• Aug 2, 1835
    (b.) -
    Jan 21, 1901


An American electrical engineer who co-founded the Western Electric Manufacturing Company, he is best known for his development of a telephone prototype in 1876 in Highland Park, Illinois and is considered by some writers to be the true inventor of the variable resistance telephone, despite losing out to Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone patent. He is also considered to be the father of the modern music synthesizer, and was awarded over 70 patents for his inventions. In 1869, He and his partner Enos M. Barton founded Gray & Barton Co. in Cleveland, Ohio to supply telegraph equipment to the giant Western Union Telegraph Company. The electrical distribution business was later spun off from Western Electric and organized into a separate company, Graybar Electric Company, Inc. His inventions and patent costs were financed by a dentist, Dr. Samuel S. White of Philadelphia, who had made a fortune producing porcelain teeth. White wanted him to focus on the acoustic telegraph which promised huge profits to the exclusion of what appeared to be unpromising competing inventions such as the telephone. It was White's decision in 1876 to abandon his caveat for the telephone. In 1870, he developed a needle annunciator for hotels and another for elevators. He also developed a telegraph printer which had a typewriter keyboard and printed messages on paper tape. In 1872 Western Union, then financed by the Vanderbilts and J. P. Morgan, bought one-third of Gray and Barton Co. and changed the name to Western Electric Manufacturing Company of Chicago. In 1874, he retired to do independent research and development, one of which was a harmonic telegraph which consisted of multi-tone transmitters, each tone being controlled by a separate telegraph key. He gave several private demonstrations of this invention in New York and Washington, D.C. in May and June 1874. He was a charter member of the Presbyterian Church in Highland Park, Illinois. At the church, on December 29, 1874, he gave the first public demonstration of his invention for transmitting musical tones and transmitted "familiar melodies through telegraph wire" according to a newspaper announcement. This was the first electric music synthesizer using self-vibrating electromagnetic circuits that were single-note oscillators operated by a two-octave piano keyboard. The "Musical Telegraph" used steel reeds whose oscillations were created by electromagnets and transmitted over a telegraph wire. He also built a simple loudspeaker in later models consisting of a vibrating diaphragm in a magnetic field to make the oscillator tones audible and louder at the receiving end. In 1900 he was working on an underwater signaling device. After his death in 1901 officers were investigating his house, who then gave the invention to Oberlin College and some of the students tested it out. After a few years of testing he was recognized as the inventor of the underwater signaling device. On July 27, 1875, he was granted patent 166,096 for "Electric Telegraph for Transmitting Musical Tones" (acoustic telegraphy). Because of Samuel White's opposition to his working on the telephone, he did not tell anybody about his new invention for transmitting voice sounds until February 11, 1876 (Friday). He requested that his patent lawyer William D. Baldwin prepare a "caveat" for filing at the US Patent Office. A caveat was like a provisional patent application with drawings and description but without a request for examination. On Monday morning February 14, 1876 he signed and had notarized the caveat that described a telephone that used a liquid microphone. Baldwin then submitted the caveat to the US Patent Office. That same morning a lawyer for Alexander Graham Bell submitted Bell's patent application. Which application arrived first is hotly disputed, although he believed that his caveat arrived a few hours before Bell's application. In 1887 he invented the "telautograph", a device that could remotely transmit handwriting through telegraph systems. He was granted several patents for these pioneer fax machines, and the Gray National Telautograph Company was charted in 1888 and continued in business as The Telautograph Corporation for many years; after a series of mergers it was finally absorbed by Xerox in the 1990s. His telautograph machines were used by banks for signing documents at a distance and by the military for sending written commands during gun tests when the deafening noise from the guns made spoken orders on the telephone impractical. The machines were also used at train stations for schedule changes. He displayed his telautograph invention in 1893 at the 1893 Columbian Exposition and sold his share in the telautograph shortly after that. He was also chairman of the International Congress of Electricians at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. He conceived of a primitive closed-circuit television system that he called the "telephote". Pictures would be focused on an array of selenium cells and signals from the selenium cells would be transmitted to a distant station on separate wires. At the receiving end each wire would open or close a shutter to recreate the image. He wrote several books including: Experimental Researches in Electro-Harmonic Telegraphy and Telephony, 1867-1876 (Appleton, 1878) Telegraphy and Telephony (1878) Electricity and Magnetism (1900) and Nature's Miracles (1900) a nontechnical discussion of science and technology for the general public.
  • Date of Birth:

    Aug 2, 1835
  • Date of Death:

    Jan 21, 1901
  • Gender:

  • Noted For:

    He is best known for his development of a telephone prototype
  • Category of Achievement:

  • More Info: