« Star wars, NBA-style | Main | Bessie Coleman helped black women soar »

February 12, 2008

Dr. James West — inventor of the electret microphone


In 1996, I published a book titled "Black Profiles in Courage." It was my take on American history that included the contributions of black Americans. In so many of our history books, the efforts of black Americans go unrecognized. Since publishing that book, I’ve come across much more information that fits this profile. So, I’d like to give some acknowledgment to Dr. James E. West, whom I did not know of back in ’96. In 1962, Dr. West and his partner Gerhard Sessler invented the electret microphone used in almost 90% of all microphones built today — over 1 billion a year.

Dr. West was raised in Virginia and almost was discouraged from pursuing physics due to the Jim Crow system in place when he was going to school. At that time, the only professional jobs that blacks could hold in Virginia were teacher, preacher, doctor or lawyer. Dr. West recalls that his father introduced him to three men who had earned doctorates in chemistry and physics. The best jobs available to those men were working at the post office. Dr. West’s father did not want him to take a long, arduous road and end up working at a post office.

But Dr. West was not to be denied. He speaks of discovery as being “… the best high I ever had …” He has gone on to acquire over 200 U.S. patents and now teaches at Johns Hopkins University where he is trying to recruit more minority and women faculty.

Photo of Dr. James West, public domain


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Dr. James West — inventor of the electret microphone:



Hello Kareem, ...(Go Bruins/Lakers)
Awesome piece on Dr. West. 'I DID NOT KNOW THAT ' (w/best Carson voice). That's an easy enough name to remember -- like JAMES Baldwin & Cornell WEST. It sounds like he was a true PHILOSOPHER - e.g. re: 'Discovery' "..the best high I ever had." Indeed, when I engage Sophos, it IS the best drug I can possibly think of, and innovation is the inevitable conclusion of such endeavor.
Perhaps, I had better explain my predilection for wisdom (Sophos): I was a philosophy major at our beloved UCLA. The level of professorship was outstanding. In my mid-20's I started community college, after flirting with the 'dark path.' Ironically, I hadn't even originally intended to go to a four-year university. Imagine my surprise when I got a 4.0 and gained acceptance to 'Westwood.' I had intended NOT to turn this into a B-Ball rant, but yourself and Mr. Wooden are half of the reason I chose UCLA. In addition, I have been a Lakers fan since 1979 (Dec. vs. GS). My father (the one who taught me about the Wooden/Alcindor era Bruins & Lakers) died my third week at UCLA. Fortunately, his strength was already instilled within me.
I was set to graduate in Spring 2006, but my plans were precluded by a 'hit-n-run' accident that left me in a coma. After spending a year recovering, I finally graduated in Spring 2007. Imagine my surprise to find out that 'the man' was going to be at our commencement; I got "Shoulders" signed and met you that morning. Again, I apologize for the divergence, but the UCLA/Wooden/Kareem(Bruce Lee) connection is ever-present.

P.S. Mr. Wooden was a Philosopher too.
(see the "Pyramid")

Grady Alexander - Class of 2007


great article very informative. I'm not much of a speller but has anyone checked the the spelling of electret microphone?

Richard L. Hess

Electret is the proper spelling.

I have posted a comment on Susan Kitchen's blog where she pointed to this blog describing microphone types.

I expect the comment to be relased soon.


The comments to this entry are closed.

Captain Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, dominated the NBA for 20 years, first with the Milwaukee Bucks then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that he was the star of the UCLA Bruins teams that won three consecutive NCAA championships. Kareem was the NBA's MVP six times, a 19-time all-star and set the NBA all-time records in nine categories. He is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.

Since retiring as a player in 1989, Kareem has balanced his love of basketball with his love of history. In 2002 he led a USBL team, the Oklahoma Storm, to a championship. Since 2005, he has been the special assistant coach for the Lakers, working with Andrew Bynum.

In 2008 he was chosen The Greatest Player in College Basketball History.

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

His audio adaptation, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Audio & Musical Journey through the Harlem Renaissance," is a four-volume compilation read by Bob Costas, Avery Brooks, Jesse L. Martin, and Stanley Crouch, and features private and fascinating conversations with dozens of icons, including Coach John Wooden, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Billy Crystal. He has also been written to L.A. Times, under the Sports section.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been appearing on various radio stations and TV shows, as well as the most relevant websites talking about his life and his new audio book, On the Shoulders of Giants.

All images are property of www.iconomy.com unless otherwise stated. All info copyrighted and owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not replicated without permission.

Come meet Kareem at the NBA Store on 5th Avenue: Friday, May 16th, from 3:15pm - 4:15pm.

Kareem_READ The American Library Association (ALA) is pleased to announce that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has joined the popular Celebrity READ poster series. The Celebrity READ poster campaign is one of the most effective ways to encourage people to get a good education, improve their reading skills, and to read for sheer enjoyment.
Mr. Abdul-Jabbar is the 2008 Honorary Chair Library Card Sign-up Month, which takes place in September. He will also appear at the American Library’s National Convention on June 28th and 29th at the Long Beach Convention Center to sign his poster.

To purchase Mr. Abdul-Jabbar's poster and to view the entire line of Celebrity READ Posters, please click here. now!

Kareem_jersey Join the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Fan Club
and win a chance to receive a prize from my official store !

Go to KareemAbdulJabbar.com now!

ESPN names Kareem The Greatest Player In College Basketball History

Check the latest about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Go to KareemAbdulJabbar.com for more news.
Sport Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory