If you’ve ever used a cellphone, hearing aid, or baby monitor, listened to live or recorded music, or recorded anything yourself, you’re indebted to James West. West is the co-inventor of the electret microphone used in all of those devices and more. It’s estimated that over 90 percent of the microphones in use today are electret mics, and more than 2 billion of these devices are produced worldwide every year. The electret microphone’s usefulness is matched only by its longevity. While it has been refined over the years, the basic technology is virtually identical to what West and Gerhard Sessler invented at Bell Labs in the early 1960s.
Today, this invention’s success is only matched by legacy of its inventor. After his groundbreaking work, West went on to become an internationally-recognized electrical engineer. He holds more than 40 US and over 200 international patents. He has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Engineering. His many awards include the Acoustical Society of America’s Gold Medal, the George Stiglitz Trophy from AT&T, the Benjamin Franklin Medal Award in Electrical Engineering, and the US National Medal of Technology and Innovation.