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Emile Berliner
Emile Berliner.jpg
Born(1851-05-20)May 20, 1851
DiedAugust 3, 1929(1929-08-03) (aged 78)
Resting placeRock Creek Cemetery
Washington, D.C., U.S.
NationalityGerman, American
Alma materCooper Union Institute
Known forDisc record, microphone
Cora Adler
(m. 1881⁠–⁠1929)
Children7 including Henry Berliner
AwardsElliott Cresson Medal (1913)

Emile Berliner (May 20, 1851 – August 3, 1929) originally Emil Berliner, was a German-American inventor. He is best known for inventing the lateral-cut flat disc record (called a "gramophone record" in British and American English) used with a gramophone. He founded the United States Gramophone Company in 1894;[1] 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). Berliner also invented what was probably the first radial aircraft engine (1908), a helicopter (1919), and acoustical tiles (1920s).[citation needed]

Early life

Berliner was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1851 into a Jewish merchant family. Though Jewish, his religious persuasion would develop into agnosticism.[2][3] 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.[4] 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.[5]


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). In America, Thomas Edison and Berliner fought a long legal battle over the patent rights. On February 27, 1901, the United States Court of Appeals declared Berliner's patent void and awarded Edison full rights to the invention, stating "Edison preceded Berliner in the transmission of speech ... The use of carbon in a transmitter is, beyond controversy, the invention of Edison" and the patent was ruled invalid.[6][7] 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.

1897 Berliner Gramophone record
1897 Berliner Gramophone record

In 1886 Berliner began experimenting with methods of sound recording and reproduction. He was granted his first patent for what he called the "Gramophone" in 1887. The patent described recording sound using horizontal modulation of a stylus as it traced a line on a rotating cylindrical surface coated with an unresisting opaque material such as lampblack, subsequently fixed with varnish and used to photoengrave a corresponding groove into the surface of a metal playback cylinder. In practice, Berliner opted for the disc format, which made the photoengraving step much less difficult and offered the prospect of making multiple copies of the result by some simpler process such as electrotyping, molding or stamping. In 1888 Berliner was using a more direct recording method, in which the stylus traced a line through a very thin coating of wax on a zinc disc, which was then etched in acid to convert the line of bared metal into a playable groove.[citation needed]

E. Berliner Toy Gramophone, 1889 (collection Musée des ondes Emile Berliner, Montreal)
E. Berliner Toy Gramophone, 1889 (collection Musée des ondes Emile Berliner, Montreal)

By 1890 a Berliner licensee in Germany was manufacturing a toy Gramophone and five-inch hard rubber discs (stamped-out replicas of etched zinc master discs), but because key U.S. patents were still pending they were sold only in Europe. Berliner meant his Gramophone to be more than a mere toy, and in 1894 he persuaded a group of businessmen to invest $25,000, with which he started the United States Gramophone Company.[1] He began marketing seven-inch records and a more substantial Gramophone, which was, however, still hand-propelled like the smaller toy machine.[citation needed]

The difficulty in using early hand-driven Gramophones was getting the turntable to rotate at an acceptably steady speed while playing a disc. Engineer Eldridge R. Johnson, the owner of a small machine shop in Camden, New Jersey, assisted Berliner in developing a suitable low-cost wind-up spring motor for the Gramophone and became Berliner's manufacturer. Berliner gave Frank Seaman the exclusive sales rights in the U.S., but after disagreements Seaman began selling his own version of the Gramophone, as well as unauthorized copies of Berliner's records, and Berliner was legally barred from selling his own products. The U.S. Berliner Gramophone Company shut down in mid-1900 and Berliner moved to Canada. Following various legal maneuvers, the Victor Talking Machine Company was officially founded by Eldridge Johnson in 1901 and the trade name "Gramophone" was completely and permanently abandoned in the U.S., although its use continued elsewhere. The Berliner Gramophone Co. of Canada was chartered on 8 April 1904 and reorganized as the Berliner Gramophone Co. in 1909 in Montreal's Saint Henri district.[citation needed]

The Gramophone

The Gramophone was presented as an apparatus for making permanent records of the human voice or other sounds, including music of all kinds and for reproducing the same at any time thereafter as often as desired. The records were of hard rubber, solid metal or other indestructible material and could, therefore, be handled without fear of breaking or injuring them. The sound records were grooves of even depth, but of varying direction, as opposed to those of straight lines and various depths in the Phonograph and Graphophone. These records could be multiplied at will to any extent, and each copy would sound precisely like the original.[citation needed]

It was based on the Leon Scott Phonautograph, which was invented nearly forty years before, and which traced sound as curvilinear lines upon the smoked surface of a brass cylinder by means of a diaphragm with a stylus attached to its center. Early in 1877, or six months before the discovery of the phonograph principle by indenting tin-foil or wax, Charles Cros, of Paris, had conceived and placed on file the theory that if the curvilinear record of a Scott Phonautograph be photo-engraved, and such an engraving be made to act again on a stylus attached to a diaphragm, the original sound would be reproduced with absolute accuracy. This was the first conception of a sound-reproducing machine. Cros, however, did not put this idea into practical operation, presumably on account of the many technical difficulties which had to be overcome in order to accomplish it.[citation needed]

