Elmer Sperry photographs1847-1945
Elmer A. Sperry (1860-1930) was an electrical engineer who established the Electric Light, Motor, and Car Brake Company in 1883 and then founded the Sperry Electric Mining Machine Company in 1886. After selling his patents to General Electric, he went to work for the company as a consultant. This collection includes original materials, as well as copy work from other sources and images which show Sperry's inventions; there is some ephemera, family photos, employees, and views of the Sperry Company's Brooklyn drafting rooms.
14.5 Linear Feet
General Physical Description
235 photographic prints : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. 104 photographic prints : b&w ; 5 x 7 in. 41 photographic prints : b&w ; 4 x 6 in. or smaller. 2 photographic prints on carte-de-visite mounts : b&w ; 11 x 6 cm. 1 negative : b&w ; 4 x 5 in. 2 negatives : b&w ; 5 x 7 in. 1 drawing : pencil ; 8 x 10 in. 18 items : patent drawings ; 8 x 10 in. 2 items : letterheads ; 8 x 10 in.
Elmer A. Sperry (1860-1930) was an electrical engineer who established the Electric Light, Motor, and Car Brake Company in 1883 and then founded the Sperry Electric Mining Machine Company in 1886. Elmer A. Sperry was born in 1860. He attended the local schools in Cortland, New York, and then enrolled in Cornell University. At Cornell he developed an interest in electrical engineering and began working with a group of industrialists from Syracuse, New York, in order to construct an arc lighting system. By 1882 Sperry was already recognized as one of America's electrical pioneers.
In 1883, Sperry moved to Chicago where he established the Electric Light, Motor, and Car Brake Company. He found that he could not compete with the more established Edison and Brush Electric companies, so he began experimenting with electric coal-mining equipment. In 1886 he founded the Sperry Electric Mining Machine Company. During these years Sperry also developed an electric street car. After selling his patents to General Electric, he went to work for the company as a consultant.
In 1907, Sperry began to experiment with the gyroscope. Three years later, he founded the Sperry Gyroscope Company in Brooklyn, in order to develop, manufacture, and market marine gyrostabilizing devices. Working closely with the Navy, he developed the gyrocompass, ship stabilizer, and high intensity search-light. During the First World War, the Sperry Gyroscope Company became a major defense contractor, and Elmer Sperry sat on the Naval Consulting Board. After the war, Sperry Gyroscope moved into aeronautics as it developed airplane stabilizers, gyrostabilized bombsights, and the aerial torpedo. At the time of his death, Sperry owned 332 patents and had forty-eight more pending. The earliest one for a steam engine dynamo dates from 1882 and in 1930, the year of his death, he was granted four patents alone. Elmer Sperry died on June 16, 1930.
Scope and Content
The collection has been divided into seven series: Thomas Hughes photographs used in Elmer A. Sperry biography; Elmer A. Sperry photographs; Albums; Lantern slides; Glass plate negatives; Films and Ephemera.
The Thomas Hughes photographs used in Elmer A. Sperry biography series includes images collected by historian, Thomas Hughes, for his biography of the inventor (these were later presented to Hagley). This series contains original materials (an undated pamphlet from the Scientific Aeroplane Company) as well as copy work from other sources. There is one small sheet of original sketches by Sperry of design, mounting and control of a ship's gyrostabilizer. Unfortunately, almost all of this is marked with printer's cropping and has mechanical notes (from the printer) taped to it. Most of the images show Sperry's inventions; there is some ephemera, family photographs, employees, and views of the Sperry Company's Brooklyn drafting rooms.
The Elmer Sperry photographs series primarily include photographs of his inventions, specifically the gyrocompass, the gyroscope, searchlights, and various types indicators and other instruments, as well as photographs of diagarams, graphs and other images related to the equipment in use. There are also photographs of Sperry Company offices, employees and of Sperry and his family members, primarily his sons Lawerence Sperry (1892-1923) and Elmer A. Sperry Jr. (1894-1968).
There are four albums. One of Elmer Sperry's trip to Japan in 1921, and three related to business: The Nassau Plant, the Ford Instrument Company and Conte Di Savoia.
The Lantern slides contain slides that Elmer A. Sperry used in presentations. One presentation was an MIT lecture on Lestern Garnder (1876-1956) who founded the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences (IAS) and produced the journal "Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering" in 1916. Another presentation is about Blind Flying and the third is related to the Sperry Messenger an American single-seat biplane designed by Alfred V. Verville (1890-1970). There are glass plate negatives and small prints of the presentation on Blind Flying. The small prints were in a wooden latern slide box labeled "Elmer A. Sperry Jr." - the prints have been removed from the box, however, the box remains with the collection as Ephemera.
The Films series contains a small number of films related to family trips and there are a few films related to Sperry Company inventions.
This collection is open for research.
Access to view lantern slides is at the discretion of the conservator. Please inquire in advance of your visit.
Glass plate negatives do not circulate.
Language of Materials
Elmer Sperry Papers (Accession 1893), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Elmer Sperry photographs
- Laurie Rizzo
- Description rules:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description:
- Script of description: