Hagley Museum and Library
PO Box 3630
Wilmington, DE 19807-0630
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 nega
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 l886 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 48 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 l6, l930. The Elmer Sperry photographic collection comes from two different sources. There are images collected by historian, Thomas Hughes, for his biography of the inventor (these were later presented to Hagley) and photographs which were transferred from the Elmer Sperry papers in Hagley’s Manuscripts and Archives department. The former includes 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 photos, employees, and views of the Sperry Company’s Brooklyn drafting rooms.