March 1972 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Brigadier General David Sarnoff's
name was well known to most people in the realm of communications up to the time of his death
in 1971. His technical and leadership skills were recognized and rewarded throughout his very
accomplished lifetime in both military and civilian venues. This brief biography of Sarnoff
was printed in the March 1972 issue of Popular Electronics magazine. As with many
people of high acclaim, he had a few run-ins with other notable people during his career -
the most famous of which was the
Battle of the Airwaves fought between Edwin Armstrong and him over FM
versus AM broadcasting. See my piece titled, "Edwin
H. Armstrong: The Rest of the Story."
Brigadier General David Sarnoff 1891-1971
The death of David Sarnoff marks end of an era of
remarkable innovators and daring developers who made today's sophisticated communications
systems a reality within a single generation.
The passing of Brig. Gen. David Sarnoff, former Chairman of the Board of RCA, on Dec. 12,
1971, brought to a close an era in which men who head giant U.S. corporations were as well-known
to the man in the street as to their fellow board members. David Sarnoff's public career with
Radio Corporation of America (now RCA) began in 1930 when, at the age of 39, he was elected
president. In 1947, he was named Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. He relinquished
the post of Chief Executive Officer in 1966 on his 60th anniversary of service in the fields
of communications and electronics.
Born on February 27, 1891 in a small village near Minsk in Russia, Mr. Sarnoff came to
the U.S. in 1900. In 1906, he went to work as an office boy with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph
Company of America. At 17, he became an operator at the Marconi wireless station at Saisconset
on Nantucket Island. When he later became the Marconi station operator atop Wanamaker's store
in New York, he attended evening engineering courses at Pratt Institute.
At radio station atop New York store, Sarnoff, on duty for 72 hours, reported
sinking of Titanic to the world.
David Sarnoff and Guglielmo Marconi in a photograph taken in 1933 at the
RCA transmitting center located in the town of Riverhead, Long Island.
In 1939, Sarnoff dedicated the RCA pavilion at the New York World's Fair.
It was the first time a news event was ever covered by television.
While on duty the fateful night of April 14, 1912, young Sarnoff picked up the message
reporting the Titanic's distress signal and subsequent sinking. He stayed on duty continuously
for 72 hours, relaying messages from the rescue ship to the anxious world.
With experience in military radio dating back to WWI, when he played an important role
in helping to equip the American forces with wireless, he was appointed a Lieutenant Colonel
in the U.S. Army in December 11, 1924. During WWII, he served in the office of the Chief Signal
Officer in Washington, D.C. In 1944, he went overseas to serve as Special Consultant on Communications
to General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower at SHAEF in Europe. Mr. Sarnoff was promoted to
Brigadier General in 1944.
Although he was an innovator in many fields, Mr. Sarnoff is probably best known for his
efforts in making good music available to the vast listening audience. He arranged for Dr.
Walter Damrosch to conduct the weekly "Music Appreciation Hour" for schools throughout America,
the broadcasting of the Metropolitan Opera to music lovers from coast to coast, and, in 1937,
the creation of the NBC Symphony Orchestra for Maestro Arturo Toscanini, which continued under
the Maestro's baton until his retirement in 1954.
Mr. Sarnoff was always in the forefront of developments in radio broadcasting, black-and-white
TV, and all-electronic compatible color television. At his instigation, the David Sarnoff
Research Center, Princeton, N.J. developed a wide range of electronic equipment not only for
consumer and commercial uses, but also for space applications.
Mr. Sarnoff was the recipient of innumerable awards and honorary degrees from grateful
governments and groups around the world. He served as president of a number of associations
and was granted honorary memberships in an impressive list of learned societies, who thus
acknowledged his many contributions in electronics - particularly in the field of communications.
On his 60th anniversary in communications and electronics, more than 1500 industry leaders
and outstanding citizens gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria in a "Salute to David Sarnoff" sponsored
by the Electronic Industries Association, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers,
and the National Association of Broadcasters. During the unprecedented event, tributes were
paid to Mr. Sarnoff not only by industry leaders but by heads of state, governors, mayors,
diplomats, cabinet officers, Supreme Court justices, as well as former Presidents Truman and
General Sarnoff is survived by his wife of 52 years, three sons, and nine grandchildren.
His eldest son, Robert, succeeded his father as Chairman of the Board of RCA.
The electronics industry is today poorer for the loss of David Sarnoff - one of its colorful
pioneers and industry leaders for more than a half century. We join with the rest of the industry
in mourning his passing and extend to his family and fellow workers our sincerest sympathy.
Posted November 16, 2017