RCA Corporation was a major American electronics company, which
was founded as the
Radio Corporation of America in 1919. It was
initially a wholly owned subsidiary of
General Electric (GE); however,
in 1932, GE was required to divest its control as part of the
settlement of an antitrust suit.
At its height as an independent company,
RCA was the dominant
communications firm in the United States. Beginning in the early
RCA was a major manufacturer of radio receivers, and also
developed the first national radio network, the National Broadcasting
Company (NBC). It had a leading role in the introduction of
black-and-white television in the 1940s and 1950s, and color
television in the 1950s and 1960s. During this time the company was
closely identified with the leadership of David Sarnoff, who was
general manager at its founding, became company president in 1930, and
remained active, as chairman of the board, until the end of 1969.
In the 1970s
RCA began to falter, suffering major losses in the
mainframe computer industry and other failed projects such as the CED
videodisc. In 1986,
RCA was reacquired by General Electric, which over
the next few years liquidated most of the corporation's assets. The
RCA trademarks are currently owned by
Sony Music Entertainment
Sony Music Entertainment and
Technicolor, which in turn license the brand name to other companies
including Voxx International, Curtis International, and TCL
Corporation for their various products.
1 Establishment by General Electric
2.1 International and marine communication
2.3 National Broadcasting Company
3 Vacuum tubes
5 Motion pictures
6 Separation from General Electric
9 Later years
10 Re-acquisition and break-up by General Electric
11.1 Environmental issues
12 Photo gallery
13 See also
15 Further reading
16 External links
Establishment by General Electric
Company logo in 1921 stressed its leadership in international
RCA originated as a reorganization of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph
Company of America (commonly called "American Marconi"). In 1897, the
Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company, Limited, was founded in London
to promote the radio (then known as "wireless telegraphy") inventions
of Guglielmo Marconi. As part of a worldwide expansion, in 1899
American Marconi was organized as a subsidiary company, holding the
rights to the use the Marconi patents in the
United States and
Cuba. In 1912 it took over the assets of the bankrupt United
Wireless Telegraph Company, and from that point forward it had been
the dominant radio communications company in the United States.
With the entry of the
United States into World War One in April 1917,
most civilian radio stations were taken over by government, to be used
for the war effort. Although the overall U.S. government plan was to
restore civilian ownership of the seized radio stations once the war
ended, many Navy officials hoped to retain a monopoly on radio
communication even after the war. Defying instructions to the
contrary, the Navy began purchasing large numbers of stations
outright. With the conclusion of the conflict, Congress turned down
the Navy's efforts to have peacetime control of the radio industry,
and instructed the Navy to make plans to return the commercial
stations it controlled, including the ones it had improperly
purchased, to the original owners.
Due to national security considerations, the Navy was particularly
concerned about returning the high-powered international stations to
American Marconi, since a majority of its stock was in foreign hands,
and the British already largely controlled the international undersea
cables. This concern was increased by the announcement in late 1918 of
the formation of the Pan-American Wireless Telegraph and Telephone
Company, a joint venture between American Marconi and the Federal
Telegraph Company, with plans to set up service between the United
States and South America.
Two vacuum tube cartons, displaying different generations of the RCA
The Navy had installed a high-powered Alexanderson alternator, built
General Electric (GE), at the American Marconi transmitter site in
New Brunswick, New Jersey. It proved to be superior for transatlantic
transmissions to the spark transmitters that had been traditionally
used by the Marconi companies. Marconi officials were so impressed by
the capabilities of the Alexanderson alternators that they began
making preparations to adopt them as their standard transmitters for
international communication. A tentative plan made with General
Electric proposed that over a two-year period the Marconi companies
would purchase most of GE's alternator production. However, this
proposal was met with disapproval, on national security grounds, by
the U.S. Navy, which was concerned that this would guarantee British
domination of international radio communication.
