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Elmer Sperry: Gyroscopic Compass, 1914

The Softer Side

A clever businessman and an ingenious inventor, Sperry's serious, scientific side was softened by a kind heart and a fulfilling family life. In his younger years, he found himself feeling lonely when not absorbed by his work; however, January 1885 brought the meeting of Sperry and Zula Goodman, and the end of Sperry's loneliness.

The young scientist spied Zula playing the organ at the First Baptist Church of Chicago, where he attended services. Her broad interests, love of music, and blue eyes attracted Sperry, and the two were married on June 28, 1887. They had four children: Helen (named for Sperry's aunt), Edward, Lawrence, and Elmer. Sperry's sons followed in his footsteps, striving to enhance technology.

Elmer Ambrose Jr. would also be recognized by The Franklin Institute, for his development of the Gyro-Pilot for ships. Both Edward and Elmer A. Junior joined the Gyroscope Company, and Lawrence Sperry took a special interest in air travel, founding the Lawrence Sperry Aircraft Company in 1918. Sadly, the young man died flying across the English Channel on December 13, 1924.

Sperry met with heartache again on March 11, 1930, when Zula passed away due to complications from pneumonia. He stayed with her and made sure that she died without pain. In the period following her death, he wrote to Zula's friends and relatives in the hope of collecting stories and sentiments about his wife. He intended to compile a commemorative book in her honor.

Her friends and relatives attested to Zula's kindness and gentility, just as Sperry's family and business comrades affirmed his good-natured character. In a "Profile" written on April 19, 1930, the New Yorker commented: "Although the traits of the inventor are strong in him, Sperry has none of the eccentricities common to the species. Had not an insatiable curiosity etched a kind of quizzical alertness on his face, he would have all the surface characteristics of the conventional successful American. He is well tailored. His white hair and mustache give the required distinction; but his eyebrows are permanently raised in blended wonder and pleasure."