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Elmer Ambrose Sperry

Elmer Ambrose Sperry

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Elmer Ambrose Sperry was a prolific inventor and entrepreneur
An entrepreneur is an owner or manager of a business enterprise who makes money through risk and initiative.The term was originally a loanword from French and was first defined by the Irish-French economist Richard Cantillon. Entrepreneur in English is a term applied to a person who is willing to...

, most famous as co-inventor, with Herman Anschütz-Kaempfe of the gyrocompass
A gyrocompass­ is a type of non-magnetic compass which bases on a fast-spinning disc and rotation of our planet to automatically find geographical direction...


Sperry was born at Cincinnatus, New York
Cincinnatus, New York
Cincinnatus is a town in Cortland County, New York, U.S. The population was 1,051 at the 2000 census. The town is named after an important Roman general, Cincinnatus....

, United States of America
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. He spent three years at the state normal school
Normal school
A normal school is a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers. Its purpose is to establish teaching standards or norms, hence its name...

 in Cortland, New York
Cortland, New York
Cortland is a city in Cortland County, New York, USA. As of the 2000 census, the city had a population of 18,740. It is the county seat of Cortland County.The City of Cortland, near the west border of the county, is surrounded by the Town of Cortlandville....

, then a year at Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

 in 1878 and 1879, where he became interested in dynamo electricity. He moved to Chicago, Illinois, early in 1880 and, soon after founded the Sperry Electric Company. In 1900 Sperry established an electrochemical laboratory at Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, where he and his associate, Clifton P. Townshend, developed a process for making pure caustic soda from salt and discovered a process for recovering tin from scrap metal. Sperry experimented with diesel engines and gyroscopic compasses
A gyrocompass­ is a type of non-magnetic compass which bases on a fast-spinning disc and rotation of our planet to automatically find geographical direction...

 and stabilizers for ships and aircraft. In 1910 he started the Sperry Gyroscope Company in Brooklyn, New York; his first compass was tested that same year in . His compasses and stabilizers were adopted by the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 and used in both world wars. In 1918 he produced a high-intensity arc lamp
Arc lamp
"Arc lamp" or "arc light" is the general term for a class of lamps that produce light by an electric arc . The lamp consists of two electrodes, first made from carbon but typically made today of tungsten, which are separated by a gas...

 which was used as a searchlight
A searchlight is an apparatus that combines a bright light source with some form of curved reflector or other optics to project a powerful beam of light of approximately parallel rays in a particular direction, usually constructed so that it can be swiveled about.-Military use:The Royal Navy used...

 by both the Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 and Navy. After setting up eight companies and taking out over 400 patents, Sperry died in Brooklyn on 16 June 1930.
His companies included:
  • Sperry Electric Mining Machine Company, (1888);
  • Sperry Electric Railway Company, (1894);
  • Chicago Fuse Wire Company, (1900); and
  • Sperry Rail Service
    Sperry Rail Service
    Sperry Rail Service is a company contracted by most of the major railroads in North America to inspect rail.The rail flaw detector car was invented by Dr. Elmer A. Sperry...

     (1911)a railroad defect detection company.
  • Sperry Gyroscope Company (1910), founded to manufacture Sperry's development of the gyrocompass
    A gyrocompass­ is a type of non-magnetic compass which bases on a fast-spinning disc and rotation of our planet to automatically find geographical direction...

    , originally invented by Herman Anschütz-Kaempfe in 1908. Sperry's first model was installed on the battleship USS Delaware
    USS Delaware (BB-28)
    USS Delaware of the United States Navy was a battleship launched in 1909 and scrapped in 1924, the lead ship of the Delaware class. She was part of the U.S...

     in 1911.

The companies eventually evolved into the Sperry Corporation
Sperry Corporation
Sperry Corporation was a major American equipment and electronics company whose existence spanned more than seven decades of the twentieth century...


Sperry was also a founding member of the US Naval Consulting Board
Naval Consulting Board
The Naval Consulting Board, also known as the Naval Advisory Board , was a US Navy organization established in 1915 by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. Daniels created the Board during World War I, but two years before the U.S...

, 1915.

In 1916
1916 in aviation
This is a list of aviation-related events from 1916:- Events :* Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft simulate night torpedo attacks for the first time against Japanese fleet units in Tateyama Bay during annual fleet maneuvers, although no torpedoes are dropped....

, Sperry joined Peter Hewitt
Peter Cooper Hewitt
Peter Cooper Hewitt was an American electrical engineer and inventor, who invented the first mercury-vapor lamp in 1901. Hewitt was issued U.S. patent #682692 on September 17, 1901. In 1903, Hewitt created an improved version that possessed higher colour qualities which eventually found widespread...

 to develop the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane
Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane
The Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane was a project undertaken during World War I to develop an aerial torpedo, also called a flying bomb or pilotless aircraft, capable of carrying explosives to its target...

, one of the first successful precursors of the UAV
History of unmanned aerial vehicles
Unmanned aerial vehicles, known variously as UAVs, drones, and remotely piloted vehicles , have been a feature of aviation for much of its history, though often overlooked. For the purposes of this article, and to distinguish UAVs from missiles, a UAV is defined as being capable of controlled,...


was named for him, as was the annual Elmer A. Sperry Award
Elmer A. Sperry Award
The Elmer A. Sperry Award is an American transportation engineering prize.It has been given since 1955 for "a distinguished engineering contribution which, through application, proved in actual service, has advanced the art of transportation whether by land, sea, or air"...

 for Advancing the Art of Transportation.

The Sperry Center building on the SUNY Cortland campus in Cortland, NY is named after him.

He was awarded the Franklin Institute
Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute is a museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and one of the oldest centers of science education and development in the United States, dating to 1824. The Institute also houses the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.-History:On February 5, 1824, Samuel Vaughn Merrick and...

's Elliott Cresson Medal
Elliott Cresson Medal
The Elliott Cresson Medal, also known as the Elliott Cresson Gold Medal, was the highest award given by the Franklin Institute. The award was established by Elliott Cresson, life member of the Franklin Institute, with $1,000 granted in 1848...

 in 1929.

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