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Elmer Sperry: Gyroscopic Compass, 1914

Committee on Science and the Arts

In 1914, The Franklin Institute recognized the unique design and excellent function of Sperry's gyrocompass with a John Scott Legacy Medal. This particular medal was presented by the City of Philadelphia, based on the advice of The Franklin Institute's Committee on Science and the Arts (CSA). Appointed in 1824, the FI's advising committee was originally called the "Board of Examiners." For a brief time the appellation was changed to "The Committee on Inventions," and since 1834 the group has been referred to as "The Committee on Science and the Arts." This group was formed by The Franklin Institute's Board of Managers in response to "the need felt by inventors and discoverers, for some competent, trustworthy and impartial body, on whom they could confidently rely for an opinion as to the usefulness of their inventions and discoveries." The CSA provided this service through the examination and evaluation of inventions proffered during America's age of industrial revolution, a time when the U.S. Patent Office was neither as well-organized nor as well-functioning as it is today.

At this point in history, The Franklin Institute judged that the investigation and encouragement of new technology was vital to the growth of the nation. Accordingly, its Committee on Science and the Arts approved, disproved, or offered advice concerning the improvement of a given invention. In special cases, the CSA honored the inventor or improver of technology with an award or premium in acknowledgement of his contribution to "the Mechanical and Useful Arts."

Each invention undergoing evaluation by The Franklin Institute's Committee on Science and the Arts was given a case file, where documents prevalent to the study of that invention were kept. The Sperry case file, pulled from Franklin Institute archives, records primarily the exchange of letters between CSA Chairman Hugo Bilgram and Sperry himself. Their extensive correspondence was prompted by an objection, on the part of German inventor Anschutz-Kaempfe's company, to the originality of Sperry's invention. Anschutz-Kaempfe does have a distinctive voice in the case, although that voice is eventually drowned out by CSA investigations that reveal the credibility of Sperry's claim to having created a unique gyrocompass.