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Harvey Fletcher

Harvey Fletcher
Born (1884-09-11)September 11, 1884
Provo, Utah, USA
Died July 23, 1981(1981-07-23) (aged 96)
Provo, Utah, USA
Nationality United States
Fields Physics
Institutions Western Electric
Bell Laboratories
Columbia University
Alma mater Brigham Young University
University of Chicago
Doctoral advisor Robert A. Millikan
Known for Invention of the hearing aid
The father of stereophonic sound
Notable awards Presidential Citation
ASA Gold Medal (1957)
Louis E. Levy Medal
IEEE Founders Medal (1967)

Harvey Fletcher (September 11, 1884 – July 23, 1981) was an American physicist.[1] Known as the "father of stereophonic sound". He is credited with the invention of the audiometer and the first electronic hearing aid.[2] He is remembered as a trail-blazing investigator into the nature of speech and hearing, and for his numerous contributions in acoustics, electrical engineering, speech, medicine, music, atomic physics, sound pictures, and education.


  • Early years 1
  • Graduate work 2
  • Career 3
  • Notable Contributions 4
  • Honors 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early years

Fletcher was born in Provo, Utah. He graduated from Brigham Young High School in 1904. He enrolled at Brigham Young University (BYU) and graduated in 1907 with a bachelor's degree. He married Lorena Chipman. They are the parents of six children.[3] Fletcher is the father of James C. Fletcher former president of the University of Utah and the 7th NASA administrator.[4]

Graduate work

Fletcher earned his Ph.D. summa cum laude from the University of Chicago in 1911. As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, his dissertation research was on methods to determine the charge of an electron. This included the now famous oil drop experiment commonly attributed to his advisor and collaborator, Robert Andrews Millikan. Professor Millikan took sole credit, in return for Fletcher claiming full authorship on a related result for his dissertation. Fletcher's contributions were detail-oriented but necessary for a successful experiment, in which he incorporated, among other things, experience with projection lanterns.[5] Millikan went on to win the 1923 Nobel Prize for Physics, in part for this work, and Fletcher kept the agreement a secret until his death.[6]


After completing his doctorate at the University of Chicago he returned to Brigham Young University and became the head of the physics department. He served as the head of the physics department from 1911 until 1916. He left BYU to work at Western Electric establishing himself as a skilled researcher. He joined the Bell telephone Laboratories' Engineering Staff Research Department in 1933. He worked with Bell telephone Laboratories until 1949. After his time at Bell telephone Laboratories he became a professor of Electrical Engineering, Columbia University from 1949 to 1952. He returned to Brigham Young University in 1952 to be the Director of Research. He served in that role as well as being the first dean of the new College Physics and Engineering Sciences until 1958.[3]

Notable Contributions

Among the work that he is best known for are Fletcher's contributions to the theory of speech perception. He showed that speech features are usually spread over a wide frequency range, and developed the articulation index to approximately quantify the quality of a speech channel.[7] He also developed the concepts of equal-loudness contours (commonly known as Fletcher–Munson curves), loudness scaling and summation, and the critical band.[8] As Director of Research at Bell Labs, he oversaw research in electrical sound recording, including more than 100 stereo recordings with conductor Leopold Stokowski in 1931–2.[9][10]

Much of his research is considered to be authoritative, and his books, Speech and Hearing and Speech and Hearing in Communication, are landmark treatises on the subject.


Dr. Fletcher was elected an honorary fellow of Acoustical Society of America in 1949, the second person to receive this honor after Thomas Edison, twenty years earlier. He was president of the American Society for Hard of Hearing, an honorary member of the American Otological Society and an honorary member of the Audio Engineering Society. In 1924 he was awarded the Louis E. Levy Medal for physical measurements of audition by the Franklin Institute. He was President of the American Physical Society which is the leading Physics society in America. In 1937 he was elected vice-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was also a member of the National Hearing Division Committee of Medical Sciences. He was given the Progress Medal Award by the American Academy of Motion Pictures, in Hollywood. For eight years he acted as National Councilor for the Ohio State University Research Foundation.

In 2010, Fletcher was honored by BYU as the Founding Dean of the BYU College of Engineering [11] (now the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology).

He died on July 23, 1981, after a stroke.


  1. ^ Gardner, Mark B. (October 1981). "Obituary: Harvey Fletcher". Physics Today 34 (10): 116.  
  2. ^ William M. Hartmann (January 9, 1997). Signals, Sound, and Sensation. Springer. pp. 72–.  
  3. ^ a b L. Tom Perry Special Collections, BYU Library. Retrieved 2014.12.20
  4. ^ retrieved 2014.12.20
  5. ^ David Goodstein (January–February 2001). "In the Case of Robert Andrews Millikan" (PDF). American Scientist: 54–60. 
  6. ^ Harvey Fletcher (June 1982). "My Work with Millikan on the Oil-drop Experiment" (PDF). Physics Today 35: 43.  
  7. ^ Jont B. Allen (2005). Articulation And Intelligibility. Morgan & Claypool.  
  8. ^ William Morris Hartmann (1997). Signals, Sound, and Sensation. Springer.  
  9. ^ Huffman, Larry. "Stokowski, Harvey Fletcher, and the Bell Labs Experimental Recordings". Retrieved February 17, 2014. 
  10. ^ William Ander Smith, The mystery of Leopold Stokowski. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1990, p.175.
  11. ^ Winters, Charlene (September 23, 2010). "Harvey Fletcher is Honored Founder for BYU Homecoming 2010".  

External links

  • "In Memory of Harvey Fletcher" - a brief biography and collection of links
  • Department of Communication Disorders at BYU - Audiology department at BYU
  • Harvey Fletcher Scientist, Father of Stereophonic Sound, Author
  • Fletcher Interview, 1963
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
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