The Navy, claiming it was acting with the support of President Wilson,
looked for an alternative that would result in an "all-American"
company taking over the American Marconi assets. In April 1919 two
naval officers, Admiral H. G. Bullard and Commander S. C. Hooper, met
with GE's president, Owen D. Young, asking that he suspend the pending
alternator sales to the Marconi companies. This would leave General
Electric without a buyer for its transmitters, so the officers
proposed that GE purchase American Marconi, and use the assets to form
its own radio communications subsidiary. Young consented to this
proposal, which, effective November 20, 1919, transformed American
Marconi into the
Radio Corporation of America. The new company was
promoted as being a patriotic gesture. RCA's incorporation papers
required that its officers needed to be U.S. citizens, with a majority
of its stock held by Americans.
RCA retained most of the American Marconi staff, although Owen Young
became the new company's head as the chairman of the board. Former
American Marconi vice president and general manager E. J. Nally become
RCA's first president. Nally's term ended on December 31, 1922, and he
was succeeded the next day by Major General James G. Harbord. Harbord
in turn resigned the presidency on January 3, 1930, replacing Owen D.
Young as the company's chairman of the board. He was succeeded, as
RCA's third president, by David Sarnoff, who had been the company's
general manager at its founding.
RCA worked closely with the federal
government, and felt it deserved to maintain its predominant role in
U.S. radio communications. At the company's recommendation, President
Woodrow Wilson appointed Rear Admiral Bullard "to attend the
stockholders' and director's meetings... in order that he may present
and discuss informally the Government's views and interests".
As of its founding
RCA was the largest radio communications firm in
the United States. However, American Marconi had been falling
behind industry advances, particularly in vacuum tube technology, and
GE needed access to additional patents before its new subsidiary could
be fully competitive. The result was a series of negotiations and a
complicated set of cross-licensing agreements between various
companies. On July 1, 1920, an agreement was made with the American
Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T), which purchased 500,000
shares of RCA, although it would divest these shares in early 1923.
United Fruit Company
United Fruit Company held a small portfolio of radio patents, and
signed two agreements in 1921. GE's traditional electric company
rival, the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Corporation, had
also purchased rights to some critical patents, including one for
heterodyne receiving originally issued to Reginald Fessenden, plus
regenerative circuit and superheterodyne receiver patents issued to
Edwin Armstrong. Westinghouse was able to use this to negotiate a
cross-licensing agreement, effective July 1, 1921, that included a
concession that 40% of RCA's equipment purchases would be from
Westinghouse. Following these transactions, GE owned 30.1% of RCA's
stock, Westinghouse 20.6%, AT&T 10.3%, and United Fruit 4.1%, with
the remaining 34.9% owned by individual shareholders.
RCA agreed to occupy the yet-to-be-constructed landmark
building of the
Rockefeller Center complex, 30 Rockefeller Plaza,
which in 1933 became known as the
RCA building (now the Comcast
Building). This lease was critical for enabling the massive project to
proceed as a commercially viable venture—David Rockefeller cited
RCA's action as being responsible for "the salvation of the
International and marine communication
Illustration of how a fully built
Radio Central facility at Rocky
Point, Long Island, New York would have appeared. Only two of the
twelve "antenna spokes" were actually built.
RCA Satcom K1 geostationary communications satellite deployed from
Space Shuttle Columbia
Space Shuttle Columbia (1986)
RCA's primary business objectives at its founding were to provide
equipment and services for seagoing vessels, and "worldwide wireless"
communication in competition with the undersea cables. To provide the
international service, the company soon undertook a massive project to
build a "
Radio Central" communications hub at Rocky Point, Long
Island, New York, designed to achieve "the realization of the vision
of communication engineers to transmit messages to all points of the
world from a single centrally located source". The circular Radio
Central site encompassed 10 square miles (25 square kilometers), with
a transmission building, located at the hub, projected to ultimately
Alexanderson alternator transmitters. The plan called for 12
"antenna spokes" to be built, stretching out in all directions from
the center. Each spoke was nearly three miles (4.8 kilometers) long,
and consisted of sixteen wires supported by a line of six
410-foot-tall (125 meter) towers topped with 150-foot-wide (45 meter)
crossbars. Construction began in July 1920, and the site was dedicated
on November 5, 1921, after two of the antenna spokes had been
completed, and two of the 200-kilowatt alternators installed. The
debut transmissions received replies from stations in 17
Although the initial installation would remain in operation, the
additional antenna spokes and alternator installations would not be
completed, due to a major discovery about radio signal propagation.
