Miller Reese Hutchison
Miller Reese Hutchison (born August 6, 1876 in Montrose, Baldwin County; died February 16, 1944 In New York) was an electrical and acoustical engineer who served as chief engineer at the Edison Laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey and later operated his own equipment company. His most successful inventions were the first practical electric hearing aid, the dictophone, and the Klaxon automobile horn. In all his name appeared on more than 1,000 patents.
Hutchison was the son of William Peter and Tracie Magruder Hutchison of Mobile. He attended Mobile public schools and took a keen interest in mechanics and technology. He continued his schooling at Marion Military Institute (1891) and Spring Hill College (1892) before pursuing degrees in electrical engineering at the University Military Institute in Mobile (1895) and at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama at Auburn, finishing in 1897.
While a student, Hutchison hoped to benefit a friend who was deaf and mute. He developed the electrical hearing aid (which he called the "Akouphone") after much research, including a time of study at the Alabama Medical College. He obtained a patent for the device in 1895. He succeeded in improving the man's hearing, but never succeeded in interesting him in mastering speech. He continued to improve the device, patenting the "Akoulophon" in 1898, which was sold by the Akouphone Company of Alabama for $400. The more portable version known as the "Acousticon", patented in 1902, found the greatest success and garnered worldwide attention. Hutchison was brought on board the Victoria and Albert in the North Sea to personally fit a hearing aid to Queen Alexandria, consort of Edward VII of England. For his successful service, which was reported to have restored her hearing to within 90% of normal, he was given a royal medal, a portrait of the Queen in a jewel-encrusted frame, and a generous stipend.
Hutchison served as an electrical engineer to the 7th and 8th Lighthouse Districts during the Spanish-American War. He was engaged in the laying of submarine cables and mines to protect American harbors in the Gulf of Mexico. He established his own engineering laboratory after the war and produced numerous innovations, such as the "Hutchison Electrical Tachometer" and the "Hutchison Spool-O-Wire Fastener", an innovative stapling machine which he sold through his own Hutchison Office Specialties Company. He also became a consulting engineer to New York's major financial institutions and a celebrated exhibitor at numerous commercial expositions.
Hutchison married Martha Jackson Pomeroy of Minnesota on May 31, 1901 in New York City. They had four children, Miller Jr (1902), Harold Pomeroy (1904), Juan Ceballos (1906) and Robley Pomeroy (1908). The family summered near his wife's family at "Woodside" on Minnesota's Lake Minnetonka.
Inspired by a close call with a pedestrian while driving in the rain, Hutchison applied his talents to the development of an automobile horn that provided a warning sound with more visceral impact. The result was the Klaxon horn, with its characteristic "A-OOH-GAH" tone which was sold commercially by the Lovell-McConnell Manufacturing Company of New Jersey. The horn became standard equipment on all GM automobiles and was also installed on passenger boats and launches and on European cars. It was later adapted as the dive horn for American submarines.
In 1911 Hutchison became attached to Thomas Edison's laboratory, helping to develop a storage battery for submarines. He was made chief engineer in 1912 and served as Edison's personal representative and advisor on engineering matters. He was deeply involved in the company's numerous advancements in sound recording and transmission and was known for providing rigorously-detailed drawings to the laboratory's mechanics, thereby wasting no time with rough prototypes and drafts. In 1915 Hutchison was made a charter member of the newly-created U. S. Naval Consulting Board.
Hutchison assisted in the launch of WMAV-AM at his alma mater. He donated a 2.5 kW spark gap transmitter and crystal receiver and was present in 1913 to broadcast the station's first message, addressed to "Old Man" Edison in New Jersey.
This wireless formally christens the two-and-a-half kilowatt apparatus which I have this day presented to the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in commemoration of the first homecoming of the alumni. The president, the faculty, the alumni, and the student body join me in expressing love and esteem to the father of electrical development.
Edison replied with a congratulatory telegram.
Hutchison left Edison Labs to found Miller Reese Hutchison Inc. on January 1, 1917, taking with him the sales rights for the Edison Storage Battery. The company's offices were located on the 51st floor of the Woolworth Building in Manhattan. He continued to work on inventions in a third-floor workshop at his New Jersey estate, "Colonia," while maintaining his "day job" as the head of his firm in New York. He also invested in real estate development and financial trading on Wall Street. He was able to combine these interests, as well as an abiding love for vigorous sport, by training himself to subsist on only 3-4 hours of sleep each night.
Among Hutchison's later inventions were a powder-actuated rivet gun and a gasoline additive intended to reduce carbon monoxide emissions.
Hutchison provided the spy camera that was used by Chicago Tribune photographer Tom Howard to secretly take pictures at the electrocution of Ruth Snyder at Sing Sing Prison on January 12, 1928. Hutchison displayed the camera, now at the Smithsonian, to Birmingham photographers during a visit in 1938.
Hutchison died in 1944.
- Scannell, John James, editor (1919) Scannell's New Jersey's First Citizens and State Guide Vol. 2. Paterson, New Jersey: J. J. Scannell
- "Noiseless Gun Used in Riveting Steel" (August 13, 1921) Gas Age-Record. Vol. 48, p. 152
- Rothermel, Winifred (February 3, 1928) "Native of Alabama with 1,000 Patents to his Credit, Has Dual Personality" Birmingham News - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Ennis, William (September 9, 1938) "Owner of Camera That Took Death Cell Pictures A Recent Visitor Here" Birmingham News- via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- "Miller Reese Hutchison" obituary (February 22, 1944) Birmingham News- via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections