Sperry, Elmer

Sperry, Elmer (Ambrose)

(1860–1930) engineer, inventor; born in Cortland, N.Y. A lumber merchant's son, he attended the State Normal School at Cortland and Cornell before founding the Sperry Electric Company (1880), the first of his eight companies, in Chicago. This firm manufactured dynamos and arc lamps. 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 in 1910, soon became standard equipment in the U.S. 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. Altogether, the restless and fertile Sperry held more than 400 patents.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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