While investigating transmitter "harmonics" – unwanted additional
radio signals produced at higher frequencies than a station's normal
transmission frequency – Westinghouse's
Frank Conrad unexpectedly
found that in some cases the harmonics could be heard farther than the
primary signal, something previously thought impossible, as
high-frequency shortwave signals, which had poor groundwave coverage,
were thought to have a very limited transmission range. In 1924,
Conrad demonstrated to Sarnoff that a low-powered shortwave station in
East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania could be readily received in London by a
simple receiver using a curtain rod as an antenna, matching, at a
small fraction of the cost, the performance of the massive alternator
transmitters. In 1926 Dr. Harold H. Beverage further reported that a
shortwave signal, transmitted on a 15-meter wavelength (approximately
20 MHz), was received in South America more readily during the
daytime than the 200 kilowatt alternator transmissions.
The Alexanderson alternators, control of which had led to RCA's
formation, were now considered obsolete, and international
communication would be primarily conducted using vacuum tube
transmitters operating on shortwave bands.
RCA would continue to
operate international telecommunications services for the remainder of
its existence, through its subsidiary
RCA Communications, Inc., and
RCA Global Communications Company.
International shortwave was in turn largely supplanted by
communications satellites, especially for distributing network radio
and television programming. In 1975, the company formed
Communications, which operated its Satcom series of geostationary
Advertisement promoting theater attendance to hear the ringside
commentary broadcast by RCA's temporary station, WJY (1921)
Studio of RCA's first broadcasting station, the short-lived WDY,
located at its plant in Roselle Park, New Jersey (1922)
The June 1, 1922 cover of RCA's equipment catalog showcased the
emerging home market.
The introduction of organized radio broadcasting in the early 1920s
resulted in a dramatic reorientation and expansion of RCA's business
activities. The development of vacuum tube radio transmitters made
audio transmissions practical, in contrast with the earlier
transmitters which were limited to sending the dits-and-dahs of Morse
code. Since at least 1916, when he was still at American Marconi,
David Sarnoff had proposed establishing broadcasting stations, but his
memos to management promoting the idea for sales of a "
Box" had not been followed up at the time.
Starting around 1920 a small number of broadcasting stations began
operating, and soon interest in the innovation was spreading
nationwide. In the summer of 1921, a Madison Square Garden employee,
Julius Hopp, devised a plan to raise charitable funds by broadcasting,
from ringside, the July 2, 1921 Dempsey-Carpentier heavyweight
championship fight to be held in Jersey City, New Jersey. Hopp
recruited theaters and halls as listening locations that would charge
admission fees to be used as charitable donations. He also contacted
RCA's J. Andrew White, the acting president of the National Amateur
Wireless Association (NAWA), an organization originally formed by
American Marconi which had been inherited by RCA. White agreed to
recruit the NAWA membership for volunteers to provide assistance at
the listening sites, and also enlisted
David Sarnoff for financial and
RCA was authorized to set up a temporary longwave
radio station, located in Hoboken a short distance from the match
site, and operating under the call letters WJY. For the broadcast
White and Sarnoff telephoned commentary from ringside, which was typed
up and then read over the air by J. Owen Smith. The demonstration was
a technical success, with a claimed audience of 300,000 listeners
throughout the northeast.
