Elisha Gray (1835-1901)

Oberlin student, faculty member, author, and inventor

Elisha Gray (pron. "Ee-LYE-sha") was born in Barnesville, OH into a Quaker farming family.  He attended Oberlin in the mid-1860s, married his classmate Delia Shepard, then went on to become a renowned 19th-c. inventor. We call him "The Edison of Oberlin College."  He could also be called "Oberlin's first TIMARA professor" (Technology in Music and Related Arts) because one of his significant inventions was the Musical Telegraph, the world's first electric musical instrument.  He first  demonstrated it in Highland Park IL in 1874, then showcased it in a series of concerts in New York, Washington, DC, and Oberlin in 1877-78.  It was a small keyboard that set tuned metal reeds in motion with electromagnets, then transmitted these sounds, with polyphonic capability, over the telegraph wires to any remote location.

Gray also invented the telephone in 1876, filing his patent idea on the same day, February 14,  that Alexander Graham Bell filed his.  Through years of litigation, Bell won every case against him, but most experts today agree that Gray should have been granted priority instead of Bell.

One hundred and forty years ago, in 1878, Oberlin awarded Gray an honorary degree.  In time for Commencement 2018, an exhibit showcasing Gray's achievements opened in the Science Center.  On this web page are shown the five panels of the exhibit, and the handout, prepared by Roderic Knight, emeritus professor of ethnomusicology, may be downloaded from this site.   Although Gray was well known in his lifetime, and his 1893 fax machine, the Telautograph, was in use well into the 20th century, he has been largely forgotten today.  Prof. Knight is working to revive Gray's name with some forthcoming publications.  In the meantime, please peruse this website to learn more about Elisha Gray.

Full 20ft Showcase

The showcase is chronological, from Gray's early achievements to his final successes. The five panels are shown below.

Panel 1 Early work 
         1: Gray's early experiments with household medical devices.
Panel 2 Electrofriction

2: Electro-friction:  a violin rigged to amplify electric oscillations by rubbing the metal plate. 
Panel 3 Telemelodeon
3: The Telemelodeon or Musical Telegraph.  Electromagnets produced sounds from metal reeds, then transmitted them via telegraph to any location.
Panel 4 Telephone
            4: Gray's Telephone, and organ pipe experiments.
Panel 5 Telautograph
5: The Telautograph,  the world's first fax machine, which transmitted any written message in real time to a remote location.

           Click the image above to open the Showcase Handout.

       Click below to hear performances by Prof. Claudia Macdonald.

Audio:  "Last Rose of Summer" "Last Rose of Summer"

M'Appari "M'Appari"_from_Martha

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