Emile Berliner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Emile Berliner
Emile Berliner.jpg
Born May 20, 1851 (1851-05-20)
Hanover, Kingdom of Hanover
Died August 3, 1929 (1929-08-04) (aged 78)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place
Rock Creek Cemetery
Nationality German, American
Occupation Inventor
Known for Disc record
Spouse(s) Cora Adler (1862–1942), m. 1881
Children 7 children including Henry Berliner, Oliver Berliner (1887–1894)
Parents Samuel and Sarah Fridman Berliner

Emile Berliner or Emil Berliner (May 20, 1851 – August 3, 1929) was a German-born American inventor. He is best known for developing the disc record gramophone (phonograph in American English). He founded the Berliner Gramophone Company in 1895, The Gramophone Company in London, England, in 1897, Deutsche Grammophon in Hanover, Germany, in 1898 and Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada in Montreal in 1899 (chartered in 1904).

Life and work[edit]

Berliner was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1851 into a Jewish merchant family. Though raised in a Jewish family, he later became an agnostic.[1][2] 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..[3] 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.[4] 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, see The Telephone Cases. But on February 27, 1901 the United States Court of Appeal declared the patent void. Berliner subsequently 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.

Record made in 1908 in Hanover, Germany by Emile Berliner's Gramophone Company

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 first gramophones recorded sound using horizontal modulation on a cylinder coated with a low resistance material such as lamp black, subsequently fixed with varnish and then copied by photoengraving on a metal playback cylinder. This was similar to the method employed by Edison's machines. In 1888 Berliner invented a simpler way to record sound by using discs. Within a few years he was successfully marketing his technology to toy companies. However, he hoped to develop his device as more than a mere toy, and in 1895 persuaded a group of businessmen to put up $25,000 with which he created the Berliner Gramophone Company.

A problem with early gramophones was getting the turntable to rotate at a steady speed during playback of a disc. Engineer Eldridge R. Johnson helped solve this problem by designing a clock-work spring-wound motor. Eldridge Johnson was the owner of a small machine shop in Camden, New Jersey who assisted Berliner in developing and manufacturing a low-cost spring wound motor for his disc phonograph. Berliner gave Frank Seaman the exclusive rights to sell in the US, after arguments Seaman refused to sell and Berliner was prevented from selling his products in the USA, and subsequently moved to Canada. Following some legal reorganization, the Victor Talking Machine Company was officially founded by Johnson in 1901. From his experiences with Berliner, Johnson had already learned a great deal. The Berliner Gramophone Co of Canada was chartered 8 Apr 1904 and was reorganized as the Berliner Gramophone Co in 1909.

Berliner with disc record gramophone

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.

In fact 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. With R.S. Moore, also a Scientist and Inventor, as his chief assistant, Berliner obtained automobile engines from the Adams Company in Dubuque Iowa, manufacturer of the Adams-Farwell automobile. This car used air cooled three or five cylinder rotary engines which were developed in-house by Fay Oliver Farwell (1859–1935). Berliner and Farwell adapted them for use in perfecting “machines” produced for vertical flight. His realizations allowed him to move away from the heavy in-line engines to lighter rotary models, which led to the invention of a 6-hp rotary engine for the improvement of vertical flight. It was these experiments that led to the formal creation of the Gyro Motor Company in 1909. And it was the creation the 6-hp rotary engine that initiated the use of rotary engines in aviation. The Gyro Motor Company manufactured these and other improved versions of the Gyro Engine between 1909 and roughly 1926. The building used for these operations exists at 774 Girard Street, NW, Washington DC, where its principal facade is in the Fairmont-Girard alleyway.

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. When the Gyro Motor Company opened, Spencer Heath (1876–1963), a mechanical engineer (among other things), became the manager. Heath was connected with the American Propeller Company, also a manufacturer of aeronautical related mechanisms and products in Baltimore, Maryland. Both R.S. Moore, Designer and Engineer, and Joseph Sanders (1877–1944), inventor, engineer, and manufacturer, were involved in the original operations of the company. Berliner was president of the newly founded Gyro Motor Company and much of his time was spent dealing with business operations. which merged to become Berliner-Joyce Aircraft

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,[5] which merged to become Berliner-Joyce Aircraft in 1929.

Berliner, who suffered a nervous breakdown in 1914,[6] was also active in advocating improvements in public health and sanitation.

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.

Emile Berliner died of a heart attack at the age of 78 and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., alongside his wife and a son.



Emile Berliner with a veiled woman
  • Conclusions, 1902, Kaufman Publishing Co.
  • The Milk Question and Mortality Among Children Here and in Germany: An Observation, 1904, The Society for Prevention of Sickness
  • Some Neglected Essentials in the Fight against Consumption, 1907, The Society for Prevention of Sickness
  • A Study Towards the Solution of Industrial Problems in the New Zionist Commonwealth, 1919, N. Peters
  • Muddy Jim and other rhymes: 12 illustrated health jingles for children, 1919, Jim Publication Company.


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

Patent images in TIFF format

  • U.S. Patent 199,141 Telephone (induction coils), filed October 1877, issued January 1878
  • U.S. Patent 222,652 Telephone (carbon diaphragm microphone), filed August 1879, issued December 1879
  • U.S. Patent 224,573 Microphone (loose carbon rod), filed September 1879, issued February 1880
  • U.S. Patent 225,790 Microphone (spring carbon rod), filed Nov 1879, issued March 1880
  • UK Patent 15232 filed November 8, 1887
  • U.S. Patent 372,786 Gramophone (horizontal recording), original filed May 1887, refiled September 1887, issued November 8, 1887
  • U.S. Patent 382,790 Process of Producing Records of Sound (recorded on a thin wax coating over metal or glass surface, subsequently chemically etched), filed March 1888, issued May 1888
  • U.S. Patent 463,569 Combined Telegraph and Telephone (microphone), filed June 1877, issued November 1891
  • U.S. Patent 548,623 Sound Record and Method of Making Same (duplicate copies of flat, zinc disks by electroplating), filed March 1893, issued October 1895
  • U.S. Patent 564,586 Gramophone (recorded on underside of flat, transparent disk), filed November 7, 1887, issued July 1896

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "Concerning Emile alva Berliner, The Jew TO BE a Jew may mean one of several identities. For example, the Jew, Emile Berliner, the late inventor, called himself agnostic." B'nai B'rith, The National Jewish monthly: Volume 43; Volume 43.
  2. ^ "In 1899, Berliner wrote a book, Conclusions, that speaks of his agnostic ideas on religion and philosophy." Seymour Brody, Jewish heroes & heroines of America: 151 true stories of Jewish American heroism (2003), page 119.
  3. ^ "Emil Berliner: Google würdigt den Schallplatten-Erfinder – NETZWELT". Netzwelt.de. Retrieved 2013-07-25. 
  4. ^ "Emil Berliners 160. Geburtstag: Google Doodle für den Erfinder der Schallplatte – Kultur". Stern.De. 2011-05-20. Retrieved 2013-07-25. 
  5. ^ "Berliner Helicopter, Model 1924". National Air and Space Museum. 1998. Retrieved 17 June 2010. 
  6. ^ "In the Public Eye". Technology review (MIT) 23: 60–1. January 1921. 

External links[edit]