Elisha Gray (August 2, 1835 – January 21, 1901) was an American
electrical engineer who co-founded the
Western Electric Manufacturing
Company. Gray is best known for his development of a telephone
prototype in 1876 in Highland Park, Illinois. Some recent authors have
argued that Gray should be considered the true inventor of the
Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell allegedly stole the idea of
the liquid transmitter from him, although Bell had been using
liquid transmitters in his telephone experiments for more than two
years previously. Bell's telephone patent was upheld in numerous court
Gray is also considered to be the father of the modern music
synthesizer, and was granted over 70 patents for his inventions.
He was one of the founders of Graybar, purchasing a controlling
interest in the company shortly after its inception.
1 Biography and early inventions
3 Gray's further inventions
4 Gray's publications
5 See also
7 External links
7.1 Gray's patents
Biography and early inventions
Born into a
Quaker family in Barnesville, Ohio, Gray was brought up on
a farm. He spent several years at
Oberlin College where he
experimented with electrical devices. Although Gray did not graduate,
he taught electricity and science there and built laboratory equipment
for its science departments.
In 1862 while at Oberlin, Gray met and married Delia Minerva Shepard.
In 1865 Gray invented a self-adjusting telegraph relay that
automatically adapted to varying insulation of the telegraph line. In
1867 Gray received a patent for the invention, the first of more than
Elisha Gray and his partner Enos M. Barton founded Gray &
Barton Co. in Cleveland,
Ohio to supply telegraph equipment to the
Telegraph Company. The electrical distribution
business was later spun off and organized into a separate company,
Graybar Electric Company, Inc. Barton was employed by
Western Union to
examine and test new products.
In 1870 financing for Gray & Barton Co. was arranged by General
Anson Stager, a superintendent of the
Stager became an active partner in Gray & Barton Co. and remained
on the board of directors. The company moved to Chicago near Highland
Park. Gray later gave up his administrative position as chief engineer
to focus on inventions that could benefit the telegraph industry.
Gray's inventions and patent costs were financed by a dentist, Dr.
Samuel S. White of Philadelphia, who had made a fortune producing
porcelain teeth. White wanted Gray to focus on the acoustic telegraph
which promised huge profits instead of what appeared to be unpromising
competing inventions such as the telephone, White made the decision in
1876 to redirect Gray's interest in the telephone.
In 1870, Gray developed a needle annunciator for hotels and another
for elevators. He also developed a microphone printer which had a
typewriter keyboard and printed messages on paper tape.
In 1872 Western Union, then financed by the Vanderbilts and J. P.
Morgan, bought one-third of Gray and Barton Co. and changed the name
Western Electric Manufacturing Company of Chicago. Gray continued
to invent for Western Electric.
In 1874, Gray retired to do independent research and development. Gray
applied for a patent on a harmonic telegraph which consisted of
multi-tone transmitters, that controlled each tone with a separate
telegraph key. Gray gave several private demonstrations of this
invention in New York and Washington, D.C. in May and June 1874.
Gray was a charter member of the Presbyterian Church in Highland Park,
Illinois. At the church, on December 29, 1874, Gray gave the first
public demonstration of his invention for transmitting musical tones
and transmitted "familiar melodies through telegraph wire" according
to a newspaper announcement. This was one of the earliest electric
musical instruments using vibrating electromagnetic circuits that were
single-note oscillators operated by a two-octave piano keyboard. The
"Musical Telegraph" used steel reeds whose oscillations were created
by electromagnets and transmitted over a telegraph wire. Gray also
built a simple loudspeaker in later models consisting of a vibrating
diaphragm in a magnetic field to make the oscillator tones audible and
louder at the receiving end. In 1900 Gray worked on an underwater
signaling device. After his death in 1901 officials gave the invention
to Oberlin College. A few years later he was recognized as the
inventor of the underwater signaling device.
On July 27, 1875, Gray was granted U.S. Patent 166,095 for "Electric
Telegraph for Transmitting Musical Tones" (acoustic telegraphy).
Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell telephone
Because of Samuel White's opposition to Gray working on the
telephone, Gray did not tell anybody about his invention for
transmitting voice sounds until February 11, 1876 (Friday). Gray
requested that his patent lawyer William D. Baldwin prepare a "caveat"
for filing at the US Patent Office. A caveat was like a provisional
patent application with drawings and description but without a request
Excerpts from Elisha Gray's patent caveat of February 14 and Alexander
Graham Bell's lab notebook entry of March 9, demonstrating their
On Monday morning February 14, 1876, Gray signed and had notarized the
caveat that described a telephone that used a liquid transmitter.
Baldwin then submitted the caveat to the US Patent Office. That same
morning a lawyer for
Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell submitted Bell's patent
application. Which application arrived first is hotly disputed,
although Gray believed that his caveat arrived a few hours before
Bell's application. Bell's lawyers in Washington, DC, had been
waiting with Bell's patent application for months, under instructions
not to file it in the USA until it had been filed in Britain first.
(At the time, Britain would only issue patents on discoveries not
previously patented elsewhere.)
According to Evenson, during the weekend of February 12–14, 1876,
before either caveat or application had been filed in the patent
office, Bell's lawyer learned about the liquid transmitter idea in
Gray's caveat that would be filed early Monday morning February 14.
Bell's lawyer then added seven sentences describing the liquid
transmitter and a variable resistance claim to Bell's draft
application. After the lawyer's clerk recopied the draft as a finished
patent application, Bell's lawyer hand-delivered the finished
application to the patent office just before noon Monday, a few hours
after Gray's caveat was delivered by Gray's lawyer. Bell's lawyer
requested that Bell's application be immediately recorded and
hand-delivered to the examiner on Monday so that later Bell could
claim it had arrived first. Bell was in Boston at this time and was
not aware that his application had been filed.
Five days later, on February 19, Zenas Fisk Wilber, the patent
examiner for both Bell's application and Gray's caveat, noticed that
Bell's application claimed the same variable resistance feature
described in Gray's caveat. Wilber suspended Bell's application for 90
days to give Gray time to submit a competing patent application. The
suspension also gave Bell time to amend his claims to avoid an
interference with an earlier patent application of Gray's that
mentioned changing the intensity of the electric current without
breaking the circuit, which seemed to the examiner to be an
"undulatory current" that Bell was claiming. Such an interference
would delay Bell's application until Bell submitted proof, under the
first to invent rules, that Bell had invented that feature before
Bell's lawyer telegraphed Bell, who was still in Boston, to come to
Washington, DC. When Bell arrived on February 26, Bell visited his
lawyers and then visited examiner Wilber who told Bell that Gray's
caveat showed a liquid transmitter and asked Bell for proof that the
liquid transmitter idea (described in Bell's patent application as
using mercury as the liquid) was invented by Bell. Bell pointed to an
application of Bell's filed a year earlier where mercury was used in a
circuit breaker. The examiner accepted this argument, although mercury
would not have worked in a telephone transmitter. On February 29,
Bell's lawyer submitted an amendment to Bell's claims that
distinguished them from Gray's caveat and Gray's earlier
application. On March 3, Wilber approved Bell's application and
on March 7, 1876, U.S. Patent 174,465 was published by the U.S. Patent
Bell returned to Boston and resumed work on March 9, drawing a diagram
in his lab notebook of a water transmitter being used face down, very
similar to that shown in Gray's caveat. Bell and Watson built and
tested a liquid transmitter design on March 10 and successfully
transmitted clear speech saying "Mr. Watson – come here – I want
to see you." Bell's notebooks became public when they were donated to
the Library of Congress in 1976.
Although Bell has been accused of stealing the telephone from Gray
because his liquid transmitter design resembled Gray's, documents in
the Library of Congress indicate that Bell had been using liquid
transmitters extensively for three years in his multiple telegraph and
other experiments. In April, 1875, ten months before the alleged theft
of Gray's design, the U.S. Patent Office granted U.S. Patent 161,739
to Bell for a primitive fax machine, which he called the "autograph
telegraph." The patent drawing includes liquid transmitters.
After March 1876, Bell and Watson focused on improving the
electromagnetic telephone and never used Gray's liquid transmitter in
public demonstrations or commercial use. When Bell demonstrated
his telephone at the Centennial Exhibition in June 1876, he used his
improved electromagnetic transmitter, not Gray's water transmitter.
