner-marker
Marker for the Berliner family in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

On August 3, 1929, Berliner died of a heart attack at his home at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington D.C., at the age of 78. He is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., alongside his wife and a son.


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