Elmer Ambrose Sperry, Sr. (October 12, 1860 – June 16, 1930) was an American inventor and entrepreneur, most famous as co-inventor, with Herman Anschütz-Kaempfe of the gyrocompass and as founder of the Sperry Gyroscope Company.[3] His compasses and stabilizers were adopted by the United States Navy and used in both world wars. He also worked closely with Japanese companies and the Japanese government and was honored after his death with a biography in his honor.[4]


Sperry was born at Cincinnatus, New York on October 12, 1860 to Stephen Decatur Sperry and Mary Burst. He was of English ancestry. His family had been in what is now the Northeastern United States since the 1600s, and his earliest American ancestor was an English colonist named Richard Sperry.[3] His mother died the next day, from complications from his birth.

He spent three years at the state normal school in Cortland, New York, then a year at Cornell University in 1878 and 1879, where he became interested in dynamos. He moved to Chicago, Illinois, early in 1880 and soon after founded the Sperry Electric Company.[3] He married Zula Augusta Goodman (?-1929) in Chicago, Illinois on June 28, 1887.

He drove the first American-made car in Paris in 1896.[5]

In 1900 Sperry established an electrochemical laboratory at Washington, D.C., where he and his associate, Clifton P. Townshend, developed a process for making pure caustic soda and discovered a process for recovering tin from scrap metal. Sperry experimented with diesel engines and gyroscopic compasses and gyroscopic stabilizers for ships and aircraft. Perry's work eventually resulted in a gyroscope that could replace the magnetic compass. In 1910 he founded the Sperry Gyroscope Company in Brooklyn, New York on the basis of this innovation. His first navigational gyroscope was tested that same year in USS Delaware (BB-28). During both world wars, Sperry's company profited from military demand for gyroscopes. His technology was used in torpedoes, ships, airplanes, and spacecraft. Sperry moved into related devices such as bombsights, fire control, radar, and automated take off and landing.[6]

In 1914 he won a prize from the Aero Club of France for his airplane stabilizer. He also was awarded a Franklin Institute Medal in the same year.[3] In 1918 he produced a high-intensity arc lamp which was used as a searchlight by both the Army and Navy after setting up eight companies and taking out over 400 patents.

In 1923, his son, Lawrence Burst Sperry (1892-1923), died in the English Channel in the crash of an airplane of his own design. In January 1929 he sold his Sperry Gyroscope Company to North American Aviation. The following year his wife died on March 31, in Havana, Cuba.[3]

He died at St. John's Hospital in Brooklyn, New York on June 16, 1930 from complications following the removal of gallstones six weeks earlier. He was 69 years old.[3]


He was a member of the following groups:[3]


He was given the following awards:[3]


The companies eventually evolved into Sperry Marine [1]



  1. ^ "Edward G. Sperry, An Industrialist. Executive of Products Firm He Founded With Father, the Gyroscope Inventor, Dies. Designed Ship Stabilizers. Held Several Directorships". New York Times. November 8, 1945. Retrieved 2012-12-21. Edward Goodman Sperry, vice president, treasurer and a director of Sperry Products, Inc., Hoboken, ... 
  2. ^ Associated Press (December 24, 1968). "Elmer Sperry Jr., Inventor, Was 74. Son of the Founder of Gyroscope Company Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-21. Elmer Ambrose Sperry, Jr., a pioneer in gyroscope development and son of the founder of the Sperry Gyroscope Company, died here Saturday at the age ... He was born May 9, 1894, in Cleveland, a son of Elmer Sperry, Sr. and Zula ... 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Elmer Sperry Dies. Famous Inventor". New York Times. June 17, 1930. Retrieved 2012-12-21. Elmer A. Sperry, inventor, died yesterday morning at St. John's Hospital, Brooklyn, from complications which set in after he had recovered from an operation for gallstones six weeks ago. He was in his seventieth year. 
  4. ^ Durgin, Russell and Kawaguchi, Zenichi, "Dr. Sperry As We Knew Him," (1931, Nichi-Bei Press). This volume of reminiscences by the Japanese engineers and diplomats who knew him was published in a bilingual text.
  5. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1012.html
  6. ^ https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/sperry_hi.html. PBS.  Missing or empty title= (help); External link in website= (help);
  7. ^ http://www.nasonline.org/member-directory/deceased-members/20001696.html

Further reading

  • Thomas P. Hughes, Elmer Sperry: Inventor and Engineer (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971).
  • Fahrney, Delmer S. (RAdm ret): History of Radio-Controlled Aircraft and Guided Missiles
  • This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

External links