Emile Berliner (May 20, 1851 – August 3, 1929) came to America to avoid being drafted as a soldier in the Franco-Prussian War. A native of Hanover, Germany, Berliner had trained as a merchant and worked as an accountant before emigrating. Settling first in Washington, D.C., and then in New York City, he worked a variety of jobs and studied physics at night at the Cooper Union Institute, all while pursuing his passion for tinkering with electronics.
In 1876, back in Washington, D.C., Berliner witnessed the launch of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. He was fascinated, and, working alone in his boarding house room, developed a “loose contact transmitter” that was a significant improvement on the original telephone transmitter technology. Shortly after he filed a patent caveat on the transmitter, he was hired by the American Bell Telephone Company for research and development. He remained with them for seven years before setting up an independent research facility in Washington, D.C.
One of Emile Berliner’s greatest innovations, and one for which he is often not given credit, was the gramaphone. While Thomas Edison developed the cylindrical phonograph, Berliner transformed that technology by making musical recordings on flat disks, making it possible to create multiple copies of the same recording that could each be played multiple times. He later sold the licensing rights to the Victor Talking Machine Company (RCA).
In addition to his work on the telephone and the gramaphone, Berliner also made important innovations for Parquet carpet, acoustic tiles and numerous pieces involved in building helicopters.
Although his life was full of exciting discoveries, Berliner took an active role in the burgeoning Zionism movement. He wrote several articles on the topic and numerous letters to the editors on the subject. Berliner is also noted for his dedication to educating the public on the importance of good hygiene, especially for children.