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This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone
Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes
Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s fields of interest? (e.g. “the theory and practice of electrical, electronics, communications and computer engineering, as well as computer science, the allied branches of engineering and the related arts and sciences” – from the IEEE Constitution) Yes
Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes
Was it of at least regional importance? Yes
Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes
Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes
Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes
Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an Electrical Engineering Milestone? Yes
Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:
Title of the proposed milestone:
Single-element Unidirectional Microphone - Shure Unidyne, 1939
Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:
In 1939, Shure Incorporated introduced the Unidyne microphone. Using the Uniphase acoustical system, the patented Unidyne was the first microphone to provide directional characteristics using a single dynamic element. This breakthrough offered lower cost, greater reliability and improved performance for communication and public address systems. Shure Unidyne microphones are still manufactured and used worldwide in numerous audio applications.
In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):
Unit: Chicago Section
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:
Unit: Chicago Section
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public
IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):
IEEE Section: Chicago
IEEE Section Chair name: Section chair name masked to public
Proposer name: Proposer's name masked to public
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public
Proposer name: Proposer's name masked to public
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public
Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.
Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):
5800 W. Touhy Ave. Niles, IL 60714-4608
Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.
Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. Shure Incorporated 5800 W. Touhy Ave. Niles, IL 60714-4608
Shure Incorporated was the technology developer.
Are the original buildings extant?
The original building location is not a secure option.
Details of the plaque mounting:
The plaque will be mounted on a wall in the lobby of Shure's worldwide headquarters in Niles, Illinois.
How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?
The building is secure at all times. Visitors can simply enter the lobby entrance to view both the plaque and Shure's display of historical microphones and documents. Additional access to the building would need to be arranged with Shure.
Who is the present owner of the site(s)?
What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?
2013 marks the 75th anniversary of Ben Bauer’s invention of the Uniphase principle while working for Shure Brothers Incorporated, a microphone manufacturer in Chicago. As a newly graduated engineer, the 25 year-old Bauer developed an acoustical method that produced a directional microphone using only one microphone element. The Uniphase principle paved the way to the design of the Shure Unidyne microphone. Introduced in 1939, the Shure Unidyne is arguably the most recognized microphone in the world.
Benjamin Bauer (originally Baumzweiger) was born in Odessa Russia in 1913. His family fled Russia after the 1917 revolution and relocated to Cuba. At the age of 17, and speaking little English, Bauer moved to New York City to attend the Pratt Institute. After obtaining an associate Industrial Engineering degree, Bauer matriculated at the University of Cincinnati pursuing an Electrical Engineering degree. Bauer chose a five year work/study program and began working as an intern for Shure. When he graduated in 1937, he joined Shure full time as a transducer development engineer. It was the start of a distinguished career in acoustics and audio that included over one hundred patents. Benjamin B. Bauer became an IEEE Fellow member in 1952 and received his recognition on the Citation: "for his important contributions to the development of microphone and other audio devices." He received other IEEE Awards with the IRE in the Professional Group on Audio in 1955.
Three technologies came of age during the 1930s, and a nascent technology was being nurtured. Radio broadcasting, public address systems, and two-way radio communication became commonplace in the 1930s, and television broadcasting was in development. One common factor required for all was the use of a microphone.
A microphone is a transducer. The function of a transducer is to change one type of energy into another type. A microphone changes acoustical energy (sound waves) into analogous electrical energy. Once the sound waves become electrical waves, they can be amplified, broadcasted, stored on disc, wire, and magnetic tape, or manipulated in other ways. A microphone was the primary audio signal source for radio, public address, and television. Since the 1930s, a microphone has been present at nearly every major or minor event that has shaped the world.
In the early 1930s, the carbon element microphone was in common use. Though not expensive, its audio quality was poor; it required a DC power source to operate; it had no ability to reject unwanted background noise. There were also condenser element microphones – expensive and fragile – and crystal element microphones – adversely affected by heat and humidity.
