LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM BESTOWS LIFETIME
ACHIEVEMENT AWARD TO "FOUNDING FATHER" OF WIRELESS COMMUNICATIONS
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
"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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