Although Gray had abandoned his caveat, Gray applied for a patent for
the same invention in late 1877. This put him in a second interference
with Bell's patents. The Patent Office determined, "while Gray was
undoubtedly the first to conceive of and disclose the [variable
resistance] invention, as in his caveat of February 14, 1876, his
failure to take any action amounting to completion until others had
demonstrated the utility of the invention deprives him of the right to
have it considered." Gray challenged Bell's patent anyway, and
after two years of litigation, Bell was awarded rights to the
invention, and as a result, Bell is credited as the inventor.
In 1886, Wilber stated in an affidavit that he was an alcoholic
and deeply in debt to Bell's lawyer
Marcellus Bailey with whom Wilber
had served in the Civil War. Wilber stated that, contrary to Patent
Office rules, he showed Bailey the caveat Gray had filed. He also
stated that he showed the caveat to Bell and Bell gave him $100. Bell
testified that they only discussed the patent in general terms,
although in a letter to Gray, Bell admitted that he learned some of
the technical details. Wilbur's affidavit contradicted his earlier
testimony, and historians have pointed out that his last affidavit was
drafted for him by the attorneys for the Pan-Electric Company which
was attempting to steal the Bell patents and was later discovered to
have bribed the U.S. Attorney General
Augustus Garland and several
Bell's patent was disputed in 1888 by attorney Lysander Hill who
accused Wilber of allowing Bell or his lawyer Pollok to add a
handwritten margin note of seven sentences to Bell's application that
describe an alternate design similar to Gray's liquid microphone
design. However, the marginal note was added only to Bell's
earlier draft, not to his patent application that shows the seven
sentences already present in a paragraph. Bell testified that he added
those seven sentences in the margin of an earlier draft of his
application "almost at the last moment before sending it off to
Washington" to his lawyers. Bell or his lawyer could not have added
the seven sentences to the application after it was filed in the
Patent Office, because then the application would not have been
Gray's further inventions
In 1887 Gray invented the telautograph, a device that could remotely
transmit handwriting through telegraph systems. Gray was granted
several patents for these pioneer fax machines, and the Gray National
Telautograph Company was chartered in 1888 and continued in business
Telautograph Corporation for many years; after a series of
mergers it was finally absorbed by
Xerox in the 1990s. Gray's
telautograph machines were used by banks for signing documents at a
distance and by the military for sending written commands during gun
tests when the deafening noise from the guns made spoken orders on the
telephone impractical. The machines were also used at train stations
for schedule changes.
Gray displayed his telautograph invention in 1893 at the 1893
Columbian Exposition and sold his share in the telautograph shortly
after that. Gray was also chairman of the International Congress of
Electricians at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.
Gray conceived of a primitive closed-circuit television system that he
called the "telephote". Pictures would be focused on an array of
selenium cells and signals from the selenium cells would be
transmitted to a distant station on separate wires. At the receiving
end each wire would open or close a shutter to recreate the image.
In 1899 Gray moved to Boston where he continued inventing. One of his
projects was to develop an underwater signaling device to transmit
messages to ships. One such signaling device was tested on December
31, 1900. Three weeks later, on January 21, 1901, Gray died from a
heart attack in Newtonville, Massachusetts.
Some modern authors incorrectly attribute the
Gray code to
Elisha Gray, whereas this code was actually named after Frank Gray,
who, however, did not invent the code either.
Gray wrote several books including:
Experimental Researches in Electro-Harmonic
Telegraphy and Telephony,
1867–1876 (Appleton, 1878)
Telegraphy and Telephony (1878)
Electricity and Magnetism (1900) and
Nature's Miracles (1900) a nontechnical discussion of science and
technology for the general public.
Invention of the telephone
Timeline of the telephone
The Telephone Cases
^ Shulman 2008.
^ "What is a
Synthesizer and how does it work? ". Playpiano.com.
^ "Elisha Gray". Oberlin.edu. Retrieved 2013-09-02.
^ Dr. Samuel S. White of Philadelphia was a wealthy dentist who paid
the legal costs and shared in any profits from Elisha Gray's
^ a b Evenson 2000, pp. 68–69.
^ Shulman 2008, pp. 71.
^ Evenson 2000, pp. 80–81.
^ Evenson 2000, pp. 81–82.
^ Baker 2000, pp. A43–A44.
^ Shulman 2008, pp. 36-37.
Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell family papers". LOC.gov. Library of Congress.
