Elmer Ambrose Sperry
Born October 12, 1860 - Died June 16, 1930
Ship's Gyroscopic-Compass Set
Patent No. 1,242,065
Elmer Ambrose Sperry invented gyroscope-guided automatic pilots for ships and
airplanes that have also been applied to spacecraft.
Born in Cortland, New York, Sperry completed his formal education at the
State Normal and Training School in Cortland and formed the first of his eight
companies, the Sperry Electric Company, at the age of 20.
He began work on gyroscopes in 1896, combining electrical and mechanical
elements into gyroscopic compasses and stabilizers for ships and airplanes. His
gyroscope-guided autopilot became known as a 'Metal Mike,' the mechanical
Until Sperry's work, the gyroscope was little more than a scientific
curiosity. But it was known that a properly mounted gyroscope would always turn
to match its plane of rotation with that of the Earth-just as a compass turns to
match the Earth's magnetic field.
Sperry also organized the Sperry Electric Mining Machine Company and
invented a continuous chain undercutter and an electric mine locomotive. In 1890
the Sperry Electric Railroad Company manufactured streetcars in Cleveland, Ohio.
His other inventions included a gyroscopic turn indicator (1917), which
allowed flying without visual reference to the ground or horizon. He developed
high-intensity search lights following World War I and in 1928 invented a device
to find transverse fissures in rails, which the American Railway Association
called 'one of the most important safety moves in years.'