Berliner, Emile

SUBJECT AREA: Recording
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b. 20 May 1851 Hannover, Germany
d. 3 August 1929 Montreal, Canada
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German (naturalized American) inventor, developer of the disc record and lateral mechanical replay.
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After arriving in the USA in 1870 and becoming an American citizen, Berliner worked as a dry-goods clerk in Washington, DC, and for a period studied electricity at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York. He invented an improved microphone and set up his own experimental laboratory in Washington, DC. He developed a microphone for telephone use and sold the rights to the Bell Telephone Company. Subsequently he was put in charge of their laboratory, remaining in that position for eight years. In 1881 Berliner, with his brothers Joseph and Jacob, founded the J.Berliner Telephonfabrik in Hanover, the first factory in Europe specializing in telephone equipment.
Inspired by the development work performed by T.A. Edison and in the Volta Laboratory (see C.S. Tainter), he analysed the existing processes for recording and reproducing sound and in 1887 developed a process for transferring lateral undulations scratched in soot into an etched groove that would make a needle and diaphragm vibrate. Using what may be regarded as a combination of the Phonautograph of Léon Scott de Martinville and the photo-engraving suggested by Charles Cros, in May 1887 he thus demonstrated the practicability of the laterally recorded groove. He termed the apparatus "Gramophone". In November 1887 he applied the principle to a glass disc and obtained an inwardly spiralling, modulated groove in copper and zinc. In March 1888 he took the radical step of scratching the lateral vibrations directly onto a rotating zinc disc, the surface of which was protected, and the subsequent etching created the groove. Using well-known principles of printing-plate manufacture, he developed processes for duplication by making a negative mould from which positive copies could be pressed in a thermoplastic compound. Toy gramophones were manufactured in Germany from 1889 and from 1892–3 Berliner manufactured both records and gramophones in the USA. The gramophones were hand-cranked at first, but from 1896 were based on a new design by E.R. Johnson. In 1897–8 Berliner spread his activities to England and Germany, setting up a European pressing plant in the telephone factory in Hanover, and in 1899 a Canadian company was formed. Various court cases over patents removed Berliner from direct running of the reconstructed companies, but he retained a major economic interest in E.R. Johnson's Victor Talking Machine Company. In later years Berliner became interested in aeronautics, in particular the autogiro principle. Applied acoustics was a continued interest, and a tile for controlling the acoustics of large halls was successfully developed in the 1920s.
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Bibliography
16 May 1888, Journal of the Franklin Institute 125 (6) (Lecture of 16 May 1888) (Berliner's early appreciation of his own work).
1914, Three Addresses, privately printed (a history of sound recording). US patent no. 372,786 (basic photo-engraving principle).
US patent no. 382,790 (scratching and etching).
US patent no. 534,543 (hand-cranked gramophone).
Further Reading
R.Gelatt, 1977, The Fabulous Phonograph, London: Cassell (a well-researched history of reproducible sound which places Berliner's contribution in its correct perspective). J.R.Smart, 1985, "Emile Berliner and nineteenth-century disc recordings", in Wonderful
Inventions, ed. Iris Newson, Washington, DC: Library of Congress, pp. 346–59 (provides a reliable account).
O.Read and W.L.Welch, 1959, From Tin Foil to Stereo, Indianapolis: Howard W.Sams, pp. 119–35 (provides a vivid account, albeit with less precision).
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Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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