James E. West, Co-Inventor of the Electret Microphone Used in Hearing Aids and Telephones

Electret Microphone, Co-Invented by James E. West in 1964

Even for those who aren’t quick to pick up the mic during karaoke, microphones are used every day to communicate over distances far and wide. And more than 90 percent of the microphones used today, including the microphones used in phones and cameras, use a microphone co-invented by a Black man. Dr. James E. West was tasked with creating a more sensitive and compact microphone while working at Bell Labs in 1960.

Along with his German colleague Gerhard Sessler, West invented the foil electret microphone, which was considerably less expensive to produce than the typically used condenser microphones. Two years after it was invented, the final model of the microphone was developed and in 1964 they patented the landmark invention. Only four years later, the new microphone was in wide production and was being used in hearing aids, tape recorders, most telephones and baby monitors.


Credit: 8 Black Inventors Who Made Daily Life Easier, History.com