Tag Archives: Clothing

Jew of the Week: Emile Berliner

Inventor of the Gramophone and Helicopter

Emile Berliner, inventor of the Gramophone and the helicopter

Emile Berliner, inventor of the Gramophone and the helicopter

Emile Berliner (1851-1929) was born in Hanover, Germany. Though he studied to be a merchant like the rest of his family members, he was always more interested in invention. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Berliner fled to the US and settled in New York. During the day, he struggled to make ends meet by delivering newspapers and doing other petty jobs, while at night he studied physics. He became interested in the new technology of telephone and began working on sound transmission. Berliner first invented a new phone transmitter that was later adapted to make the first microphone. Bell Telephone Company bought out his patent and hired Berliner. He worked for Bell until 1883, when he established his own company. Building on previous phonograph technology, Berliner revolutionized the world in 1887 by inventing the gramophone and the flat disc record. At first, it was sold as just a toy, and only in Europe. In 1895, Berliner managed to get a $25,000 investment for his invention, and started the US Berliner Gramophone Company. Unfortunately, others stole his patents and sold unauthorized records, and Berliner was eventually unable to sell his own invention. He moved to Canada, started a new company, and soon focused on other technologies. One of these was an automatic loom for mass-producing clothes. Another, more famous, was the first helicopter. For over twenty years, Berliner focused on developing vertical flight machines, with the help of a number of other inventors and scientists. He designed the vertical rotor that made modern helicopters possible. In 1922, Berliner demonstrated the first helicopter to the US Army. Meanwhile, Berliner wrote and published five books, and was a noted advocate for public health and better sanitation. He won a number of prestigious awards for his work, which forever transformed the music, clothing, and flight industries.

Words of the Week

The souls of all the living… On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed: how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die… Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But repentance, prayer, and charity avert these severe decrees!
– Verses from Unetanneh Tokef, sung during Rosh Hashanah prayers

Jew of the Week: Joseph Seligman

America’s Financier


Joseph Seligman

Born in Baiersdorf, Germany, Joseph Seligman (1819-1880) showed a creative entrepreneurial spirit from an early age. As a youth he would earn money by exchanging foreign coins for travellers while working at his family’s goods shop. At 17, Seligman decided to go out on his own, boarding a steamer for America. In Pennsylvania he worked as a cashier for a salary of $400 a year. From his earnings, Seligman started a small business delivering goods to rural farmers, saving them from having to travel to the city. His first $500 in savings was used to ferry over two of his brothers from Germany. After building a successful clothing business, the brothers went into banking, opening branches across Europe and America. Their wealth continued to skyrocket, so much so that during the Civil War Joseph Seligman disposed $200 million in bond loans to allow the war effort to continue. Historians have called this “scarcely less important than the Battle of Gettysburg”. Seligman was later offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury, but turned it down. He would go on to invest heavily in the development of the United States (as well as Russia and Peru), pumping money into railroads, bridges, shipbuilding, steel, oil and mining, even bicycles and communication lines. Together with the Vanderbilt family, Seligman financed much of New York’s public utilities. In one of the country’s most controversial events of the time, Seligman’s family was denied residence at the Grand Union Hotel by Henry Hilton, on the grounds that Jews were not welcome. Of this H.W. Beecher wrote “When I heard of the unnecessary offense that has been cast upon Mr. Seligman, I felt no other person could have been singled out that would have brought home to me the injustice more sensibly than he.”

Words of the Week

Time must be guarded… Every bit of time, every day that passes, is not just a day but a life’s concern.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Hayom Yom, Cheshvan 17)

Jew of the Week: Ruth Handler & Mattel

The Barbie Doll

Ruth Handler, Inventor of the Barbie Doll

Ruth Moskowicz (1916-2002) was born in Denver to Jewish-Polish parents that immigrated to America. She married her high school sweetheart Elliot Handler, who pioneered a new type of furniture made from a combination of plexiglass and lucite. Ruth convinced him to start a business, and they combined forces with Harold Matson, creating the popular company Mattel (a combination of Matson and Elliot). Over time, they switched to producing toys, and created a music box that sold an incredible 20 million units by 1952. But the success was only just beginning. Seeing that her daughter Barbara gave adult roles to her baby dolls, Ruth was inspired to create an adult-model doll for kids.

Mattel Inc.

Thus was born Barbie, named after Ruth’s daughter (and later Ken, named after her son). Debuting in 1959, the dolls, and all their accessories, exploded onto the scene internationally. Within a short time, Mattel became the largest toy company in the world, a position it holds to this day. It includes the brands Fisher Price, Hot Wheels and Matchbox, and makes toys for Nintendo and DC (of Batman/Superman fame). Ruth Handler was the brains behind the success, serving as President of Mattel until 1973, when she resigned due to a battle with cancer. Inspired once more, she started a new company called Nearly Me, which helps women who’ve suffered from breast cancer, makes comfortable breast prostheses and post-mastectomy clothing and swimwear. Sadly, Ruth succumbed to colon cancer in 2002.

Words of the Week

…honey is one sixtieth of manna, Shabbat is one sixtieth of the World to Come, sleep is one sixtieth of death, a dream is one sixtieth of prophesy.
– Talmud, Berachot 57b