Before we start I should mention that there is some confusion about his name. Some references have Al J Gross, others have Irving A Gross. still others have Alfred Irving Gross. His patent applications are marked as Irving A Gross, so I will use Irving Alfred Gross (I don't know where the "J" comes from, so I'll ignore it for now. If I ever find a difinitive source for his name I'll amend this article).
Irving Alfred Gross was born in Toronto, Ontario, in Canada on February 22, 1918 but grew up in Cleveland, Ohio.
Al (his preferred moniker) began his life-long romance with wireless communications in 1927, aged 9, whilst on a cruise on Lake Erie. While he was exploring the ship, Al met the radio operator and was invited into the radio room to listen to the transmissions. The sound of wireless telegraphy fascinated him so much that he begged his parents to buy him a crystal set. Within 3 years Al had turned the basement of his house into a radio station, built from scavenged junkyard parts. By the age of 15 he was fabricating his own metal radio chassis in a metal working class. A year later he earned his amateur operator's license with the callsign of W8PAL, which he held until his death. The next step for Gross was to build a handheld device to communicate with other amateur operators while on the move. His hand held radio was invented in 1938 and it was a mobile, lightweight, two-way communications system; the "walkie-talkie". This was while he was studying and he earned a degree in electrical engineering in 1938 from Cleveland's Case School of Applied Science, now Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Once he attended a special three-week seminar for exceptional students at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. The instructor was Albert Einstein. As Al used to tell it, Einstein didn't grade papers, he just walked around looking at students' work. If he said nothing, or turned a paper over, students knew they'd failed. Einstein came to Als' desk and looked over his paper, he smiled broadly, patted him on the back and said in his heavily accented English: "Das is goot!" That was one of the proudest moments of his life.
Als' device caught the attention of the US Office of Strategic Services During World War II (OSS, a forerunner to the CIA) and Al had some involvement in building a two-way air-to-ground communications system for the OSS for use in military operations, known as the Joan-Eleanor system. It comprised a hand-held SSTC-502 transceiver ("Joan") and a much larger aircraft-based SSTR-6 transceiver ("Eleanor"). Als' actual contribution to the project is unclear (he was not an OSS member), but the main developers on the project were Dewitt R. Goddard and Lt. Cmdr. Stephen H. Simpson (Goddard's wife's name was Eleanor, and reportedly Joan was an acquaintance of Simpson). The system operated at frequencies above 250 MHz, which was at a much higher frequency than the enemy had thought conceivable. This allowed operatives using "Joan" to communicate with high altitude bombers carrying "Eleanor" for times of 10-15 minutes without the use of code words, eliminating the need for decryption. It was developed beginning in late 1942, was highly successful and very difficult to detect behind enemy lines at the time. Long after the war, Al received recognition for his work. His contribution was cited as significantly shortening the war through the successful gathering of intelligence. The net result was the saving of countless lives. This "Top Secret" project was not declassified until 1976.
After World War II, Al set up Gross Electronics Inc to design and build various communications products, some of them under government contracts. He also launched Citizens Radio Corporation to design, develop and manufacture personal wireless transceivers. Cartoonist Chester Gould asked if he could use Als' concept of a miniaturized two-way radio in his Dick Tracy comic strip. The result was the Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio. Another breakthrough came in 1949 when he adapted his two-way radios to one-way for cordless remote telephonic signaling. He had invented the first telephone pager system. His intention was for this system to be used by medical doctors, but was met with skepticism by the doctors who were afraid the system would upset patients and interrupt them (the doctors) during golf. This same technology is used in one-way radio signaling devices such as garage door openers. Al lived to see his pager not only accepted but also become a necessary device for many professionals and service providers.
In 1950 he tried in vain to interest telephone companies in mobile telephony. Bell Telephone was uninterested, and other companies were afraid of Bell's monopoly on transmission lines. During the 1950s and 1960s, Al secured several patents for various portable and cordless telephone devices. In September 1958, Gross Electronics received FCC type approval for mobile and handheld transceivers for use on the new Class D 27-MHz Citizens Band. In 1959 the U.S. Navy parachuted an unmanned battery-operated weather station into the Antarctic that had been designed and manufactured by Gross Electronics Co.
Although he didn't have much spare time, Al greatly enjoyed visiting Civil War battlefields and searching for relics, often using a metal detector of his own design. He appeared on the TV game show To Tell the Truth in 1977, stumping three out of the four panelists. Later that year he met Ethel Stanka in Cleveland when he went to her firm to have his taxes figured. Although she moved to Sun City soon afterward, they stayed in touch. After a long tour of Europe, where he racked up award after award and had a private audience with Pope John Paul II, Gross moved to Sun City and married Ethel in 1982.
After closing his companies Al did not retire but continued to conduct research as a specialist in microwave communications for Sperry Corporation, General Electric and Westinghouse, as well as other large corporations. At 72 he became the senior principal engineer for the Orbital Science Corporation while also continuing to work on personal projects. He also continued to give presentations to elementary and high school students on technology and inventions.
"If you have a cordless telephone or a cellular telephone or a walkie talkie or beeper, you've got one of my patents," Al once said, he added; "If my patents on those technologies hadn't run out in 1971, I'd have been a millionaire several times over." His true reward was the ability to continue being productive throughout his life. He never lost his zest for exploring and expanding wireless technology and sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others. He continued working until his death on December 21, 2000, at his home in Sun City, Arizona at the age of 82.