Clement Ader

Ader was born on February 4, 1841, in Muret in France. He grew up in the new world of scientific invention and he quickly showed a flair for engineering. His initial studies were in electrical engineering and in 1878 he patented a version of Hughes' carbon pencil transmitter that proved ideal for the newest scientific marvel, the telephone. Some writers assert that he invented this, but Hughes' work is well documented from at least six years before Ader's patent, and a similar transmitter was patented in England by Frederic Gower (also based on Hughes' work - Hughes did not patent his "microphone"). Ader's transmitter used multiple carbon pencils in a series / parallel arrangement, which gave a very sensitive and fairly high output transmitter. Although this style of transmitter was rather large and clumsy to use, it neatly got around the Bell patents and allowed Ader's firm to offer full telephones. Ader also developed what later became known as the "watchcase" receiver, a version more compact than the Bell receivers in use elsewhere. In design it was similar to Gower's receiver, but Ader redesigned it and miniaturized it into a successful compact handheld receiver.




Left: Ten-pencil Ader carbon pencil transmitter , bottom view.








His timing was perfect. Interest in the new telephone was high in Europe, and the French Post Office offered licences in 1879 to run telephone services in French cities. Ader's phones and switchboards were being built by Societe Industrielle des Telephones and they were used to equip the first of the new telephone companies. There was a lot of mix and match going on between telephone builders at the time, and Ader's carbon pencil transmitter had to compete against Bell's Blake transmitter, Gower's carbon pencil model, Berliner's carbon button transmitter,and many other coming onto the market through other inventors. Ader's receiver seems to have been popular, however, and was used on telephones as far afield as South America and Japan. Ader himself accepted a position on the board of Societe Generale des Telephones, a combination of companies that held the Paris contract and others. Eventually the French Post Office nationalized all the telephone companies by force and standardized on Bell-type equipment .









Left: 1880 Desk Phone

Centre: early wall phone

Left: Ader telephone from underneath, showing the carbon pencil transmitter.











Left: 1880 Wall phone

Right: Berthon Ader of 1885. It uses an Ader receiver and a Berthon carbon-granule transmitter. It was used in Australia from around 1890.



Left: Ader receiver, layout and side view.






In 1881 Ader used twelve of his highly sensitive transmitters mounted in two groups at either side of the stage to broadcast sound from the Paris Opera and the Comedie Francaise to the International Electrical Exhibition two miles way. Phone wires were laid through the sewers between the two sites. At the Exhibition, visitors were rostered to listen to the opera for short periods on banks of paired receivers. An unusual feature was that Ader's setup allowed the broadcast to be heard in a sort of stereophonic effect, a world first. Ader called the effect "binauriclar auduition" (later to become known as Stereo, fortunately). Its effect on the listeners was impressive, and it was reported on in the December 1881 issue of Scientific American. Monsieur Hospitaller described it as "the sound takes on a special character of relief and localization that a single receiver cannot reproduce. …..As soon as the experiment commences the singers place themselves, in the mind of the listener, at a fixed distance, some to the right and others to the left. It is easy to follow their movements , and to indicate exactly, each time that they change their position, the imaginary distance at which they appear to be."

Considering the standard of the transmitters of the time, this is quite an achievement and it aroused curiosity worldwide. It should be remembered that Bell made his first public showing of his Centennial Telephone on June 25, 1876, so Ader achieved this in only five years. It should also be noted that Ader's phones, even the early ones, were built with a quality, compactness and style that left the Bell phones far behind.

He called his system the Theatrophone, and formed a new company to market it. Similar systems followed worldwide, and they also mostly proved popular. The first was Tivadar Puskas's Telefon Hirmondo in Budapest in 1893, closely followed by the Universal Telephone Company's Electrophone in London in 1895 and the Telephone Herald in Newark, New Jersey in 1911. These companies soon began to include news and stock market reports in their subscription services, dramatised book readings, and other entertainments. They became, in fact, the forerunners of todays' radio stations. Not all the responses were positive however. Harper's Weekly in 1895, reporting on the Budapest system, remarked that "Pesth (Budapest) must be the finest place for illiterate, blind, bedridden and incurably lazy people in the world".

Ader was financially well off from his inventions and work, but he could not stop. In 1900 his company, Societe Industrielle des Telephones- Voitures Systeme Ader started producing the Ader automobile. It featured a V-twin motor of 904 ccs, with chain drive to the wheels. In 1904 this was upgraded to shaft drive from a four cylinder engine. In 1903 two of these engines were grafted together to make a 3.6 litre V8 engine to power a car in the Paris-Madrid race. The company also made marine engines and a motorbike.

In his earlier years Ader had built a hot air balloon, and he became fascinated with the possibility of powered flight. This passion lasted the rest of his life. He used studies on the flight of birds and bats to build a powered flying machine in 1886, called the Eole. It was strongly bat shaped, and used an Ader-designed lightweight four cylinder steam engine of about 20 horsepower to drive a four bladed propeller. It was over 15 metres wide at the wings, and weighed about 300 kg. In October 1890 the Eole took off, flew for about 50 metres, then crashed and was destroyed. The flight was more of a powered glide than a controlled flight, but it was still the first powered flight of any sort.




Further models and experiments followed, such as the Avion 3 shown above, but they failed continually due to the poor power-to-weight ratio and inadequate control. All ended in crashes. In this respect Ader cannot be said to be the first man to fly successfully, but fly he did and he is honoured in France for this. The photo shown at left shows one of his later aircraft in flight, but in truth they never got very high, and their tendency to crash rather than land would have made any great height fatal. Apart from the poor power to weight ratio, Ader's obsession with emulating the wing design of bats led him to ignore the aerodynamic inefficiency of a man-made copy, and this made his aircraft almost uncontrollable. Unfortunately, it was his early flights that caused him problems. He claimed to have made earlier successful flights, but the lack of witnesses and the subsequent unsuccessful flights affected his credibility. This was a disappointing end to an otherwise successful life.

Ader died on March 5th, 1926 in Toulouse. He is rightly honoured today for his early work on powered flight , but we should also respect him as a great engineer for his electrical work.


For further information on Ader's phones and good illustrations, go to Fredric Niebart's website

Website Adventures in Cybersound - Clement Ader (no longer available)

Scientific American December 1881

Thomas H White's United States Early Radio History Website at

New York Times article, Taking Note of the 100th Anniversary of Stereo by Hans Fantel, 1981

Herbert T E and Procter W S "Telephony" London 1932

Poole J "The Practical Telephone Handbook" London 1912

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