Emile Berliner, Noted Inventor, Succumbs to Stroke
Menu JTA Search

Emile Berliner, Noted Inventor, Succumbs to Stroke

Download PDF for this date

Emile Berliner, famous inventor and philanthropist, died here at his home Saturday. Stricken a week ago by apoplexy, Mr. Berliner, who was in his seventy-ninth year, rallied slightly until yesterday when he lapsed into unconsciousness that lasted until death.

Distinguished as the inventor of the telephone transmitter, the radio microphone, which made possible broadcasting, and the flat disc phonograph record, used in millions of homes throughout the world, Mr. Berliner of late years was a crusader in the field of child hygiene and pasteurized milk.

Coming to this country from an Orthodox Jewish home in Germany in 1870, young Berliner once taught in the religious school of Temple Emanu-El of New York, of which Gustave Gottheil was then rabbi. Later, however, Berliner came under the influence of the writings of Ingersoll and Tom Paine and became and remained until his death, an avowed agnostic. According to announced arrangements, he left instructions to be buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, a non-Jewish burial ground and no religious services will be held in connection with his interment. Despite his agnosticism, however, he always definitely identified himself with the Jewish community, especially the Zionist movement, having a number of years ago served as president of the Washington Zionist district and also made various large contributions to Palestine funds and to the Hebrew University.

In explaining his agnosticism, Berliner was careful to point out that he was not an atheist. “I simply do not know,” it was his custom to say, declaring that with this intellectual humility he was convinced that one could learn far better.

With the telephone transmitter and (Continued on Page 4)

the disc-record talking machine already to the credit of his inventive genius, Emile Berliner, in his later years, was associated with his son, Henry, in an advisory capacity, for the development of the Helicopter-an aircraft capable of rising straight up from the ground.

The versatility of this German Jewish immigrant, who travelled the rough road of experience in the earlier years of his life in the United States, was exhibited in the various vocations he followed ere fortune rewarded him. He sold glue, painted backgrounds on enlarged photographs and travelled as a salesman for a Milwaukee wholesale house, at various times between 1870, when he reached the United States, until he went to Washington in 1877 to begin experimenting.

During his leisure time he had studied electricity and acoustics and while a clerk in a Washington store he experimented after hours in his room and evolved the idea of the loose contact transmitter or microphone, which placed the telephone on an advanced commercial basis, some three years after Bell and Watson had invented the telephone in Boston. Later the microphone was to become also the soul of radio broadcasting.

In 1887, he achieved the second scientific discovery that placed his name in the forefront of inventors by giving the world the gramophone. This talking machine utilized the disc record, also his invention, and horizontal wave groove. He invented and perfected, as well, present method duplicating disc records.

For his gramophone invention he was awarded the John Scott Medal and the Elliott Cresson gold medal by Franklin Institute of Philadelphia.

It was later that his inventive genius turned to aeronautics, but before Wright brothers conducted their flying experiments on the sands of North Carolina, he was at work on the Helicopter. He contended that this type of aircraft possessed superiority over that requiring a running start to get into the air, because it would conserve space and permit to ascent from a city square. This research he turned over to his son, Henry, about 1919, after the latter had designed and successfully flown a Helicopter in November of that year.

Mr. Berliner exhibited his adaptability in yet another sphere by interesting himself in 1900, in the cause of the high death rate among babies, which he traced to the dangers of raw milk. He was instrumental in establishing milk standards, which were accepted in modified form by all the large cities of the country. He was president of the Washington Tuberculosis Association for five years and wrote a number of pamphlets on health topics.

Mr. Berliner was born in Hanover, Germany, May 20, 1851, and graduated from the Samson School of Wolfenbuttel in 1865.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund