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Who Invented the Microphone?

written by: Kristina Dems•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 4/17/2011

Who invented the microphone? It was Emile Berliner who invented the device. He did it to improve the voice quality in telephones. The term “microphone", however, existed years before the device was invented.

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    The microphone is a truly wonderful device that has a large number of applications. It has become an integral tool in different fields that range from science to entertainment. Exactly who invented the microphone and gave the world a new and better way of communicating and expressing one’s self?

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    Emile Berliner

    Emile Berliner Although the word “microphone" was coined in 1827 by Sir Charles Wheatstone, but the actual invention did not come until 1976 and it came at the hands of Emile Berliner. Born in Hanover, Germany on May 20, 1851. Berliner spent his early life studying the printing trade. When he immigrated to the United States when he was 19 years of age, he took a fascination with science and audio technology. He took up Physics at the Cooper Institute and he helped out in chemical laboratories to satisfy his scientific curiosity. He took particular interest improving Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone invention, so he studied and experimented on ways to record, reproduce and repeat sounds. This led him to a breakthrough after observing that more current passes through the device when the key is pressed harder.

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    The Invention of the Microphone

    The microphone was not invented to be a stand-alone device. It was actually invented by Emile Berliner in 1876 to improve the voice quality in telephones. The voice quality in telephones back then was not very pleasing, and that was what inspired Berliner to look for a way to improve it. After much experimentation, he came up with an improved voice transmitter for telephones called the microphone. It produced better and louder recordings of human voices. The amplification of human voices through speakers was a very pleasing invention, especially for the Bell Company, who bought the patent for the invention from Berliner for $50,000.

    Now a wealthy man, Berliner was set for a life of wealth and pleasure thanks to his little voice transmitter invention. However, that was not to be the case because two weeks after he filed for the patent for the device, Thomas Edison also did the same. This brought on a 15-year war in court between the two inventors.

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    After the Microphone

    The microphone was not Emile Berliner’s last foray into audio technology inventions. A decade or so after he invented the microphone, he came up with a device that played flat records called the gramophone. Other inventors made improvements on this device, as wells as the way the records are produced and copied. This device and the discs that accompany it became popular and eventually became the industry standard for musicians. As more and more musicians made records, more and more people bought them, effectively giving birth to the modern music industry.

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    The question of who invented the microphone is a no-contest for people who are still confused with who came up with the term and who actually invented the device. Emile Berliner continued coming up and patenting ideas related to audio technology and beyond. He even patented an airplane engine an early prototype for the helicopter. Strangely, his last few years were spent promoting the compulsory pasteurization of milk for the benefit of infant health and nutrition.

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    Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons