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Elmer Sperry: Electric Searchlight, 1920

A Nation in Need

World War I brought innovation in gas, tank, aerial, and submarine warfare. The success of the Sperry gyrocompass responded to the needs of submarine warfare, aiding the navy's stealthy undersea behemoths in keeping their courses and accurately firing their weapons. The development of night flying resulted in night attacks, which created a need for improved defense searchlights.

Sperry and his company responded to a call for improved defense against aerial attack with their high intensity searchlight. This searchlight was developed between 1914 and 1916, and considered for award by the Franklin Institute's Committee on Science and the Arts starting in 1917. Due to wartime pressures and to complications with the U.S. Patent Office encountered by Sperry, the evaluation of the invention did not take place until 1920. An examination of the Sperry case file reveals that Sperry's company was hesitant when providing the Franklin Institute with documents for perusal by the Committee on Science and the Arts, due to the ongoing war and the need for national security.