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.
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.
September 30, 1906: Begins work as office boy for Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America.
1907: Promoted to junior wireless telegraph operator.
1909-10: Appointed night manager of Marconi station at Sea Gate, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York.
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.
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.