Today on Day’s to Remember, we celebrate how on March 4th 1877 Emile Berliner invented the microphone.
Alexander Graham Bell had already invented his telephone, but without Emile Berliner’s carbon-disk or carbon-button microphone, telephones would have sounded terrible for decades.
Emile Berliner’s patent application improved on the existing design by adding a layer of carbon particles in between two contacts, one of which acted as a diaphragm for catching sound waves. Movements of the diaphragm created varying pressure on the carbon particles, allowing more or less electricity to pass between the contacts.
This process converted sound waves into electricity more accurately than any other microphone could at the time. It became commonplace in telephones, and even radio, until the appearance of the condenser microphone in the mid-1920s.
Bell paid $50,000 for Emile Berliner’s microphone patent (about $1.1 million in today’s money) and began manufacturing telephones using the technology in 1878.
Nonetheless, Emile Berliner reputedly went to his grave in 1929 convinced that Edison had stolen his idea. Before that, he did receive ample credit for another crucial invention: the lateral-cut disc record, whose design is still prized by hipsters and purists alike.
Berliner’s records were used in toys from 1888 until 1894, when his company began selling records using a logo of a dog cocking its ear towards a record player. Modified versions of the “His Master’s Voice” logo have been used by record companies around the world, including RCA in the United States.
The saga of the carbon-button microphone comes as a reminder that while history feels the need to assign great ideas to individual people, their origins are often murky and collaborative in nature, and owe no small part to people ripping each other off.
As we celebrate on March 4th 1877 Emile Berliner invented the microphone.
Written & Designed by JD Mitchell