RCA quickly moved to expand its broadcasting activities. In the fall
of 1921 it set up its first fulltme broadcasting station, WDY, at the
Roselle Park, New Jersey company plant. By 1923
RCA was operating
three stations—WJZ (now WABC) and WJY in New York City, and WRC (now
WTEM) in Washington, D.C. A restriction imposed by AT&T's
interpretation of the patent cross-licensing agreements required that
RCA stations remain commercial free, and they were financed by
profits from radio equipment sales.
National Broadcasting Company
Beginning in 1922, AT&T became heavily involved in radio
broadcasting, and soon became the new industry's most important
participant. From the beginning AT&T's policy was to finance
stations by commercial sponsorship of the programs. The company also
created the first radio network, centered on its
New York City
New York City station
WEAF (now WFAN), using its long distance telephone lines to
interconnect stations. This allowed them to economize by having
multiple stations carry the same program.
RCA and its partners soon faced an economic crisis, as the costs of
providing programming threatened to exceed the funds available from
equipment profits. The problem was resolved in 1926 when AT&T
unexpectedly decided to exit the radio broadcasting field. RCA
purchased, for $1,000,000, AT&Ts two radio stations, WEAF and WCAP
in Washington, D.C., as well as its network operations. These assets
formed the core for the creation of the National Broadcasting Company
(NBC), with ownership divided between
RCA (50%), General Electric
(30%), and Westinghouse (20%) until 1930, when
RCA assumed 100%
ownership. This purchase also included the right to begin commercial
NBC formed two radio networks that eventually expanded
nationwide: the NBC-Red Network, with flagship station WEAF, and
NBC-Blue, centered on WJZ. Although
NBC was originally promoted as
expecting to just break even economically, it soon became very
profitable, which would be an important factor in helping
the economic pressures of the
Great Depression that began in 1929.
Concerned that NBC's control of two national radio networks gave it
too much power over the industry, in 1941 the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) promulgated a rule designed to force
NBC to divest
one of them. This order was upheld by the U.S Supreme Court, and
on October 12, 1943, the NBC-Blue network was sold to candy magnate
Edward J. Noble
Edward J. Noble for $8,000,000, and renamed "The Blue Network, Inc."
In 1946 the name was changed to the American Broadcasting Company. The
"Red" network retained the
NBC name, and remained under
For two decades the
NBC radio network's roster of stars provided
ratings consistently surpassing those of its main competitor, the
Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). But in 1948, as the transition
from radio to television was beginning, NBC's leadership came under
attack due to what became known as the "Paley raids", named after the
president of CBS, William S. Paley. After World War II the tax rate
for annual incomes above $70,000 was 77%, while capital gains were
taxed at 25%. Paley worked out an accounting technique whereby
individual performers could set up corporations that allowed their
earnings to be taxed at the significantly lower rate. Instead of NBC
responding with a similar package, Sarnoff decided that this
accounting method was legally and ethically wrong. NBC's performers
did not agree, and most of the top stars, including Amos and Andy,
Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Edgar Bergen, Burns and Allen, Ed Wynn, Fred
Waring, Al Jolson,
Groucho Marx and
Frank Sinatra moved from
CBS. As a result, in 1949
CBS now boasted of having sixteen of the
twenty top rated programs. The consequences would carry over to
CBS maintained its newfound dominance for decades.
Paley had personally worked to woo the performers, while Sarnoff
professed his indifference to the defections, stating at an annual
meeting that "Leadership built over the years on a foundation of solid
service cannot be snatched overnight by buying a few high-priced
comedians. Leadership is not a laughing matter."
RCA acted as the sales agent for a small line of Westinghouse and GE
branded receivers and parts used by home constructors, originally for
a limited market of amateur radio enthusiasts. By 1922, the rise of
broadcasting had dramatically increased the demand for radio equipment
by the general public, and this development was reflected in the title
of RCA's June 1, 1922 catalog, "
Radio Enters the Home".
selling receivers under the "Radiola" name, marketing equipment
produced by GE and Westinghouse under the production agreement that
allocated a 60%–40% ratio in output between the two companies.
Although the patent cross-licensing agreements had been intended to
give the participants domination of equipment sales, the tremendous
growth of the market led to fierce competition, and in 1925
Atwater Kent as the leader in receiver sales.
particularly hamstrung by the need to coordinate its sales within the
limits of the GE/Westinghouse production quotas, and often had
difficulty keeping up with industry trends. However, it made a key
advance in early 1924 when it began to sell the first superheterodyne
receivers, whose high level of performance increased the brand's
reputation and popularity. Until late 1927 all the
RCA receivers ran
on batteries, but at that point plug-in AC sets were introduced, which
provided another boost in sales.
RCA voltage regulator vacuum tube.
RCA inherited American Marconi's status as a major producer of vacuum
tubes, which were branded Radiotron in the United States. Especially
after the rise of broadcasting, they were a major profit source for
the company. RCA's strong patent position meant that the company
effectively set the selling prices for vacuum tubes in the U.S., which
were significantly higher than in Europe, where
Lee de Forest
Lee de Forest had
allowed a key patent issued to him to lapse.
RCA was responsible for
creating a series of innovative products, ranging from octal base
metal tubes co-developed with
General Electric before World War II, to
Nuvistor tubes used in the tuners of the New Vista series
of TV sets. The
Nuvistor tubes were a last major vacuum tube
innovation, and were meant to compete with the newly introduced
transistor. By 1975,
RCA had completely switched from tubes to
solid-state devices in their television sets, except for the cathode
ray tube (CRT) picture tube.
Nipper "His Master's Voice" mascot trademark was acquired as part
of the Victor Talking Machine purchase.
The rise of radio broadcasting during the early 1920s, which provided
unlimited free home entertainment, caused significant financial
problems throughout the established phonograph record industry. In
RCA purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, then the
world's largest manufacturer of both records and phonograph players,
including its showcase "Victrola" line. This acquisition was organized
as a new subsidiary called
RCA Victor, and included majority ownership
of the Victor Company of Japan (JVC).
With this purchase,
RCA acquired the western hemisphere rights to use
Nipper "His Master's Voice" trademark.
developed combined radio receiver-phonographs and also created RCA
Photophone, a movie sound-on-film system that competed with William
Fox's sound-on-film Movietone and Warner Bros.' sound-on-disc
Vitaphone. The acquisition of the Victor company also gave RCA
superior distribution and manufacturing capability through Victor's
established and extensive network of authorized dealers and newly
acquired factories in Camden, New Jersey, which began manufacturing
radios in addition to Victrolas and records.
RCA began selling the first all electric phonograph in 1930. In 1931,
RCA Victor introduced 33⅓ revolutions-per-minute (rpm) records,
which were a commercial failure at the height of the Great Depression,
partly because the records and playback equipment were expensive, and
also because the audio performance was poor; the new format used the
same groove size as existing 78 rpm records, and it would require
the smaller-radius stylus of the later microgroove systems to achieve
acceptable slower-speed performance.
RCA introduced the inexpensive Duo Jr. turntable designed to
be plugged into radios. Also during the 1930s,
RCA sold the
RCA Victor M Special, a polished aluminum portable record
player designed by
John Vassos that has become an icon of Thirties
American industrial design. In 1949,
RCA Victor released the first
45 rpm "single" records, as a response to CBS/Columbia's
successful introduction of its microgroove 33⅓ rpm "LP" format.
RCA Victor began selling 33⅓ rpm LP records in 1950,
and in 1951 CBS/Columbia began selling 45 rpm records.
RCA also made investments in the movie industry, but they performed
poorly. In April 1928
RCA Photophone, Inc., was organized by a group
of companies including
RCA to develop sound-movie technology. In the
fall of 1927,
RCA had purchased stock in Film Booking Office (FBO),
and on October 25, 1928, with the help of Joseph P. Kennedy, the
Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corporation (RKO) studio was formed by merging FBO
with Keith-Albee-Orpheum Corporation (KAO), a company whose holdings
included motion picture theaters. The theaters in which RKO had an
interest provided a potential market for the
RCA Photophone sound
RCA ownership of RKO stock expanded from approximately 25
percent in 1930 to approximately 61 percent in 1932. However, the
RKO studio was poorly run and encountered severe financial problems,
going into receivership from early 1933 to 1940.
