Having the pleasure to enjoy an exquisite voice from a musician at a concert, learning from a well spoken leader at a conference in front of thousands of people, or watching a play and witnessing the story unfold first hand are all important events we go to and enjoy. Imagine if we couldn’t enjoy these types of events because there was never the invention of the microphone. Without the microphone, we wouldn’t have witnessed the great shows and events we have been able to enjoy up until today.

We at the Top SEO blog are dedicated to providing you the latest information on SEO and digital marketing, as well as the latest tech news but we also believe that it is important for all of us to know the history and origins of the technology that we all use on a daily basis, so we are starting a new series that we will call “The Modern Inventor”, each week we will write an article about an inventor who in some small way helped to influence the world in which we all live today.  If you have an inventor who you would like us to write about please leave a comment below and we will do our best to write about them in the next article.

 James Edward West

James Edward West – Father of the Modern Microphone via jhu.edu

On February 10, 1931 James Edward West was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia. As a young boy he was fascinated with various electronic devices and was eager to disassemble them to see how they worked. This nearly got him killed when he was only 8 years of age. Thinking he had repaired a broken radio, he plugged it in to an outlet that he could only reach by standing on his bed’s brass foot board. The 120 volts of electricity went through his body paralyzing him in place. His brother happened to be standing close by and knocked him to the floor and stopped the shock. Instead of becoming afraid of electricity after this event, he was intrigued even more.

Educational and Employment Experience

West’s father encouraged James to pursue an education and wanted him to go into the medical profession and become a doctor. His argument was that at that time there were not many blacks hired for science related fields. But despite his father’s warnings he entered Temple University in 1953 after completing high school. He earned his BS in Physics in 1957. During the summer months he worked as an intern at Bell Laboratories for the Acoustics Research Department. After graduation he was hired for a full time position as one of their acoustical scientists and specialized in electro acoutsics, physical and architectural acoustics.

The Road to Invention

West and a German born physicist, Gerhard M. Sessler were teamed up to develop a less expensive, very sensitive and compact microphone in 1960. At that time, most telephones used condenser microphones but manufacturing them was very expensive and they needed a heavy duty battery for a power source. They were very expensive and therefore were not practical for everyday home usage. Sessler and West decided to use an electret which was able to hold a charge in their new microphone. The smaller, less expensive microphone that they invented solved the problems that they wanted to address. It was cheaper and could hold a charge without the need of a power source. It was durable and compact and could be used for many common household needs in the office and home. They finished their final model of this new microphone in 1962 and received their patent on the “electro acoustic transducer” on January 14, 1964. By 1968 the new microphone was used in a wide scale and was soon adopted as the industry standard. About 90 percent of any microphones used today are based on these two men’s invention. Most all types of phones use it as well as tape recorders, baby monitors, hearing aids and camcorders.

Life’s Work

The electric microphone was West’s most noted invention, but he obtained over 100 US and foreign patents during his lifetime. He also contributed to literally hundreds of books and technical papers on physics and acoustics. But he also made significant contributions to increasing the participation of minorities and females in the science field. He was one of the founding members of the Association of Black Labs Employees and has also headed several programs with the association. In 2001 he retired from the company as a Bell Labs Fellow and began to function in the role of a research professor in the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. He also serves presently on the Divisional Diversity Council.

During his long career, James West was the recipient of many honors. In 1999 he was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame. In 1995 he was named the Inventor of the Year by the state ofNew Jerseyand in 1998 he was elected as the President of the Acoustical Society of America as well as to the National Academy of Engineering. In 2000 Mr. West was granted an honorary Doctorate of Science by the New Jersey Institute of Technology. It is obvious that he exceeded his father’s expectations.