BY Stephen Nartey, 12:00pm December 17, 2022,

Almost all microphones used today are based on this Black man’s invention

James West/Photo credit: National Inventors Hall of Fame

In 1962, James West, an African-American inventor and professor, pioneered the electret transducer technology used in 90 percent of contemporary microphones.

He was born on February 10, 1931, in Prince Edward County, Virginia. As a little boy, West was always curious about how gadgets worked. He once indicated that any gadget that was in his sight found itself in danger when he had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. He enjoyed opening these gadgets to wrap his mind around how they worked, as reported by Biography.

West said his interest in the concept of electricity was sparked when he mistakenly destroyed a radio belonging to the family while experimenting with his screwdriver and pliers. He was looking forward to pursuing science at college but his parents were not enthused with that career path because they felt he would not get a job since he was Black. Due to the Jim Crow laws in the South, his parents told him that becoming a physician would be better.

Still insistent on his dreams, West applied to Temple University in 1953 to study physics. While schooling he also interned at the Acoustics Research Department at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey during summer holidays. He was hired as an acoustical scientist by Bell when he completed Temple University in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in physics.

He invented the foil electret microphone with his colleague, Gerhard M. Sessler. The inexpensive invention can be found in 90 percent of all contemporary microphones today. His electret microphone was in mass production by 1968.

The invention by West and Sessler became the reference point for the production of microphones and other gadgets such as tape recorders, baby monitors, hearing aids, telephones and camcorders. West is also known for his prolific writing and has more than 250 patents. He later became a professor at John Hopkins University.

In 1997, he was appointed the president-elect for the Acoustical Society of America and became a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1998. In 1999, West and Sessler were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

He was actively involved in voluntary projects that sought to encourage women and African-American students to explore opportunities and careers in the area of science and technology.

Last Edited by:seo zimamedia Updated: December 19, 2022


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