RCA sold its holdings
in order to raise funds for its basic operations.
Separation from General Electric
Following years of industry complaints that the cross-licensing
agreements between RCA, GE and Westinghouse had in effect created
spheres-of-influence for the participating companies, resulting in
illegal monopolies, in May 1930 the U.S. Department of Justice brought
antitrust charges against the three companies. After a long period
of negotiation, in 1932 the Justice Department accepted a consent
agreement which removed the restrictions established by the
cross-licensing agreements, and also provided that
RCA would become a
fully independent company. As a result, GE and Westinghouse gave up
their ownership interests in RCA, while
RCA was allowed to keep its
factories. In order to give
RCA a chance to establish itself, GE
and Westinghouse were required to refrain from competing in the radio
business for the next two and one-half years.
RCA ad for the beginning, in April 1939, of regular experimental TV
broadcasting by RCA-
New York City
New York City station W2XBS (forerunner
of today's WNBC-4), for "an hour at a time, twice a week."
RCA began TV development in early 1929, after an overly optimistic
Vladimir K. Zworykin
Vladimir K. Zworykin convinced Sarnoff that a commercial version of
his prototype system could be produced in a relatively short time for
$100,000. Following what would actually be many years of additional
research and millions of dollars,
RCA demonstrated an all-electronic
black-and-white television system at the 1939 New York World's Fair.
RCA began regular experimental television broadcasting from the NBC
studios to the New York metropolitan area on April 30, 1939 via
station W2XBS, channel 1 (which evolved into W
NBC channel 4) from a
transmitter atop the Empire State Building. At the same time, RCA
began selling its first television set models, including the TRK-5 and
TRK-9, in various New York stores. However, the FCC had not
approved the start of commercial television operations, because
technical standards had not been yet been finalized. Concerned that
RCA's broadcasts were an attempt to flood the market with sets that
would force it to adopt RCA's current technology, the FCC stepped in
to limit its broadcasts.
Following the adoption of National
Television System Committee (NTSC)
recommended standards, the FCC authorized the start of commercial
television broadcasts on July 1, 1941. The entry of the United States
into World War II a few months later greatly slowed its deployment,
RCA resumed selling television receivers almost immediately after
the war ended in 1945. (See also: History of television)
In 1950, the FCC adopted a standard for color television that had been
promoted by CBS, but the effort soon failed, primarily because the
color broadcasts could not be received by existing black-and-white
sets. As the result of a major research push,
RCA engineers developed
a method of "compatible" color transmissions that, through the use of
interlacing, simultaneously broadcast color and black-and-white
images, which could be picked up by both color and existing
black-and-white sets. In 1953, RCA's all-electronic color TV
technology was adopted as the standard for American television. At
that time, Sarnoff predicted annual color TV sales would reach 1.78
million in 1956, but the sets were expensive and difficult to adjust,
and there was initially a lack of color programming, so sales lagged
badly and the actual 1956 total would only be 120,000. RCA's
NBC proved to be a major benefit, as that network was
instructed to promote its color programming offerings; even so, it was
only in 1968 that color TV sales in the U.S. surpassed
While lauding the technical prowess of his engineers who had developed
color TV, David Sarnoff, in marked contrast to William Paley of CBS,
did not disguise his dislike for popular TV programs. His authorized
biography even boasted that "no one has yet caught him in communion
with one of the upper dozen or so top-rated programs" and "The popular
programs, to put the matter bluntly, have very little appeal for
RCA professional video cameras and studio gear, particularly of the
TK-40/41 series, became standard equipment at many American television
network affiliates, as
RCA CT-100 ("
RCA Merrill" to dealers)
television sets introduced color television to the public.
