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Al Gross Invented Walkie-Talkie, Pager, Cordless Phone — Shortened WWII With Early Wireless Innovations

New York, NY, April 27, 2000 — The man who brought the world such indispensable wireless communications concepts and devices as the walkie-talkie, pager and cordless telephone was today named winner of the sixth annual Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award for invention and innovation by the Lemelson-MIT Program. Al Gross is being recognized for his contributions as a true pioneer of miniaturized portable communications devices and for playing a major role in the wireless personal communications revolution.

Gross' first invention was the walkie-talkie, a small hand-held radio with two-way communication features, which he developed in 1938 while still in high school in Cleveland. The device—widely used today by police, firefighters, car service dispatchers and countless others—caught the attention of the Communications Group of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which promptly recruited Gross, and led to another important inventiona two-way air-to-ground communications system used during World War II.

The system, known as "Joan-Eleanor" and classified "top secret" until 1976, allowed OSS agents in occupied countries and Germany to communicate with high-flying aircraft. The ability to gather intelligence and safely communicate it from behind enemy lines helped expedite an end to the war and saved thousands of lives. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff have called Gross' system one of the most successful wireless intelligence-gathering methods ever employed.

"Growing up, I fell in love with radio technology, but I wanted to take it everywhere with me," said Gross of his innovations. "The significance of my inventions today is the same as it was when I first developed them - —mobility. The ability to communicate wherever you happen to be is extremely powerful and enables tremendous freedom. It's what will continue to fuel the worldwide popularity and insatiable demand for wireless devices."

Gross also invented the first wireless pager in 1949. Ubiquitous in today's society, the pager was initially intended for use by doctors. Ironically, Gross first introduced his pager at a medical convention, but it was rejected for fear the beeping device would upset patients and interrupt golf games. In the 1950s, Gross tried, again in vain, to interest US companies in his pager. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finally approved the use of the pager in 1960. Today, over 300 million pagers are in use, according to widely published wireless industry statistics.

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Gross enjoys speaking to students of all ages about technology and invention whenever the opportunity arises. "I try to get students to think about things from a perspective of uniqueness," said Gross. "I tell them that if you have something that looks different from everything else, it may be an innovation. At the same time, I recommend that parents encourage kids in their scientific endeavors in whatever way possible. I was fortunate enough to have parents who allowed me to experiment. My parents knew nothing of wireless communications technology, but they still encouraged me to pursue my radio studies."

Gross' lifelong interest in radio communications began when he was just nine-years-old. While traveling aboard a steamboat on Lake Erie, the ship's radio operator allowed Gross to listen to the wireless. By the time he was 12, he had turned his parents' basement into an amateur radio station.

Gross worked as Senior Principal Electrical Engineer at Orbital Sciences Corp. (NYSE: ORB) in Chandler, Arizona, where hewas involved with programs to explore Mars and other space environments and technologies, until his death in December, 2000. He received numerous awards and honors during his distinguished career, including the 1999 Marconi Gold Medal of Achievement from the Wireless Operators Association and the Edwin Howard Armstrong Achievement Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Lemelson-MIT Board Chairman Professor Lester Thurow noted, "Al Gross' pioneering inventions, now pervasive, were ahead of their time. His early advocacy for the use of wireless personal communications, and boundless enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge with students of all ages are an inspiration to us all."

In receiving the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award, Gross joined such outstanding inventors as Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of Kevlar® (used in a variety of products from bullet-proof vests to airplane bodies); Wilson Greatbatch, creator of the implantable cardiac pacemaker (the first successful major biomedical device); and the late Gertrude Elion, innovator of drugs that combat cancer and facilitate organ transplantation between non-related donors.

Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994 by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy. The Program celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards including the world's largest for invention, the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Program encourages young Americans to pursue careers in the fields of science, engineering, technology and entrepreneurship. The Lemelson-MIT Program is funded by the Lemelson Foundation, which supports other invention initiatives at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Hampshire College, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Read more about Al Gross.

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