In 1939, Shure began to manufacture microphones with dynamic elements. This dynamic element microphone was, in essence, a loudspeaker in reverse. Instead of a paper cone, there was a circular diaphragm molded from plastic. Glued to the diaphragm was a voice coil wound from miniature wire. The voice coil was positioned in the middle of a miniature permanent magnet. Sound waves from the talker moved the plastic diaphragm (suspended like a trampoline) which in turn moved the voice coil. A tiny voltage was induced in the voice coil because of the magnetic field. This voltage was the electrical equivalent of the sound wave.
Precision manufacturing techniques were necessary to create a dynamic microphone element, but the underlying design was simple. The result was a reliable, rugged microphone that was inexpensive, required no external power, and could be made by the thousands with repeatable tolerances. Yet the dynamic element microphone did not solve the problem of unwanted background noise.
Unwanted background noise (ambient noise) is often a problem wherever a microphone is needed. In a radio studio, the background noise might originate with the audience whispering or turning program pages. These noises would be distracting to the radio listener at home. In two-way radio communications (fire, police, medical), unwanted background noise would reduce the intelligibility of the messages being sent and that could result in the loss of life. In public address systems, unwanted background noise can be the root cause of acoustic feedback - that annoying squealing and howling that occurs when a public address system is turned up too loud. The unwanted background noise is the amplified sound waves emanating from the loudspeakers. When the loudspeaker sound waves are picked up by the microphone, the waves are re-amplified again and again, and a “feedback” loop is created.
A directional microphone is a desirable tool to reduce the pickup of unwanted background noise. It is more sensitive to sound waves that originate at the front; less sensitive to sounds that originate to the sides; and far less sensitive to sounds that originate to the rear. The most common and useful microphone directional pattern is shaped like a heart, and is aptly named “cardioid,” as in cardiac. Be it a radio studio, a police station, or an auditorium, a directional microphone will attenuate unwanted background noise and that will improve the quality of the audio signal being heard by the listeners. The Shure Unidyne was the world’s first directional, dynamic, single element microphone. Manufacturing of the Unidyne began in 1939 and it has been in production ever since.
The industrial design of the Unidyne is firmly grounded in the Art Deco movement. Sleek in design with a futuristic appearance, the Unidyne pays homage to the grilles of late 30s automobiles, such as the Cadillac roadster. The appearance of the Unidyne has come to mean “microphone” worldwide. A Google image search on “microphone” presents the Unidyne as the first result. The Unidyne has appeared on postage stamps in many countries. It has been a graphic icon on countless TV shows and innumerable Web sites. It has public recognition rarely attained by any product except perhaps the Coca-Cola bottle. The reason is that the Unidyne has stood in front of celebrities, politicians, and entertainers for over seven decades…and has been photographed with these people during celebrations, performances, and historical events. Examples include: Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have A Dream” speech, “Dewey Defeats Truman”, Elvis Presley, President Roosevelt addressing the nation during World War II, Frank Sinatra during the Big Band Era, Indira Gandhi, the Japanese surrender on the battleship Missouri, Groucho Marx radio programs, Star Wars movies, Battlestar Galactica TV series, MTV music videos, Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam,” President Kennedy press conferences, and singer Taylor Swift at the Grammy Awards.
It is not hyperbole to state that since 1939 a Shure Unidyne has been the chosen microphone model at more important historical and entertainment events than any other microphone.
What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?
Prior to the Unidyne, the prime method of creating a microphone with a directional response employed an omni-directional element combined with a bi-directional element. Both elements were fixed into a single microphone housing. By electrically combining the two signals from the two elements, a variety of directional patterns could be obtained.
These dual-element directional microphones had many drawbacks. First, they were large, heavy, and bulky. Second, they were expensive to manufacture as each microphone required two elements and a signal mixing circuit. Third, the two elements did not possess the same frequency response and could not occupy the same physical space, so the resultant directional pattern was irregular and difficult to control, as was the frequency response. This meant performance inconsistency and wide tolerances in the manufactured products.
