Berliner, Emile

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BERLINER, EMILE (1851–1929), inventor. Born and educated in Wolfenbuettel, Germany, Berliner emigrated to the U.S.A. in 1870. He worked in New York and Washington, D.C., as a clerk, salesman, and assistant in a chemical laboratory. He studied electricity and in 1876 began experimenting with Bell's newly invented telephone, which he succeeded in refining with his invention of the loose-contact telephone transmitter or microphone and the use of an induction coil. The Bell Telephone Company immediately purchased the rights to his invention, which for the first time made the telephone practical for long-distance use. Berliner was appointed chief electrical instruments inspector of the company. In 1887 he improved Edison's phonograph by introducing a flat disc instead of a cylinder and the use of a shallow groove. The patent was acquired by the Victor Talking Machine Company and served as the basis for the modern gramophone. In his later years he engaged in aviation experiments and introduced the use of a revolving cylindered light engine. Between 1919 and 1926 he built three helicopters which he tested in flight himself. Berliner also interested himself in public matters, particularly in the field of health and hygiene. In 1890 he founded the Society for the Prevention of Sickness. In 1907 he organized the first milk conference in Washington, whose efforts contributed to the pasteurization of milk and an improvement in its quality. He played a leading part in the fight against the spread of tuberculosis and wrote a number of articles on hygiene and preventive medicine. He set out his agnostic ideas on matters of religion and philosophy in his book Conclusions (1902). Toward the end of his life Berliner supported the rebuilding of Palestine and was active on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

[Grete Leibowitz]

Emile's son henry adler berliner (1895–1970), aeronautical engineer, did pioneering work with his father on helicopter construction during and after World War i. He was president of Berliner Aircraft, Inc. in Washington and from 1930 to 1954 chairman of Engineering and Research Corporation. In 1955 he became president of the Maryland firm of Tecfab Inc. In World War ii, during which he lost an arm, he was chief of war plans for the Eighth Air Force.

[Samuel Aaron Miller]


F.W. Wile, Emile Berliner, Maker of the Microphone (1926); C.J. Hylander, American Inventors (1934).