Who Invented the Microphone?

A microphone is an instrument that converts sound waves into electric signals. These signals are then changed back into sound waves in speakers. Microphones are universally employed in media and telecommunications to increase the volume of sound. The word microphone was coined by Sir Charles Wheatstone. But he did not invent it.

Biography of the Microphone Inventor

The inventor of the microphone was Emile Berliner. He was born in 1851 in Hanover, Germany. At the age of 19 he moved to Washington D.C. where he studied physics. Berliner became fascinated by new developments in audio technology. Specifically the phonograph and telephone. He invented the first microphone for use with the latter. Bell Company bought the patent from him and hired him as well in Boston, Massachusetts. He lived there from 1877 to 1883 when he returned to D.C.

Berliner patented the gramophone or phonograph in 1887. It was 6 years after he became an American citizen. His other inventions included a loom and an early prototype of the helicopter.

The First Microphone Invented

Berliner invented the microphone after seeing the new telephone at work for the first time. Berliner attended the US Centennial Exposition to witness a demonstration of the telephone. He liked it like all the other inventors did. But Berliner noticed the sound quality wasn’t very good. He wondered how he could make it better.


In 1876 at the age of 25, Berliner invented the first microphone, which was an improved voice transmitter for the telephone. The microphone amplified the normal human voice through speakers. The owner of the first telephones, Bell Company, was pleased with the invention. Berliner sold the patent to them for a handsome $50,000. His creation became very popular.

Other Developments of the Microphone

Other inventors sought to improve the existing microphone. In 1878 for example, David E. Hughes created the carbon microphone. It is still the model for many carbon “mikes” used in the present times.

The microphone found new use when the radio was invented. In 1942 the first ribbon microphones appeared.

In 1964 two researchers at the Bell Laboratories, Gerhard Sessler and James West, invented the electret microphone. It was also called an electro acoustic transducer. This microphone was cheaper, more accurate, more reliable and more compact than previous models. It came into wide use in the media and telecommunications industries with a billion mikes made annually. Today the microphone is an essential component in all sound recordings and transmissions.