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Elisha Gray

1835-1901

 

Gray or Bell?

Elisha Gray was an educator and inventor in nineteenth-century America.

Gray was born in Barnesville, Ohio, on August 2, 1835. He worked as an apprentice to a blacksmith before attending Oberlin College. Gray was always interested in the way in which mechanical objects functioned and began to make a name for himself as an inventor. He invented a musical telegraph, which is sometimes credited with being the first electronic musical instrument. About the same time that Alexander Graham Bell was developing the telephone, Gray was working on a similar project. The two men filed similar patents in 1876. After a long court battle, Bell was given the credit for the invention of the telephone. Gray continued to patent inventions for the remainder of his life, most of which were associated with the telegraph.

Gray founded the Western Electric Manufacturing Company in 1872. In 1888 and 1891, Gray patented a machine that he called the telautograph. The telautograph had the ability to transmit facsimiles of handwriting or drawings. This invention was a significant contribution to the data transmission technology of the twentieth century. Gray obtained patents for approximately seventy inventions during his lifetime and he taught at Oberlin College for a number of years. Gray died in Newtonville, Massachusetts, on January 21, 1901.