Born Emil Berliner in Hanover, Germany, he emigrated to the United States of America in 1870, establishing himself in Washington, D.C. After some time working in a dry goods store, he became interested in the new audio technology of the telephone and phonograph, and invented an improved telephone transmitter acquired by the Bell Telephone Company, one of the first types of microphone. Berliner worked for Bell Telephone in Boston from 1877 to 1883, when he returned to Washington and established himself as a private researcher.
Emile Berliner became a United States citizen in 1881.
In 1886 Berliner began experimenting with methods of sound recording. He began work on a system to record on to discs, as opposed to the phonograph cylinders then in use. He was granted his first patent for what he called the "gramophone" in 1887. Within a few years he was marketing his technology to toy companies. However he hoped to develop his device as more than a mere toy, and in 1895 succeeded in getting a group of businessmen to put up 25,000 United States dollars of capital and incorporated the Berliner Gramophone Company (see also).
A problem with early gramophones was difficulty in having the turntable rotate at a steady speed for playback. Engineer Eldridge R. Johnson helped solve this problem by designing clock-work spring wound motors. In 1901 Berliner and Johnson teamed up to found the Victor Talking Machine Company.
Berliner also invented a new type of loom for mass-production of cloth, acoustic tile, and experimented with an early version of the helicopter said by some accounts to have successfully lifted two men off the ground as early as 1909, although other accounts put the date a decade later. Berliner was also active in advocating improvements in public health and sanitation.
Emile Berliner died of a heart attack at the age of 78.