Microphone: Berliner improves Bell’s telephone system
In 1870 nineteen-year-old Emile Berliner (1851-1929) left his native Germany and emigrated to the United States where he worked in a livery stable. There was nothing in his background or education-he had only the most rudimentary knowledge of electricity and physics-to suggest that he might have any impact on the emerging technology of the day. However, in 1876 he was so inspired by a demonstration of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone during the U.S. centennial celebrations that he decided to study the instrument. He discerned that its main weakness was the sound detector-the mouthpiece. The following year, working alone in his boarding house, Berliner created a new “loose contact” detector. This was arguably the earliest microphone because it increased the volume of the transmitted voice.
At this time, Alexander Graham Bell, who had recently founded the Bell Telephone Company became aware that a young unknown inventor had submitted a patent covering a new transmitter for his telephone system and he dispatched his assistant Thomas Watson to Washington to investigate. So impressed was he that bell bought the rights to the invention for $50,000 and hired him as a researcher.
After seven years working with Bell, Berliner left to set up independently. After selling a number of his ideas to his former employer he began working in the field for which he is now best remembered-the early development of the gramophone record. In 1887 he worked out a way of recording onto a flat phonograph disc over which a stylus moved horizontally rather than vertically as in a cylinder.