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Founders

 

Elihu Thomson (1853-1937), the man who realized more than 100 years ago that taking innovation to the marketplace relied on end-to-end mastery of the entire industrial system. An American scientist and inventor of the electric traction machine, he founded the Thomson-Houston Electric Company.

 
Born in Russia in 1891, David Sarnoff came to the United States with his parents as a child and grew up on the streets of Hell's Kitchen in New York City’s Lower Manhattan. On September 30, 1906, American Marconi hired 15-year-old Sarnoff as an office boy and messenger. Two years later, he became a full-fledged "wireless" operator.

One year after that, he was managing one of Marconi's four land-based stations.

In 1911, Sarnoff was named both operator and manager of the five-kilowatt Marconi station on top of the Wanamaker department store. While on duty in 1912, Sarnoff picked up this message from a ship 1,400 miles away: "SS TITANIC ran into iceberg. Sinking fast." Over the next 72 hours, he relayed word of survivors to waiting relatives.

As early as 1916, Sarnoff foresaw radio's evolution. "I have in mind," he wrote in a now-famous memo, "a plan of development that would make radio a 'household utility' in the same sense as the piano or phonograph. The idea is to bring music into the house by wireless."

Sarnoff’s "radio music box" memo first laid out the idea of sending radio signals form one transmitter to thousands of receivers. He estimated the retail price of his "radio music box" at U.S. $75.

When Sarnoff became RCA's third president in 1930, the company was already on its way to becoming an innovator in the fields of consumer electronics and home entertainment. Sarnoff engineered the independence of RCA from G.E. and other companies, and acquired the Victor Company as a manufacturing base. Sarnoff would spearhead RCA's advance into television in the early 1930s and the development of color television after World War II. For his service to the nation during the war (which included coordinating "D-Day" communications), Sarnoff was named a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army. For the rest of his life, Sarnoff was known as "The General."

 


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