Emile Berliner: Biography, Facts & Invention

Instructor: Dana Fernandez

Dana has taught pre-kindergarten and first grade. She has a master’s degree in English as a Second Language.

In this lesson, you will gain basic knowledge of Emile Berliner. After learning about his background, some key facts and his inventions, you'll understand how he changed the way people listened to music in the late 1800s and even now.

Emile Berliner: An Overview

'Mic Drop!' How many of you have used this phrase or have heard someone else use this phrase? The microphone has been around for over a century. It has evolved quite a bit since it originally came into being in 1877, but Emile Berliner developed the technology for it that is still around today. The microphone wasn't the only thing Emile Berliner invented. Let's take a deeper look into the life of the man that has made an impact in the technology world.


On May 20, 1851, Emile Berliner was born in Germany. As a teen, he took violin and piano lessons, which would contribute to his music-related inventions. His academic life ended when he was 14, and shortly after, he began working to help support his large family. He moved to the United States at 19 years old with a promise of a job offer to become a clerk for a dry-goods store.

Once in the United States, he continued to work during the day but soon realized that he needed more education to become successful. He began to take classes at the Cooper Institute, but it wasn't until years later when he took a job at the laboratory of Constantine Fahlberg that he found his true calling. Now, you may have never heard of Constantine Fahlberg, but at one point or another you have sampled his greatest invention, saccharin, an artificial sweetener used in many diet and sugar-free products, such as sugar-free chewing gum. Inspired by Fahlberg's work to bring something that people enjoyed into the world, Berliner decided his passion was in the sciences.

Emile Berliner
Emile Berliner

At 25, Berliner become a well-known inventor. He has numerous inventions that affect our daily lives, but we'll explore that in the inventions section. In 1881, Berliner married an American woman named Cora Adler. It wasn't until they moved to Washington, D.C. three years later, that his career really took off when he began to work for himself. Emile and Cora had seven children, two of which followed in their father's footsteps. On August 3, 1929 Emile Berliner passed away at 78 years old but not without making a huge impact in the world.


  • Berliner often had many feuds with fellow inventors because of his knack for taking other inventions and improving upon them. For example, in 1877, Emile Berliner was inspired by Alexander Graham Bell's telephone invention so much that he created his own model with improvements, which led to the invention of the microphone. Bell felt that he was entitled to the rights of the microphone. Berliner received a patent for this invention in 1887.
  • Emile Berliner received many awards for his achievements. Two of the more notable ones are the Technical GRAMMY Award and the Elliott Cresson Award (1913). He received the Technical GRAMMY Award in 2014 for his contributions to the music industry and to the generations of inventors to come. He also received the Elliott Cresson Medal for his achievement in research and design.
  • Berliner had to face something that no parent should ever have to face; an extremely sick child. When his daughter died from a gastrointestinal condition due to improperly contained milk, he did research to help with the quality control of food. His concerns and need to help led to more discussions of pasteurization and milk health standards.


Look down at your phone briefly. How many of you use your phone to play music? Back in the 1800's there were no phones and definitely no phones with speakers to play your music. Before a CD player and even a record player, people used a machine called the gramophone. Earlier I mentioned that Berliner was not favored around other inventors, because he liked to make improvements on other's work. Similarly, to Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison wasn't happy when Berliner took his phonograph to create the gramophone in 1877.

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