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Al Gross
2000 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Al Gross
Photo courtesy of Orbital Sciences Corp
 

Considered the "founding father" of wireless communications, Al Gross brought the world such indispensable devices as the walkie-talkie, pager and cordless phone. Gross was honored with the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 for his contributions as a true pioneer of miniaturized portable communications devices.

It began in 1927, when Gross was just nine years old, traveling aboard a Great Lakes steamer with his family. While exploring the ship, he came upon the radio operator's cabin and was immediately intrigued by the radio equipment and crackling noises of the telegraph signals. Gross became hooked on wireless communications, which he foresaw as a vehicle for personal communications.

By 1938, Gross had developed and tested a small portable high-frequency radio with two-way communications features. Gross's device, which he dubbed a "walkie-talkie," caught the attention of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (now the Central Intelligence Agency), which recruited him to develop a two-way, air-to-ground radio system for covert use by troops behind enemy lines. These mobile "walkie-talkies" made it possible for the military to conduct a high level of surveillance throughout World War II.

After the war, he set up Gross Electronics Inc. to make 11-ounce walkie-talkie sets for private use. Gross continued to invent mobile personal communications devices, securing 12 patents and developing the discriminatory circuitry that made possible personal pocket paging systems as well as the forerunner of the cell phone and cordless phone.

Gross's love of wireless was contagious; he enjoyed public speaking and relished the opportunity to share with students of all ages the personal satisfactions that come with inventing as a career.

Gross earned a degree in electrical engineering in 1938 from what is now Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio. He served as principal engineer at such leading electronics companies as Sperry Corp., Westinghouse, and Orbital Sciences Corp. until his death in 2000, at the age of 82. Gross also received the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Edwin Howard Armstrong Achievement Award and Medal (1999), the Marconi Memorial Gold Medal of Achievement (1997) and was given a Presidential Commendation in Telecommunications from Ronald Reagan (1981).

"The Lemelson-MIT Program is a great concept. It encourages kids to find role models in the invention process; that's what I love to do—to make them realize that math and science can be great fun, and help them to make a difference through applying their ideas." (1918-2000)

 

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Al Gross
Photo by Leo Sorel
MIT