Illustration by Art Seiden

Florida Atlantic University Libraries

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

from Colonial Times to 1900:





Emile Berliner: His Legacy Of Innovation And Invention

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Emile Berliner's introduction of the flat disk to replace the cylinder in Thomas Edison's phonograph was the basis for the modem gramophone in 1887. The Victor Talking Machine Co. acquired his patent and began to mass produce this new form of entertainment. Berliner was born in Wolfenbuttel, Germany, in 1851. He immigrated to the United States in 1870, and worked as a salesman in New York and then in Washington D.C. He became interested in electricity and, in 1876, began experimenting with Bell's newly invented telephone. He invented the loose-contact telephone transmitter and the use of an induction coil. This invention made it practical, for the first time, to use the telephone for long distance calls.

The Bell Telephone Company bought his invention and appointed him chief electrical instruments inspector of the company. He was with the company for a number of years and continued his experiments with electricity.

Berliner became interested in aviation and engaged in many experiments, which led to his introduction of the use of a revolving light engine. He focused his attention on the helicopter. Between 1919 and 1926, he built three helicopters, which he tested in flight.

Berliner was also involved in the fields of hygiene and health. In 1890, he organized and founded the Society for the Prevention of Sickness. He also organized, in 1907, the first milk conference in Washington, D.C., for the pasteurization of milk and the improvement of its quality. He was very active in the fight against the spread of tuberculosis, and he wrote many articles on hygiene and preventive medicine.

In 1899, Berliner wrote a book, Conclusions, that speaks of his agnostic ideas on religion and philosophy. At the end of his life, he supported the rebuilding of Palestine and was very active on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He died in 1929.

His son, Henry Adler Berliner, was an engineer who worked with his father on the pioneering experiments with the helicopter. He was president of Berliner Aircraft, Inc., in Washington, D.C., from 1930 to 1954. In World War II, Henry was chief of war plans for the Eighth Air Force and lost an arm in combat.

Emile Berliner, through his innovations and inventions, left a legacy to America, which his son continued with distinction and honor.


This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.


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Last updated 12 May 2011