Emil Berliner

Inventor oft the gramophone and record

Future generations will be able to condense within the space of twenty minutes a tone picture of a single lifetime. Five minutes of the child’s prattle, five of the boy’s exultations, five of the man’s reflections, and five of the feeble utterances from the death-bed. Will it not be like holding communion even with immortality?

Emil Berliner before the council of the Franklin Institute, 16 May 1888

Hanover-born Emil Berliner, not yet 20 years old, emigrated to the USA in 1870 to avoid conscription during the Franco-Prussian War. In New York he found work as a casual labourer while also studying physics on the side. In 1877 he received the sum of 50,000 US dollars from the company Bell Labs for a patent which reflected technical improvements to the then new telephone microphone, a sum which allowed him the financial independence to keep pursuing his work as an inventor.

In 1887 he presented the concept for a record system under the term “gramophone” – somewhat later than his American colleague Thomas Edison, who at the time however was unable to come up with a functioning completed model and whose records were not meant for mass production. In the ensuing years Berliner established a number of production companies in various locations and constantly developed the technology for the gramophone – using shellac among other pressing materials. He died in 1929 in Washington, DC.