Ben Bauer inherently understood that the best way to deal with these drawbacks was to develop a directional microphone that required only one mic element. He began by examining the underlying physics of a microphone and sound waves. Bauer knew that when a mic element was exposed to sound only on its front side, an omni-directional pattern was obtained. In contrast, a bi-directional “figure 8” pattern was created when both sides, front and back, were exposed to sound. With these facts in mind, Bauer calculated that if he could partially block the back side of a microphone element, he would create a directional pattern somewhere between omni-directional and bi-directional. Eventually Bauer designed an element with precision openings at the front and at the back of the element. Sound waves that entered the rear openings passed through acoustical material that delayed the waves in relation to the sound waves entering at the front. By varying the amount of acoustic delay, it was feasible to create different directional patterns using only a single element. This principle was dubbed Uniphase and led to the development of the single element crystal microphone, the Uniplex, and the single element dynamic microphone, the Unidyne.
Crystal microphone elements were inherently unreliable due to the effects of heat, humidity, and physical shock; in contrast, dynamic microphone elements were virtually unaffected. Natural selection dictated the success of the Unidyne and the rapid extinction of the Uniplex. The Unidyne design has proven so reliable that Unidyne microphones from the 1940s are still in operation, and Unidyne microphones are still manufactured in 2013.
The nomenclature “Unidyne” can be interpreted in multiple ways: Uni = one mic element; Uni = “uni”directional pattern; Uni = unique. Dyne = dynamic mic element; Dyne = unit of force used in acoustical measurement. Mr. S. N. Shure, the founder of Shure Incorporated, was a life-long student of language and often chose trademarks that had multiple meanings.
What features set this work apart from similar achievements?
The Unidyne microphone was the first directional microphone that used a single dynamic mic element. Using a single element reduced the size, weight, and manufactured cost, increased reliability, and significantly improved the acoustical performance. The Unidyne spawned even more popular models. The Unidyne II, a smaller version of the Unidyne, was introduced in 1951. The Unidyne III, grandchild of the Unidyne, was introduced in 1959. It is the most widely used professional microphone in the world and has been the microphone of choice for every U.S. President since Lyndon Johnson. And in 2013, a Unidyne III microphone is used on the International Space Station for live TV and Internet interviews with the crew.
References to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or citations to pages in scholarly books. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article.
To fully understand the design details of the unidirectional microphone, you only need to read patent 2,237,298 which was filed by Benjamin Baumzweiger on September 29, 1938 and granted on April 8, 1941. To those in the sound industry, he authored the article “A New Unidirectional Microphone” in the February, 1939 issue of Electronics. Just before the IRE merger with the IEEE he contributed an article entitled “A Century of Microphones” to a commemorative issue of Proceedings of the IRE in May, 1962. However, the best endorsements about the significance of unidirectional microphone come from the sound industry. In the second edition of The Microphone Handbook by Jon Eargle (2012), the author says on page 350 in regard to Shure’s unidirectional microphone that “the M-55 has been in the Shure catalog in one form or another since its inception in the late 1930s. It is truly one of the icons of the industry and has been documented in press and news activities over the years.” In the Twelve Microphones that Made History by Jim Webb, (http://www.coutant.org/12mics/) the author says this about the Shure Unidyne Model 55. “It is hard to imagine another microphone based on its original concept and styling that has remained in production as long as some version of the Unidyne.”
The invention of the single-element unidirectional microphone is truly a milestone.
Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to email@example.com. Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.
The following references were submitted in pdf format:
Bauer-Century of Mics AES, A Century of Microphones, J. Audio Eng. Soc., Vol. 35, No. 4, 1987 April
Electronics Feb 1939 Article, A New Unidirectional Microphone, Electronics, February 1939
Patent 2237298(A1), Conversion of Wave Motion Into Electrical Energy, Patent 2,237,298, April 8, 1941
The Microphone Book, The Microphone Book Second Edition, John Eargle, Focal Press
Bauer Tribute-1, Bauer Obit by Cyril M. Harris, National Academy of Engineering, Volume 2 (1984) p.1
Bauer Tribute-2, Bauer Obit by Cyril M. Harris, National Academy of Engineering, Volume 2 (1984) p.2
Bauer Tribute-3, Bauer Obit by Cyril M. Harris, National Academy of Engineering, Volume 2 (1984) p.3
The following reference was submitted in jpg format:
Shure Ad in 1950, Shure Advertisement, 1950 Directory of the I. R. E. Chicago Section
Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator" .