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Elmer Sperry: Gyroscopic Compass, 1914

Street Smarts

Sperry left the blooming town of Cortland for the bustling streets of Chicago in 1883. The young man tossed around numerous inventive ideas before choosing those most worthy of development. He based his decision on the amount of financial support he was able to accrue in the early development stages of his inventions. Applying for patents, constructing a prototype, and then facilitating testing were expensive processes, and Sperry's own capital was not sufficient to finance the research and development process. Once funded, Sperry was able to bring his inventive goals to fruition and to form companies that would manufacture and sell his products.

Chicago saw the founding of the Sperry Electric Light, Motor, and Car Brake Company, where Sperry would learn to develop his inventions to meet competition, and to survive in the economic market. He later moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he founded several companies, notably the Sperry Gyroscope Company in 1913. This company was named for the gyroscope, arguably Sperry's most famous invention. His first gyroscopic inventions were stabilizers for ships and automobiles, followed by the gyroscopic compass with which this case file concerns itself. However, before we explore the principle behind the latter invention, it will be necessary to discuss some of the ideas that contributed to the success of the former.