• 1936
    (b.) -
    2002 February 23


An American inventor and businessman, he started one of the first companies which pioneered the commercialization of voicemail. He also invented systems to make computers talk to each other, telephones find the cheapest long-distance lines and alarms go off when duffers dawdle too long on the golf course. He held over thirty-five patents, many of which related to voicemail. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after graduating from the University of Tulsa in 1959, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps as an aviator. His involvement in trying to mesh human voices to technology was many years in the making. A fellow friend and pilot perished in a mid-air collision, which he believed was caused when he momentarily took his eyes off of his plane's controls to adjust his radio frequency. After he was discharged from the military, he went to work for IBM to help develop voice-activated cockpit controls which would help lessen similar types of catastrophic errors in the future. In 1966, he left IBM, and joined Texas Instruments. His idea came about while calling on a client in Colorado and he was having trouble reaching his Dallas home office. At the same time, he happened to notice great volumes of the client's trash - all bundles of pink "while you were out" slips with cryptic call so-and-so messages hand-written by secretaries. He started pondering, and his idea soon materialized into his Voice Messaging System, described by Forbes 20 years ago as, "a computerized telephone message storage and retrieval system with greater capacity than a tape recorder and a novel ability to reroute and replicate messages." Unlike simple home answering machines containing miniature tape recorders, which date to the 1920s, his system for companies enabled users to exchange, send, receive, store, forward and erase voice messages from any telephone. In 1979, he founded a company in Texas called ECS Communications. In 1979, he also filed a method patent for voicemail, which was granted on 1 February 1983. He patented what was called "Voice Message Exchange," U.S. Patent No. 4,371,752, a significant patent for voicemail. While there was prior art for voicemail, his patent was never adjudicated and held up until its expiration. He later changed the name of his company to VMX, Inc. and eventually developed a 3,000-user voice messaging system called the VMX/64. VMX was arguably the first company to offer voicemail for sale commercially for corporate use. He was able to sell his system to several notable large corporations, such as 3M, Kodak, American Express, Intel, Hoffman La Roche, Corning Glass, ARCO, Shell Canada and Westinghouse. This impressive list of early users started the ball rolling on corporate voicemail. He made it clear that he did not invent today's "automated attendant", which presents the caller with a series of push-button options for recorded information with no actual person at the end of the line. He believed that customers should be able to speak to actual employees during a business day and that his system was only an adjunct, facilitating communication among mobile staff members and from customers after hours. Like many other consumers, he loathed getting mired in the popularly termed "voicemail jail" of labyrinthine options leading only to more and more tape recordings. "If I call someone and have to go through four or five steps to reach a person, only to reach his message machine," he said, "I won't do business with him. People hide behind it." Yet his invention certainly paved the way for the proliferation of messaging systems. About 80% of large American companies use voice mail, according to the TeleMessaging Industry Association. While some claim that he and VMX invented voicemail or that he was the "father of voicemail", this claim is not true. The first inventor of record was Stephen Boies of IBM in 1973, six years before. IBM released its first implementation of Speech Filing System (SFS) in 1975, four years before VMX was launched. SMS was later called Audio Distribution System (ADS). Also, Delphi Communications of California first released their Delta 1 system in 1976, three years before his first patent filing. In 1988, when VMX was on the verge of bankruptcy, it was acquired by Opcom, a designer and seller of computer software products for handling telephone calls. Opcom was acquired in 1994 by Octel Communications, the largest provider of voicemail equipment and services in the world. In 1997, Octel was acquired by Lucent Technologies and spun off several years later as part of Avaya. He also maintained a busy consulting and speaking schedule. He died at the age of 65 in Dallas, Texas from complications relating to a stroke. He was survived by his wife, son, and daughter. He had lived in Austin, Texas since 1989.
  • Date of Birth:

  • Date of Death:

    2002 February 23
  • Noted For:

    Founder of ECS Communications (later VMX); one of the first companies which pioneered the commercialization of voicemail for corporate use
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