David Sarnoff

David Sarnoff

Who was David Sarnoff, Anyway?

    David Sarnof(1891-1971) was not an inventor, an engineer, or a scientist. Instead, as a corporate manager and executive he became technology's champion, especially for broadcast communications, starting at the age of fifteen. He advocated, supported, financed, and oversaw the development of radio in the 1910s and1920s, and then television from the 1930s through the 1950s.

    Sarnoff first posed the concept of broadcast radio in1915. At that time, more than half of the American population lived in towns of less than 5,000 people; information arrived through newspapers, magazines, mail order catalogs, letters and postcards, and word of mouth. Today, there are nearly 13,000 AM and FM radio stations in the United States, and thousands more abroad, as well as nearly 20,000 internet radio stations.

    Sarnoff formally introduced RCA's electronic monochrome television system in 1939 and the world's first electronic color television system in 1946. In 2000 there were over 1,600 television stations in the United States. Only since 1990 have more households acquired complete plumbing facilities than televisions. Some 900 million people watch color TV around the world, and the color picture tube used for television and computer displays was invented at RCA Laboratories.

    There is more to Sarnoff's contribution to the electronic revolution of the 20th century. He firmly believed in the possibilities of social improvement through technological progress, and supported the development of RCA's independent research laboratories. Along with Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, the RCA Labs in Princeton were responsible for inventing or innovating nearly every device that enabled the birth of Silicon Valley, Asia's dominance of the electronics industry, and the Digital Revolution, from video displays to the integrated circuit, from electron microscopy to CCD cameras. David Sarnoff and RCA can be regarded as basic ingredients of the Second Industrial Revolution in electronics and chemistry, a revolution that continues to play out around the world today.

    February 27, 1891: Born to Leah and Abraham Sarnoff in Uzlian, Russia.

    1896: Abraham Sarnoff leaves for New York City

    1896-1900: Studies with his granduncle, a rabbi, in a kheder, memorizing lines of the Talmud.

    July 2, 1900: Arrived New York City with his mother and two brothers via Minsk, the ports of Liepaja, Latvia; Liverpool, England; and Montreal, Canada; and New York’s Barge Office.

    David, Leah, Lew, and Morris Sarnoff, in a studio in Borisov, Russia, c. 1897

    1900-07: Helps support family by selling penny newspapers before and after school, and singing in his synagogue choir.

    June 1906: Graduates from eighth grade at the Educational Allianceon New York’s Lower East Side.

    June 1906: Begins working for the Commercial Cable Telegraph Company.

    September 30, 1906: Begins work as office boy for Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America.

    1907: Promoted to junior wireless telegraph operator.

    1908-09: Signs on as assistant telegraph operator at Marconi station at Siasconset, Nantucket Island, off Massachusetts; promoted to full operator.

    1909-10: Appointed night manager of Marconi station at Sea Gate, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York.

    1910: Transfers to management of Marconi station in Wanamaker’s Department Store, New York City

    1911: Father dies; takes leave to sign on as wireless operator on S.S. Beothic out of St. John’s,Newfoundland, for seal hunting expedition; also serves on S.S. Harvard.

    1912: Promoted to Marconi radio station inspector and instructor at Marconi Institute for new operators.

    1913: Promoted to chief radio inspector and assistant chief engineer; helps establish first radio communications with railroad trains on the Erie Lackawanna line between Binghamton, New York, and Scranton, Pennsylvania.

    1914: Permits Edwin Armstrong to demonstrate continuous wave regeneration technology at Marconi station at Belmar, New Jersey and receives reprimand from senior Marconi officials in England. Promoted to contract manager.

    1915: Promoted to assistant traffic manager; makes first proposal regarding broadcast radio.

    1915-18: Secretary of Institute of Radio Engineers (one of the IEEE’s founding organizations).

    1917: Promoted to commercial manager.

    July 4, 1917: Marries Lizette Hermant.

    July 2, 1918: Becomes father of Robert W. Sarnoff.

    1919: General Electric Company (GE) buys American arm of Marconi company and incorporates its assets asRadio Corporation of America (RCA). David Sarnoff retains post as commercial manager.

    January 1920: Sends memo to GE superiors on present and prospective business for RCA, including broadcasting.

    April 29, 1921: Promoted to general manager of RCA.

    January 8, 1921: Becomes father of Edward Sarnoff.

    1922: Promoted to vice president and general manager.

    December 11, 1924: Appointed lieutenant colonel, United States Army reserve.

    February 23, 1927: Becomes father of Thomas W. Sarnoff.

    January 1, 1929: Promoted to executive vice president.

    Who Is David Sarnoff Part II

      January 3, 1930: Promoted to president, RCA.

      December 23, 1931: Appointed colonel, U. S. Army reserve.

      April 20, 1939: Introduces RCA’s electronic monochrome television system in broadcast from theNew York World’s Fair in Queens, New York.

      1942: Called to active duty in June-July and August-October with the Army Signal Corps.

      March-December 1944: Called to active duty to develop and implement electronic news coverage systems for D-Day and the liberation of Paris.

      December 7, 1944: Appointed brigadier general, U. S. Army.

      January 1, 1949: Promoted to chairman of the board, RCA.

      September 30, 1951: RCA Laboratories facility in Princeton, New Jersey, rededicated as David Sarnoff Research Center.

      September 30, 1967: David Sarnoff Library dedicated in Princeton.

      Summer 1968: Suffers attack of shingles and undergoes first of three mastoid operations to stop infection.

      December 31, 1969: Appointed honorary chairman of the board of RCA.

      December 12, 1971: Dies of cardiac arrest at home; buried at Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York