Communication pioneer Elisha Gray is born, August 2, 1835

-August 02, 2016

On this day in tech history, Elisha Gray, an electrical engineer known for his telephone patent battle with Alexander Graham Bell and his other telegraph inventions, was born in Ohio.

Gray attended Oberlin College where he became interested in electricity. He patented a self-adjusting telegraph relay and co-founded Gray & Barton Co, to supply telegraph equipment to Western Union. It was eventually changed to Western Electric Manufacturing Company of Chicago when Western Union bought one-third of the company, and Gray retired to focus on his inventions.

On February 14, 1876 his lawyer filed a detailed caveat (an announcement of a patent application that wasn't ready to be examined yet) for transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically. On the same day Bell applied for his patent for "improvement in telegraphy" which was granted on March 7.

Gray's caveat described a water transmitter which Bell tested and used to first transmit clear speech just three days later, but Bell used an electromagnetic telephone for demonstrations and commercial use.

In 1875 Gray received a patent for an "electric telegraph for transmitting musical tones." It was one of the earliest electric musical instruments using self-vibrating electromagnetic circuits that were single-note oscillators operated by a two-octave piano keyboard, and steel reeds whose oscillations were created by electromagnets and transmitted over a telegraph wire.

He would receive nearly 70 patents, including one for the telautograph. In 1888, he started the Gray National Telautograph Company to produce the machines, which would allow "one to transmit his own handwriting to a distant point over a two-wire circuit." These early analog fax machines were used by banks for long-distance signatures, in hospitals to transmit accurate orders and information, and at train stations for schedule changes.

In an 1888 interview with Manufacturer & Builder Gray said, "By my invention, you can sit down in your office in Chicago, take a pencil in your hand, write a message to me, and as your pencil moves, a pencil here in my laboratory moves simultaneously, and forms the same letters and words in the same way. What you write in Chicago is instantly reproduced here in fac-simile."

Gray displayed the telautograph and served as chairman of the International Congress of Electricians at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, an event known for its role in the war of currents between Tesla and Edison.

Gray's telautograph company remained in business until it became part of Xerox in the 1990s.

At the time of his death in 1901, he was working on an underwater signaling device to transmit messages to ships.

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Also on this day in tech history
On August 2, 1873, San Francisco cable cars began operating, thanks to an idea sparked by horses sliding down a cobblestone hill.

For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on August 2, 2013 and edited on August 2, 2016.

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