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Al Gross Papers, 1909-2000 (Ms2001-011)

 Digital Record
Identifier: Ms2001-011


  • 1909 - 2000



Collection is open to research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish material from the Al Gross Papers must be obtained from the Special Collections, Virginia Tech.

Biographical/Historical Information

Al Gross was born in Toronto, Ontario but was raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Known as the father of wireless communications, Gross invented the walkie-talkie in 1938 at age 20 and by 1941 the Office of Strategic Services (now known as the CIA) was eager to develop a lightweight, portable communications system for air-to-ground contact. The OSS recruited Gross and he devised the "Joan-Eleanor System" using Hertzian radio waves which were virtually impossible to intercept even from behind emeny lines. Gross' invention was a huge success and was praised by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff as being one of the most successful wireless intelligence gathering methods ever employed.

After the war, Gross formed the Citizens Radio Corporation and sold his units to the public, mostly to farmers and the US Coast Guard. In 1949 Gross had another breakthrough invention, the telephone pager. That same year Gross attended a medical conference in Philadelphia to introduce the pager system to doctors. Unfortunately, many of the doctors were apprehensive of the device stating it would interfere with their leisure time or upset their patients. The pager never caught on for Gross, proving he was decades ahead of his time.

Gross continued to invent for his entire lifespan, compiling 12 patents. But Gross' patents expired long before the world was ready for pagers, cell phones, and CB radio. Instead of reaping the monetary benefits of his inventions, Gross is rich in awards and recognitions. Most recently, Gross became the sixth person to be awarded the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Eight months later on December 28, 2000, Gross died at his Arizona home.

Language of Materials


General Physical Description note

10 cubic feet, 21 boxes, 110 folders, 4 oversize boxes.

Scope and Content Information

The Al Gross papers are comprised of the following series: Employment, Publications, Inventions and Patents, Awards and Achievements, Personal Material, Technical Data, Radio Material, Government, Subject Files, and Oversize Materials. The collection also includes Gross' book collection and electronic parts. This collection contains materials relating to the significant contributions Al Gross made in the advancement of wireless technology. The collection provides a detailed look at the evolution of the walkie-talkie from a weapon against the Axis Powers in World War II to its functional and convenient purposes today. Throughout the progression of wireless technology, Al Gross remained an integral part of designing and updating wireless devices such as cellular phones and pagers to its now diminutive form using microminituarization and other scientific methods.

The Employment series (1944-81, n.d.) contains detailed materials from his first companies such as the Citizens Radio Corporation, Gross Communications, and Royalcall - the first telephone pager company ever. With his contributions in the wireless field, Al Gross became well known worldwide in the wireless front and companies such as True Temper and GTE Sylvania hired Gross not only for his engineering skill but for public relations as well. One example is Gross appearing on the popular television show "To Tell the Truth" while he worked for True Temper. Photographs of Gross on "To Tell the Truth" are located in the Personal Material series (1918-2000, n.d.) which also includes material spanning from Gross' Junior High School to notes on retirement. Also included are correspondence letters, resumes, and personal certificates.

The Publications series (1945-2000, n.d.) contains a comprehensive list of articles written about Gross and his work as well as articles written by Gross himself. Other publications used primarily for reference are found in the Technical Data series (1943-99, n.d.). Highlighting the series are technical diagrams, charts, and manuals. More information on the work of Al Gross can be found in the Inventions and Patents series (1909-2000, n.d.). Included in the series is a comprehensive photo collection and early drawings of inventions such as the Antenna, Citizens Transceiver, and the wrist-watch walkie-talkie. Complementing the material are photocopied patents with descriptions.

The Government series (1937-90, n.d.) includes materials from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which recruited Gross and his walkie-talkies in World War II. Also included are five folders from the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) which gave Gross the rights to the first "Citizens Radio Service" after World War II. The FCC also served as the distributor of radio licenses. Original and photocopied licenses of Gross can be found in the Radio Material series (1934-86, n.d.) which also includes material from his amateur radio station W8PAL such as a station log and data book.

Complementing his lifetime of work in the wireless field is a vast collection of recognitions found in the Awards, Achievements series (1959-2000, n.d.). The series includes eighteen different awards and recognitions Al Gross received including awards from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) of which he was a Fellow member. Other awards of Gross are found in boxes 16, 17, and 21. More information on the IEEE can be found in the Subject Files series (1947-96, n.d.) which includes theses, stock certificates, and material highlighting Gross' visit to Virginia Tech.

The Oversize Materials series consists of items such as his awards, blueprints, and original documents which were pulled from the other series as they were too large for inclusion with other items in the series. Key items highlighting the inventor's career are on permanent exhibit in Torgerson Hall.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US