Archived from the original on 2013-02-16.
^ Shulman 2008, p. 211.
^ Evenson 2000, p. 100.
^ Baker 2000, pp. 90–91.
^ Evenson 2000, pp. 167–171.
^ Evenson 2000, pp. 92, 180.
^ Evenson 2000, pp. 73–74.
^ Cattermole, Kenneth W. (1969). Principles of Pulse Code Modulation.
New York, USA: American Elsevier. ISBN 0-444-19747-8.
^ Edwards, Anthony William Fairbank (2004). Cogwheels of the Mind: The
Story of Venn Diagrams. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Johns Hopkins
University Press. pp. 48, 50. ISBN 0-8018-7434-3.
^ Knuth, Donald Ervin (2004-10-15). "Generating all n-tuples". The Art
of Computer Programming, Volume 4A: Enumeration and Backtracking.
Shulman, Seth (2008). The Telephone Gambit. New York, New York: W. W.
Norton. ISBN 0-393-06206-6.
Evenson, A. Edward (2000). The Telephone Patent Conspiracy of 1876:
Elisha Gray - Alexander Bell Controversy. North Carolina:
McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0883-9.
Baker, Burton H. (2000). The Gray Matter: The Forgotten Story of the
Telephone. St. Joseph, Mi.: Telepress. ISBN 0-615-11329-X.
Coe, Lewis (1995). The Telephone and Its Several Inventors. North
Carolina: McFarland Publishers. ISBN 0-7864-0138-9.
Patterson, Boyd Crumrine (January 1969). "The Story of Elisha Gray".
Western Pennsylvania History. 52 (1): 29–41.
Dr. Lloyd W. Taylor, an Oberlin physics department head, began writing
a Gray biography, but the book was never finished because of Taylor's
accidental death in July 1948. Dr Taylor's unfinished manuscript is in
the College Archives at Oberlin College.
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Elisha Gray at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Elisha Gray at
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LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Elisha Gray biography from Oberlin
Gray's telephone caveat filed on February 14, 1876 same day as Bell's
Gray's telephone caveat with drawings, filed on February 14, 1876
Gray's "Musical Telegraph" of 1876
Gray's "Harmonic Multiple Telegraph"
Bell–Gray conflict at the
Wayback Machine (archived October 4, 1999)
over the harmonic telegraph
1911 Britannica article
Grave of Elish Gray in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago
Telegraph Elisha Grey's The Musical
Telegraph on '120
Years of Electronic Music'
Patent images in
U.S. Patent 166,095 Electric
Telegraph for Transmitting Musical Tones,
filed Jan 19, 1875, issued July 27, 1875
U.S. Patent 166,096 Improvement in Electric
Telegraph for Transmitting
Musical Tones, issued July 27, 1875
U.S. Patent 173,460 Automatic Circuit-Breakers for Electro-Harmonic
Telegraphs, filed Jan 8, 1876, issued Feb 15, 1876
U.S. Patent 173,618 Electro-Harmonic Telegraph, filed Jan 27, 1876,
issued Feb 15, 1876
U.S. Patent 175,971 Telephonic
Telegraph Apparatus, filed Jan 8, 1876,
issued April 11, 1876
U.S. Patent 186,340 Electro-Harmonic Telegraph, filed Jan 27, 1876,
issued Jan 16, 1877
U.S. Patent 386,814 Art of Telegraphy, issued July 1888 (writing
telegraph or telautograph)
U.S. Patent 386,815 Telautograph, issued July 1888
U.S. Patent 461,470 Telautograph, issued October 1891
U.S. Patent 461,472 Art of and Apparatus for Telautographic
Communication, issued October 1891 (improved speed and accuracy)
U.S. Patent 491,347 Telautograph, issued February 1893
U.S. Patent 494,562 Telautograph, issued April 1893
Cable protection system
Prepay mobile phone
The Telephone Cases
Timeline of communication technology
Undersea telegraph line
Edwin Howard Armstrong
John Logie Baird
Alexander Graham Bell
Jagadish Chandra Bose
Lee de Forest
Erna Schneider Hoover
Charles K. Kao
Alexander Stepanovich Popov
Johann Philipp Reis
Vladimir K. Zworykin
Free-space optical communication
Network switching (circuit
Public Switched Telephone
World Wide Web