Emile Berliner undertook to reproduce the human voice on a similar principle, and after much study and experimenting, secured fundamental patents covering the general process and its essential details. In his machine, which he called The Gramophone (from phonautogram or phonautographic record) the voice was first traced in curvilinear lines as in the Scott machine, but on a metal plate covered with a very delicate layer of fatty etching ground, and the lines were then “etched” in to the metal plate by immersing the same in acid. From this faithfully etched record the voice could readily be reproduced, and copied at will by electrotyping or other modes of multiplying.[citation needed]

Future generations will be able to condense into the brief space of twenty minutes the tone pictures of a lifetime - five minutes of childish prattle, five moments embalming the last feeble utterrances from the death-bed. Will this not seem like holding veritable communion with immortality?

— Berliner Gramophone Company[8]
Berliner with an experimental disc and Gramophone he had previously exhibited in 1888
Berliner with an experimental disc and Gramophone he had previously exhibited in 1888

Rotary engine and helicopters

Berliner also developed a rotary engine 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 Williams "from the ground on three occasions" at Berliner's laboratory in the Brightwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C.[9]

Between 1907 and 1926, Berliner worked on technologies for vertical flight, including a lightweight rotary engine. Berliner obtained automobile engines from the Adams Company in Dubuque, Iowa, whose Adams-Farwell automobile used air-cooled three- or five-cylinder rotary engines developed in-house by Fay Oliver Farwell (1859–1935). Berliner, his assistant R.S. Moore, and Farwell developed a 36-hp rotary engine for use in helicopters, an innovation on the heavier inline engines then in use.[10]

In 1909, Berliner founded the Gyro Motor Company in Washington, D.C. The company's principals included Berliner, president; Moore, designer and engineer, and Joseph Sanders (1877–1944), inventor, engineer, and manufacturer. The manager of the company was Spencer Heath (1876–1963), a mechanical engineer who was connected with the American Propeller Manufacturing Company, a manufacturer of aeronautical related mechanisms and products in Baltimore, Maryland. By 1910, Berliner was experimenting with the use of a vertically mounted tail rotor to counteract torque on his single-main-rotor design, a configuration that led to practical helicopters of the 1940s.[10] The building used for these operations exists at 774 Girard Street NW, Washington, D.C., where its principal facade is in the Fairmont-Girard alleyway.[11] On June 16, 1922, Berliner and his son, Henry, demonstrated a helicopter for the United States Army.

Henry became disillusioned with helicopters in 1925, and the company shut down.[10] In 1926, Henry Berliner founded the Berliner Aircraft Company,[10] which merged to become Berliner-Joyce Aircraft in 1929.


Berliner's other inventions include a new type of loom for mass-production of cloth and an acoustic tile.

Berliner, who suffered a nervous breakdown in 1914,[12] also advocated for improvements in public health and sanitation. He also advocated for women's equality and, in 1908, established a scholarship program, the Sarah Berliner Research Fellowship, in honor of his mother. Berliner also supported and advocated Zionism.[13]


Berliner was awarded the Franklin Institute's John Scott Medal in 1897, the Elliott Cresson Medal in 1913, and the Franklin Medal in 1929.[citation needed]


On August 3, 1929, Berliner died of a heart attack at his home at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., at the age of 78.[13] He is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., alongside his wife and a son, Herbert Samuel Berliner.[14]



Emile Berliner with a veiled woman
Emile Berliner with a veiled woman


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

Patent images in Tag Image File Format


  1. ^ a b Library of Congress. "Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry: The Gramophone". Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  2. ^ "Concerning Emile 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.
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ "Emil Berliner: Google würdigt den Schallplatten-Erfinder – NETZWELT". Retrieved 2013-07-25.
  5. ^ "Emil Berliners 160. Geburtstag: Google Doodle für den Erfinder der Schallplatte – Kultur". Stern.De. 2011-05-20. Retrieved 2013-07-25.
  6. ^ Inventors Hall of Fame Archived June 10, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, E. Berliner, U.S. Patent 0,463,569 filed June 1877, issued November 1891
  7. ^ "Engineering and Technology History Wiki: Telephones – Variable Resistance Transmitters". 9 January 2015. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  8. ^ Berliner, E., Berliner Gramophone Co & Berliner Gramophone Company. (1871) Gramophone: invented by Emile Berliner, "reproducing the human voice". Berliner Gramophone Company, Philadelphia. [Image] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
  9. ^ "Helicoptre Lifts Itself and Man". Youngstown Vindicator. July 1, 1909. Retrieved 2022-11-23.
  10. ^ a b c d "Berliner Helicopter, Model 1924". National Air and Space Museum. 1998. Archived from the original on 8 April 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  11. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Standard Material Company/Gyro Motor Company". U.S. Department of the Interior. August 8, 2014. Retrieved November 28, 2022.
  12. ^ "In the Public Eye". Technology Review. 23: 60–61. January 1921.
  13. ^ a b Frank, Caso (June 8, 2011). "Emile Berliner (1851–1929)". Immigrant Entrepreneurship. German Historical Institute. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  14. ^ Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed (3 ed.). McFarland. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-476-62599-7.

Further reading