Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 23

Elmer (Ambrose) Sperry

cortland arc equipment electric

Engineer and inventor, born in Cortland, New York, USA. A lumber merchant's son, he attended the State Normal School at Cortland and Cornell before founding the Sperry Electric Co (1880) in Chicago, the first of his eight companies. This firm manufactured dynamos and arc lamps, and over the years he invented and produced a wide range of items, including mining machinery, street-car equipment, electric automobiles, an arc searchlight, and an autopilot. He began his most important work, in gyroscope development, in 1896, combining electrical and mechanical elements into devices that stabilized ships and aircraft. His gyrocompass, first installed on the battleship USS Delaware (1910), soon became standard equipment in the US Navy. He also developed an electrolytic process for obtaining pure caustic soda from salt, and a technique for recovering tin from old cans and scrap. In all, he eventually held more than 400 patents.

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