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David Alter

Born: 3-Dec-1807
Birthplace: Allegheny Township, PA
Died: 18-Sep-1881
Location of death: Allegheny Township, PA
Cause of death: Pneumonia
Remains: Buried, Freeport Cemetery, Armstrong County, PA

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor, Physicist, Doctor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Almost discovered spectroscopy

Trained as a physician, David Alter found more satisfaction and renown as an inventor and amateur physicist. On days when he was not making house calls on horseback, he constructed an electric alarm clock, an electric buggy, a telegraph that preceded Samuel F. B. Morse's completely different device, and what he called a "speaking telegraph" -- a telephone system -- that predated Alexander Graham Bell's machine by decades.

In his lifetime, Alter's most successful invention was a patented procedure for manufacturing bromine from salt wells. From the distance of history, his most noteworthy discovery might have been spectrum analysis -- the principle that each element can be identified from its unique spectrum. He missed lasting fame for this and related work, however, as credit went to Anders Jonas Ångström, Gustav Robert Kirchhoff, and Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, who worked in more academic settings, and whose works were thus published in more prestigious, widely read journals.

Father: John Alter (b. 1771)
Mother: Eleanor Sheetz Alter (b. 1776, m. 1794, d. 1841)
Sister: Esther Alter Vanarsdale (b. 1798, d. 1880)
Brother: John Alter Jr (minister, b. 1801, d. 1876)
Brother: Jacob Alter (cooper, b. 1804, d. 1849)
Brother: David Alter (physician, b. 1807, d. 1881)
Brother: Simon Alter (physician, b. 1810, d. 1878)
Brother: Isaac Alter (b. 1813, d. 1827)
Brother: Benjamin Alter (b. 1816, d. 1849)
Wife: Laura Rowley Alter (b. 1811, m. 1832, d. 1843, three children)
Son: Milton Alter (b. 1832, d. 1841)
Son: David Alter Jr (b. 1835, d. 1877)
Daughter: Flora Alter (b. 1837, d. 1841)
Wife: Amanda Rowley Alter (b. 1825, m. 1844, d. 1900, eight children)
Son: Newton Alter (b. 1845, d. 1855)
Daughter: Electra Alter (b. 1848, d. 1864)
Son: Myron Alter (physician, b. 1851, d. 1896)
Son: Simon Alter (b. 1854, d. 1856)
Daughter: Esther Alter (b. 1857, d. 1880)
Daughter: Ida Alter (b. 1861, d. 1864)
Daughter: Anna Alter Burtner (b. 1864, d. 1929)
Son: Charles Alter (b. 1870, d. 1872)

    Medical School: Reformed Medical College of New York (1832)
    Medical School: University of Cincinnati (1842)

    German Ancestry
    Swiss Ancestry



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