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Elisha Gray - The Race to Patent the Telephone

Elisha Gray also invented a version of the telephone.


Elisha Gray

Elisha Gray

Elisha Gray was an American inventor who contested the invention of the telephone with Alexander Graham Bell. Elisha Gray invented a version of the telephone in his laboratory in Highland Park, Illinois.

Background - Elisha Gray 1835-1901

Elisha Gray was a Quaker from rural Ohio who grew up on a farm. He studied electricity at Oberlin College. In 1867, Gray received his first patent for an improved telegraph relay. During his lifetime, Elisha Gray was granted over seventy patents for his inventions, including many important innovations in electricity. In 1872, Gray founded the Western Electric Manufacturing Company, the great-grandparent of todays Lucent Technologies.

Patent Wars - Elisha Gray Vs Alexander Graham Bell

On February 14, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell's telephone patent application entitled "Improvement in Telegraphy" was filed at the USPTO by Bell's attorney Marcellus Bailey; Elisha Gray's attorney filed a caveat for a telephone just a few hours later entitled "Transmitting Vocal Sounds Telegraphically".

Alexander Graham Bell was the fifth entry of that day, while Elisha Gray was 39th. Therefore, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Bell with the first patent for a telephone, US Patent 174,465 rather than honor Gray's caveat. On September 12, 1878, lengthy patent litigation involving the Bell Telephone Company against Western Union Telegraph Company and Elisha Gray began.

What is a Patent Caveat?

A patent caveat was a type of preliminary application for a patent that gave an inventor an additional ninety days grace to file a regular patent application. The caveat would prevent anyone else that filed an application on the same or similar invention from having their application processed for ninety days, while the caveat holder was given an opportunity to file a full patent application first. Caveats are no longer issued.

Extract from Elisha Gray's Patent Caveat Filed on February 14, 1876

To all whom it may concern: Be it known that I, Elisha Gray, of Chicago, in the County of Cook, and State of Illinois, have invented a new art of transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically, of which the following is a specification: It is the object of my invention to transmit the tones of the human voice through a telegraphic circuit, and reproduce them at the receiving end of the line, so that actual conversations can be carried on by persons at long distances apart.

See - Full Text of Elisha Gray's Patent Caveat

See - Elisha Gray - Patents

Elisha Gray 1835 - 1901

Elisha Gray invented a number of telegraphic devices and in 1869 was one of two partners who founded what became Western Electric Company.

Elisha Gray and Miracles

Everyone has a champion with a less successful telephone before Bell: the German Reis, the French Bourseul, the Italian Meucci, and many more. One was the American Elisha Gray.

Elisha Gray

On the basis of its earlier filing time -- a mere few hours -- and on the subtle distinctions between a caveat and an actual patent application, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Alexander Bell, not Elisha Gray, the patent for the telephone.

Elisha Gray and "The Musical Telegraph" (1876)

Gray accidentally discovered that he could control sound from a self vibrating electromagnetic circuit and in doing so invented a basic single note oscillator.

Elisha Gray

In 1867 Elisha Gray received his first patent for an improved telegraph relay.
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