The Birth of Recording
Dreamers in the 19th century seemed to be driven by the need to capture things. Animals were captured and put into the first American zoos In Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati, and New York. Light was captured by Joseph NiÃ©pce and Louis Daguerre in France. And sound was captured in France by Ã‰douard-LÃ©on Scott de Martinville. Scott? De Martin--who? I always thought Thomas Edison had been the first. He was the first to record and play back sound, an important distinction. Scott's phonautograph recorded sounds as early as 1854, 24 years before Edison. But there was one problem, Scott didn't think about playing them back. They were simple lines drawn on a sheet of paper, not a physical etching into tin foil like Edison's invention. Explore the first sounds here.
Other inventions started to pour out of laboratories, like the telephone, the electric generator, and the light bulb. While these men were rightly made famous, it's usually the people who improve the invention that push it into everyday use. Take Emile Berliner, a German-born Jewish immigrant that came to the U.S. in 1870 at the tender age of 19. By the time he was in his late 20's, he was filing patents for telephone-related improvements. His carbon microphone got the attention of Alexander Bell and soon after was working for him. Although the carbon microphone was also independently invented by Bell and David Hughes, Berliner's vastly improved upon Bell's with much higher output. The carbon microphone became a staple of telephony and was used well into the 1980's. Early radio broadcasters used them as well. You can even still buy one new, the Shure 104c, to interface with legacy equipment.
Emile Berliner with his Gramophone
But Berliner is probably best known as the inventor of the Gramophone. Edison's recordings were done on a cylinder. Berliner put his on a disc. The disc would become one of the most common devices in the twentieth century to store data, such as the record, the CD, the DVD, and the hard drive. But Berliner wasn't done with audio inventions yet. He also created the acoustic tile that recording studios, radio and TV stations, and performance halls rely on today.
Emile Berliner would also invent a new type of loom, floor covering, and an early helicopter utilizing a lightweight rotary engine. Whew!
Like other inventors of his magnitude, he was wrapped up in legal battles for many years. The Berliner Gramophone Company was forced to operate out of Canada while his former collaborator started the Victor Talking Machine Company using everything he learned from Berliner. His carbon microphone patent was trumped by Bell in court on a technicality. He was a philanthropist and advocate of public health and sanitation issues, especially when it came to children. He was also deeply involved with Zionism, writing several articles for newspapers and journals.
Berliner made many contributions to recording, especially the microphone. His improvement leapfrogged any existing technology and allowed telephone service to be quickly extended long distances because of the greatly increased output. This high-output microphone would also allow early radio experimenters to transmit the voice further. Thank you Mr. Berliner.