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David Alter (December 3, 1807 – September 18, 1881) was a prominent American inventor and scientist of the 19th century. He was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania and graduated from the Reformed Medical School in New York City. He had German and Swiss ancestry.
Dr. David Alter is credited with having invented:
- 1836 - the electric telegraph, predating the Morse telegraph in 1837.
- 1840 - his electric buggy - the forerunner of the automobile.
- 1845 - a patented method to manufacture and purify bromine from salt wells, highly useful in the iron industry and displayed in the World's Fair of 1853 (see: Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in New York City).
- 1854 - spectrum analysis, the idea that every element has its own emission spectrum: a breakthrough development in spectroscopy. The published article was: On Certain Physical Properties of Light Produced by the Combustion of Different Metals in an Electric Spark Refracted by a Prism. He included a chart of the colored lines or bands of twelve metals and paved the way by showing the spectral lines of brass corresponded to copper and zinc.
- 1855 - an expansion of spectrum analysis to include the optical properties of gas. These discoveries were later implemented and included by Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen in the Three Laws of Spectroscopy.
- 1858 - a patented method to extract oil from coal and shale, along with a partner Samuel Hill. Their invention sped manufacturing, but was replaced by technology in a few years.
- An electric clock.
- A short range type of telephone - forerunner of the Graham Bell telephone.