Elmer Ambrose Sperry


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American inventor, best known for his application of the gyroscopic principle in producing a gyroscopic compass which, unlike a magnetic compass, is unaffected by iron or steel and always points to the true North Pole. First developed by a German engineer for use in a submersible, the gyroscopic compass underwent its first sea trials in 1908 and later proved to be an immense boon to navigators. Sperry developed it initially for aircraft, forming the Sperry Gyroscope Company of Brooklyn in 1910, and the first surface vessel to be fitted with such a compass was the American battleship Delaware in 1911.

Sperry is less well known for his invention of the high-intensity carbon arc searchlight which he brought out in 1915. These were used aboard warships of all navies during the 20th century for signals at sea and for illuminating an enemy. He also adapted the gyroscopic principle to the control of naval gunnery and, especially, to the guidance of torpedoes. Following these successes he produced in 1921 a gyroscopically controlled automatic pilot for ships and, later, gyroscopic stabilizers. Sperry founded no less than eight companies to manufacture his inventions and took out over 400 patents.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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