Al Gross is the inventor of the walkie-talkie and the telephone pager. He was also a pioneer in the establishment of Citizens Band radio and is credited with the concept of the cordless phone. Gross has been called "the father of wireless communications".
Al Gross was born in 1918 in Toronto, Ontario. His family moved to Cleveland when he was very young. He became interested in radio at the age of nine. While his family was aboard a ship in the Great Lakes young Al was exploring the ship. On the top deck he discovered a radio room. The operator invited him in and Al was immediately impressed by all the equipment. The radio operator let him listen to the sounds of wireless telegraphy.
Gross talked his father into buying him a crystal radio set. With the minimal instructions he got from the store he erected an antenna and soon heard a radio signal. Gross was hooked and began to learn as much as he could about radio. He began hauling components home from junkyards and by the time he was twelve he had an amateur radio shack in the basement. He could listen to other ham radio operators talking to each other and eventually contacted one of them when he found out where they lived. He learned morse code and studied for his amateur radio license. He failed the first time he took the test but was inspired to try harder. He was building radios by the age of fifteen and a year later passed his test. He was given the call sign W8PAL, which he would keep for the rest of his life.
He enrolled in the electrical engineering program at Case School of Applied Sciences in Cleveland. While he was there he developed a hand-held portable radio. He used miniature vacuum tubes since this was before the invention of the transistor. Gross was in the habit of walking around while talking on his new invention so it was soon dubbed the walkie-talkie.
While Gross was attending Case School he was invited to a seminar for exceptional students at Princeton University's Institute for Advanced studies. One of the instructors was Albert Einstein. Gross said that Einstein didn't collect test papers. He would just walk around the room and look at the results on the student's desks. If he didn't say anything, or worse, he turned your paper over it was an indication that you failed. When Einstein came to Gross's desk he looked over his work and smiled. He gave Gross a pat on the back and said, "Das is Goot!" Gross said it was one of the highlights of his life.
There was not much call for the walkie-talkie until after the start of WW II. An amateur radio operator working in the OSS had heard of Gross and his walkie-talkies and soon he was recruited to demonstrate his radios. Gross eventually developed the Joan Eleanor two-way radio system between the ground (Joan) and the aircraft (Eleanor). They were able to communicate up to 50 kilometers. After the war his radios were demonstrated to the head of the FCC who in turn gave Gross more exposure by writing an article about them for the Saturday Evening Post.
Gross started the "Citizens Radio Corporation" to develop and manufacture personal wireless tranceivers. He wanted to produce two-way radios that the general public could use. He also started Gross Electronics to design and build other communications products. Citizens Radio Corporation was the first company to get the approval of the FCC for using the original citizens band.
In 1948 Gross was visited by Chester Gould, who was the creator of the Dick Tracy cartoon strip. Gould spotted a couple of things in Gross's workshop that gave him an idea for the cartoon. A watch with a built-in beeper and a wireless microphone were the inspiration for the two-way wrist radio. Gould asked Gross if he could use it in his strip and Gross happily agreed.
In 1949 Gross invented a wireless pager by adapting his two-way radios for cordless remote telephone signaling. He thought that the device might be useful to doctors. He attended a medical conference in Philadelphia but discovered that the medical professionals did not concur. The were concerned that their patients might be upset by the interruptions. There was also the potential of a golf game being interrupted as well.
In 1950 he demonstrated a hand-held transceiver that he called a "cordless remote telephone" to the FCC. There were restrictions in place at the time that prevented its use by the public. Gross approached "Ma Bell" about using this technology but to no avail. Smaller phone companies wouldn't touch it either since they used some of Bell's telephone lines and didn't want to cause any interference.
Gross eventually got FCC approval for his paging system in 1958. The Jewish Hospital in New York had the first wireless paging system. Unfortunately, Gross's patents would expire before their technology would prosper.
Gross did research for several companies the rest of his life including Sperry and General Electric. From 1990 he worked at Orbital Science Corporation in Chandler, Arizona. He was a satellite engineer and directed the analysis of electromagnetic elements of aerospace, satellite and military systems. He died December 21, 2000 at the age of 82. He had continued to work until a few months before his death.
Passing of a Wireless Pioneer (http://www.retrocom.com/Al%20Gross.htm)
Al Gross - father of the Walkie-Talkie (http://www.446user.co.uk)
In Memory of Al Gross (http://www.comsoc.org/socstr/org/operation/awards/algrossmem.html)