Monday, September 13, 2010

Thomas Edison's Mucker: Miller Reese Hutchison, MMI Class of 1890

Described in his obituary as “one of the nation’s greatest inventors and scientists,” Dr. Miller Reese Hutchison, MMI Class of 1890, served as Thomas Edison’s right-hand man (Edison called his assistants “muckers”) for a number of years in the Edison Laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. An electrical and acoustical engineer who was born, raised, and largely educated in Alabama, Dr. Hutchison had several hundred inventions to his credit. He worked as Chief Engineer for all of Thomas Edison’s interests and representations during his tenure.

Dr. Miller Reese Hutchison with Thomas Edison c. 1910-1918. (Credit: )

Thomas Edison’s original Menlo Park (NJ) Laboratory. (Credit: )

Born in Montrose, Alabama (Baldwin County), near Mobile, on August 6, 1876, Miller Reese Hutchison was educated in the Mobile public schools, Spring Hill College, Marion Military Institute (1889-1890), and graduated in electrical engineering from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University). Upon graduation, he worked as an engineer for the U.S. Light House Service and, during the Spanish-American War, helped lay submarine cables in the Gulf of Mexico. Hutchison later moved to New York City where he established his own laboratory and developed a number of inventions including the Klaxon auto horn and hearing aid. In 1902, he traveled to London and Paris to test his hearing aid; Hutchison also presented the device to Queen Alexandra of Great Britain.

The Klaxon. (Credit: )

The Horn, a Hutchison invention. (Credit: )

Attracting the attention of Thomas Edison, Dr. Miller Reese Hutchison worked for Edison from 1910 to 1918 at the Edison Laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. While in his mid-30s, Hutchison became Edison’s Chief Engineer, working as a consultant and promoter of the Edison Storage Battery, and negotiating the use of these storage batteries in US Navy submarines. Dr. Hutchison also worked to get Thomas Edison appointed president of the Naval Consulting Board, a civilian board of inventors and businessmen who reviewed inventions from the public which might help the military.

Dr. Hutchison resigned as Chief Engineer for Edison’s Laboratory in 1918, and started he own firm (Miller Reese Hutchison Corporation) to distribute the Edison batteries and to market his latest inventions. In addition to the Klaxon horn, he is noted for inventing the Acousticon, the first electrical hearing aid for the deaf (1902); the dictograph, one of the first eavesdropping devices; and the Moto-Vita, a forerunner of today’s Oxygen Sensor. Dr. Hutchison received a number of international honorary degrees, medals and awards during his career.

The Acousticon hearing aid. (Credit: )

Dr. Miller Reese Hutchison, MMI Class of 1890, died in New York City on February 16, 1944.