BHM James Edward Maceo West

Electret Microphone inventor: Dr James E West

Dr James E West invented and developed the mic, officially known as the Electroacoustic Transducer Electret Microphone, alongside his colleague Gerhard M. Sessler. The reasons artists and speakers can perform to crowds of hundreds of thousands is because of him.

West went to work at Bell Labs In 1957. He and fellow scientist Gerhard M. Sessler developed an inexpensive, compact, and highly sensitive microphone, which they patented in 1962. Today, 90 percent of microphones use their technology, including those in mobile phones, laptops, baby monitors, and hearing aids.

He pursued a career in electronics despite his parents’ warnings that as a black man in the era of segregation he would never find professional employment in that field. He entered college as a Pre Med student at Hampton University, but was drafted to serve in the Korean War. On his return, he transferred to Temple University and switched his major to Solid state physics. In the mid-1950s, while still in college, he worked as a summer intern in the Acoustics Research Department at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. After completing his studies at Temple University in 1957, West took a full-time position as an acoustical scientist at Bell Labs.

Dr James E West | Blog | ACC

West has received numerous awards and honors including a Fellow of IEEE, Industrial Research Institute’s 1998 Achievement Award, 1995 Inventor of the Year from the State of New Jersey and induction in the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999. James E. West holds 47 US patents and more than 200 foreign patents from his 40-year career with Bell Laboratories.

West has also dedicated himself to mentoring and expanding opportunities for minorities and women in science, technology, and engineering.