Learn more about Carbon microphone
The carbon microphone is also known as a carbon button microphone (or sometimes just a button microphone) or a carbon transmitter. It consists of two metal plates separated by granules of carbon. One plate faces outward and acts as a diaphragm. When sound waves strike this plate, the pressure on the granules changes, which in turn changes the electrical resistance between the plates. (Higher pressure lowers the resistance as the granules are pushed closer together.) A direct current is passed from one plate to the other, and the changing resistance results in a changing current, which can be passed through a telephone system, or used in other ways in electronics systems to change the sound into an electrical signal.
Carbon microphones once had the advantages of low cost, high output level, and low impedance. However, they suffered from very low quality of sound reproduction and limited frequency response, as well as a high noise (hiss) level, so they were abandoned for radio broadcasting after the 1920s, and were not used for public address and amateur radio after the 1930s.<ref>Heil, B. The Microphone: A Short Ilustrated History. QST, 90(6), 50</ref>
The invention of the carbon microphone (then called a "transmitter") was claimed both by Thomas Alva Edison in March 1878<ref name="IEEE">IEEE Virtual Museum: Carbon Transmitter. New Brunswick, NJ: IEEE History Center </ref> and separately by Emile Berliner who filed related patent applications in June 1877 and August 1879.<ref>Inventors Hall of Fame, E. Berliner, U.S. Patent 0463,569 filed June 1877, issued November 1891</ref> The two sides fought a long legal battle over the patent rights. Ultimately a federal court awarded Edison full rights to the invention of the carbon microphone, saying "Edison preceded Berliner in the transmission of speech...The use of carbon in a transmitter is, beyond controversy, the invention of Edison" and the Berliner patent was ruled invalid. British courts also ruled in favor of Edison over Berliner. Having settled the Dowd suit (after Peter A. Dowd, agent of Western Union) out of court in 1881, Western Union left the telephone business, and sold Edison's patent rights and related assets to the Bell company in exchange for 20% of telephone rental receipts. Subsequently Bell telephones used the Bell receiver and the Edison transmitter. (Josephson, pp. 147-151). Later, carbon granules were used between carbon buttons. Carbon microphones were widely used in telephones in the United States from 1890 until the 1980s.<ref name="IEEE"/>
 Carbon microphones used as amplifiers
One of the surprising attributes of carbon microphones is that they can actually be used as amplifiers. This capability was used in early telephone repeaters, making long distance phone calls possible in the era before vacuum tubes. In these repeaters, a magnetic telephone receiver (an electrical-to-mechanical transducer) was mechanically coupled to a carbon microphone. Because a carbon microphone works by varying a current passed through it, not by generating a signal voltage, this arrangement could be used to boost weak signals and send them down the line. These amplifiers were mostly abandoned with the development of vacuum tubes, which offered greater amplification and better sound quality. Even after vacuum tubes were in common use, carbon amplifers continued to be used during the 1930s in portable audio equipment such as hearing aids. The Western Electric 65A carbon amplifier was 1.2" in diameter and 0.4" high and weighed less than 1.4 ounces.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Such carbon amplifiers did not require the heavy bulky batteries and power supplies used by vacuum tube amplifiers. Transistors replaced carbon amplifiers in hearing aids in the 1950s. However, carbon amplifiers are still being produced and sold.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
One illustration of the amplification provided by carbon microphones was the oscillation caused by feedback, that resulted in an audible squeal from the old "candlestick" telephone if its earphone was placed near the carbon microphone.
- Josephson, Matthew, Edison: A Biography, Wiley, 1992, ISBN 0-471-54806-5
 See also
 External links
Edison's invention of the carbon (graphite) microphone by Frank Dyer
- T A Edison, U.S. Patent 0474230 Speaking Telegraph (graphite microphone), filed April 1877, issued May 1892
- T A Edison, U.S. Patent 0203016 Improvement in Speaking Telephones (compressed lamp black button insulated from diaphragm), filed March 1878, issued April, 1878
- T A Edison, U.S. Patent 0222390 Carbon Telephone (carbon granules microphone), filed Nov 1878, issued Dec 1879
- E. Berliner, U.S. Patent 0222652 Improvement in Electrical Contact Telephones (carbon diaphragm with carbon contact pin), filed August 1879, issued December 16, 1879
- A C White, U.S. Patent 0485311 Telephone (solid back carbon microphone), filed March 24, 1892, issued November 1, 1892 (Bell engineer)da:Kulkornsmikrofon