Born: 20 May 1851
Died: 03 August 1929
In the 1870s Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone was making a big splash, and Berliner decided to experiment in this field. By 1877 he perfected a new sort of telephone “transmitter”—what is today called a microphone. Unfortunately, Thomas Edison had invented almost the same thing simultaneously, and the two would engage in a lengthy patent battle over it. However, Bell learned of the invention, and in 1878 he hired Berliner to work with him in Boston.
In the 1880s Berliner turned his attention to record players. In 1887, he patented the gramophone system to compete with Edison's phonograph and the other cylinder machines that were beginning to be invented. Berliner chose to use a disc record instead of a cylinder because he intended to sell recordings along with the player. He devised an efficient method for duplicating the discs that would allow them to be mass-produced. Berliner ran his Gramophone Company (with manufacturing facilities located in Camden, New Jersey) for several years, and then merged it with another company owned by Eldridge Johnson to form the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. Victor emerged as a giant in both the manufacturer of gramophones and records. However, by the mid-1920s the company was in sharp decline. In 1926, Johnson arranged for the sale of Victor stock (including that held by Berliner) to a group of bankers, who in turn sold the company in 1929 to RCA. The RCA-Victor record label continues to the present day.
Berliner’s career as an inventor did not stop with the gramophone. In 1908 he developed a radial aircraft engine, followed by a functional helicopter in 1919. In 1925 he invented acoustic tiles for dampening sound.
Berliner also had a rich personal life. In 1881 he married Cora Adler. The Berliners eventually had six children. Berliner was also known as a progressive philanthropist. Special interests included supporting women’s involvement in science and advocating the pasteurization of milk. He died in Washington, D.C., on 3 August 1929.