Sarnoff, David

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Sarnoff, David,

1891–1971, American pioneer in radio and television, b. Russia. Emigrating to the United States in 1900, he worked for the Marconi Wireless Company, winning recognition as the narrator of the news of the Titanic disaster (1912). In 1915, he proposed a "radio music box" that led to radio broadcasting as it is known today. The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) absorbed the Marconi firm in 1921, and Sarnoff became general manager. As president (after 1930) and eventually chief executive officer (1947–66) and chairman of the board (1947–70) of RCA, he helped develop black-and-white and compatible color television. In 1944, the Television Broadcaster's Association gave Sarnoff the title "Father of American Television," a moniker appropriate for his contribution to the development of commercial television broadcasting but misleading in terms of the development of television technology. He served Dwight D. Eisenhower in World War II as adviser on communications. Active in public affairs, he was often a spokesman for the broadcasting industry.


See R. Sobel, RCA (1986); K. Bilby, The General: David Sarnoff and the Rise of the Communications Industry (1986).

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Sarnoff, David

(1891–1971) broadcast pioneer/executive; born in Uzlian, Russia. He emigrated to New York City with his family at age nine and studied electrical engineering at the Pratt Institute. He gained national recognition in 1912 as a Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. operator by reporting on the sinking of the Titanic and then staying at his station for 72 hours to help direct ships to the sinking liner. When the newly formed Radio Corporation of America (RCA) acquired Marconi Wireless, he rose through the ranks, becoming RCA's president and chairman, and retiring in 1970. A man with a clear vision of broadcasting's future, he predicted radio would become a basic household utility and proposed designing "Radio Music Boxes." Foreseeing the need for programming networks, he set up the National Broadcasting Co. in 1926 to stimulate RCA's radio sales. He was responsible for the first American television service, arranging for RCA to televise programs in 1936 to 150 homes in the New York City area. Under his guidance, RCA developed the black-and-white-compatible color television system adopted by the Federal Communication Commission in 1953, and the National Broadcasting Company took the lead in broadcasting color television. A colonel in the U.S. Army Signal Corps from 1924, he was promoted to brigadier general while on active duty in 1944–45 and thereafter enjoyed being called General Sarnoff.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.