David Alter life and biography

David Alter picture, image, poster

David Alter biography

Date of birth : 1807-12-03
Date of death : 1881-09-18
Birthplace : Allegheny Township, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2011-09-29
Credited as : physician, inventor, electric telegraph, electric clock

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Trained as a physician, David Alter found more satisfaction and renown as an inventor and amateur physicist. On days when he was not making house calls on horseback, he constructed an electric alarm clock, an electric buggy, a telegraph that preceded Samuel F. B. Morse's completely different device, and what he called a "speaking telegraph" -- a telephone system -- that predated Alexander Graham Bell's machine by decades.

In his lifetime, Alter's most successful invention was a patented procedure for manufacturing bromine from salt wells. From the distance of history, his most noteworthy discovery might have been spectrum analysis -- the principle that each element can be identified from its unique spectrum. He missed lasting fame for this and related work, however, as credit went to Anders Jonas Ångström, Gustav Robert Kirchhoff, and Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, who worked in more academic settings, and whose works were thus published in more prestigious, widely read journals.

Dr. David Alter is credited with having invented:
- 1836 - the electric telegraph, predating the Morse telegraph in 1837.
- 1840 - his electric buggy - the forerunner of the automobile.
- 1845 - a patented method to manufacture and purify bromine from salt wells, highly useful in the iron industry and displayed in the World's Fair of 1853 (see: Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in New York City).
- 1854 - spectrum analysis, the idea that every element has its own emission spectrum: a breakthrough development in spectroscopy. The published article was: On Certain Physical Properties of Light Produced by the Combustion of Different Metals in an Electric Spark Refracted by a Prism. He included a chart of the colored lines or bands of twelve metals and paved the way by showing the spectral lines of brass corresponded to copper and zinc.
- 1855 - an expansion of spectrum analysis to include the optical properties of gas. These discoveries were later implemented and included by Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen in the Three Laws of Spectroscopy.
- 1858 - a patented method to extract oil from coal and shale, along with a partner Samuel Hill. Their invention sped manufacturing, but was replaced by technology in a few years.
- An electric clock.
- A short range type of telephone - forerunner of the Graham Bell telephone.

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