David Sarnoff with the first
RCA videotape recorder, 1954.
Television Quad head 2" color recorder/ reproducer used at
broadcast studios in the late 1960s, 70s and early 80s.
In 1941, a few months before the
United States entered World War II,
the cornerstone was laid for a research and development facility in
Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton, New Jersey called
RCA Laboratories. Led for many years by
Elmer Engstrom, it was used to develop many innovations, including
color television, the electron microscope, CMOS-based technology,
heterojunction physics, optoelectronic emitting devices, liquid
crystal displays (LCDs), videocassette recorders, direct broadcast
television, direct broadcast satellite systems and high-definition
During World War II,
RCA was involved in radar and radio development
in support of the war effort, and ranked 43rd among United States
corporations in the value of wartime military production
contracts. During and after the war,
RCA set up several new
divisions for defense, space exploration and other activities. The RCA
Service Corporation provided large numbers of staff for the Distant
Early Warning (DEW) Line.
RCA units won five Army–Navy "E" Awards
for Excellence in production. Also during the war, ties between
JVC were severed.
RCA sold its Estate large appliance operations to Whirlpool
Corporation. As part of the transaction, Whirlpool was given the right
to market "
RCA Whirlpool" appliances through the mid-1960s.
RCA was one of a number of companies in the 1960s that entered the
mainframe computer field in order to challenge the market leader
International Business Machines (IBM) (see also: Computing). Although
at this time computers were almost universally used for routine data
processing and scientific research, in 1964 Sarnoff, who prided
himself as a visionary, predicted that "The computer will become the
hub of a vast network of remote data stations and information banks
feeding into the machine at a transmission rate of a billion or more
bits of information a second... Eventually, a global communications
network handling voice, data and facsimile will instantly link man to
machine—or machine to machine—by land, air, underwater, and space
circuits. [The computer] will affect man's ways of thinking, his means
of education, his relationship to his physical and social environment,
and it will alter his ways of living. ... [Before the end of this
century, these forces] will coalesce into what unquestionably will
become the greatest adventure of the human mind."
RCA marketed a Spectra 70 computer line that was hardware, but not
software, compatible with IBM's
System/360 series. It also produced
RCA Series, which competed against the
IBM System/370. This
technology was leased to the
English Electric company, which used it
for their System 4 series, which were essentially
RCA Spectra 70
clones. RCA's TSOS operating system was the first mainframe, demand
paging, virtual memory operating system on the market. Despite
significant investment, in 1971
RCA only had a 4% market share, and it
was estimated that it would cost $500 million over the next five years
to remain competitive with the IBM/370 series. On September 17, 1971
RCA Board of Directors announced its decision to close its
computer systems division (RCA-CSD), which would be written off as a
$490 million company loss. Sperry Rand's UNIVAC division took over the
RCA base in January 1972.
RCA Graphic Systems Division (GSD) was an early supplier of
electronics designed for the printing and publishing industries. It
contracted with German company
Rudolf Hell to market adaptations of
the Digiset photocomposition system as the Videocomp, and a Laser
Color Scanner. The Videocomp was supported by a Spectra computer that
ran the Page-1 and, later the Page-II and FileComp composition
RCA later sold the Videocomp rights to Information
RCA became a major proponent of the eight-track tape cartridge, which
it launched in 1965. The eight-track cartridge initially had a huge
and profitable impact on the consumer marketplace. Sales of the
8-track tape format declined when consumers increasingly favored the
4-track compact cassette tape format developed by Philips.
On January 1, 1965, Robert Sarnoff succeeded his father as RCA's
president, although the elder Sarnoff remained in control as chairman
of the board. In 1969, the company name was changed from "Radio
Corporation of America" to the "
RCA Corporation", to reflect its
broader range of corporate activities and expansion into other
countries. At the end of that same year David Sarnoff, after being
incapacitated by a long-term illness, was removed as the company's
chairman of the board. He died two years later.
RCA's 1971 exit from the mainframe computer market marked a milestone
in its transition from technology toward diversification as a business
conglomerate. During the late 1960s and 1970s the company made a
wide-ranging series of acquisitions, including Hertz (rental cars),
Banquet (frozen foods), Coronet (carpeting),
Random House (publishing)
and Gibson (greeting cards). However, the company was slipping into
financial disarray, with wags calling it "Rugs Chickens &
Automobiles" to poke fun at its new direction.
Robert Sarnoff's time as president was unsuccessful, marked by falling
profits. He was ousted in a 1975 in a "boardroom coup" led by Anthony
Conrad, who became the new company president. Conrad resigned less
than a year later after he admitted failing to file income tax returns
for six years. His successor, Edgar H. Griffiths, proved to be
unpopular and retired in early 1981. Thornton Bradshaw would be the
next, and last,
RCA maintained its high standards of engineering excellence in
broadcast engineering and satellite communications equipment, but
ventures such as the
NBC radio and television networks declined.
RCA corporate strategy reported on moving manufacture of
its television sets to Mexico.
RCA was still profitable in 1983, when
it switched manufacturing of its VHS VCRs from
Panasonic to Hitachi.
SelectaVision capacitance electronic (CED) videodisc failed
Projects attempting to establish new consumer electronics products
lost money. An
RCA Studio II
RCA Studio II home video game console, introduced in
1977, was canceled just under two years later due to poor sales. A
capacitance electronic (CED) videodisc, marketed under the
SelectaVision name, was launched in 1981, but never developed the
manufacturing volumes needed to substantially bring down its price,
and was unable to compete against cheaper, recordable videotape
technology. It was abandoned in 1985 for a write-off of several
hundred million dollars.
In 1981, Columbia sold its share in the home video division to
outside of North America this division was renamed to "RCA/Columbia
Pictures International Video". The following year, within North
America, it was renamed to "RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video". In
Arista Records owner
Bertelsmann sold 50% of Arista to RCA. In
RCA formed a joint venture called RCA/Ariola
International, which took over management of
RCA Broadcast Systems Division moved from Camden, New Jersey,
to the site of the
RCA antenna engineering facility in Gibbsboro, New
Jersey. On October 3, 1985,
RCA announced it was closing the Broadcast
Systems Division. In the years that followed, the broadcast
product lines developed in Camden were terminated or sold off, and
most of the buildings at the Camden site were demolished, except for a
few of the original
RCA Victor buildings that had been declared
national historic buildings. For several years,
RCA spinoff L-3
Communications Systems East was headquartered in the famous Nipper
Building, but has since moved to an adjacent building built by the
city for them. The
Nipper Building now houses shops and luxury loft
Re-acquisition and break-up by General Electric
In December 1985 it was announced that
General Electric would
reacquire its former subsidiary for $6.28 billion in cash, or $66.50
per share of stock. The sale was completed the next year, and GE
proceeded to sell off most of the
RCA assets. (The only
RCA unit which
GE ultimately retained was Government Services.) GE disposed of its
50% interest in
RCA Records to its partner Bertelsmann, and the
company was renamed BMG Music, for
Bertelsmann Music Group. In 1987,
RCA Global Communications Inc., a division with roots dating back to
RCA's founding, was sold to the MCI Communications Corporation.
The rights to make
RCA and GE-branded televisions and other consumer
electronics products were purchased in 1988 by the French company
Thomson Consumer Electronics, in exchange for some of Thomson's
medical businesses. (For information on the
RCA brand after 1986, see
RCA (trademark).) That same year, its semiconductor business
(including the former
RCA Solid State unit and Intersil) was bought by
Harris Corporation. In 1991, GE sold its share in RCA/Columbia to
Sony Pictures which renamed the unit to "Columbia TriStar Home Video"
(later further renamed to Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, now
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). It surpassed the Capital Cities/ABC
merger that happened earlier in 1985 as the largest non-oil merger in
Sarnoff Labs was put on a five-year plan whereby GE would fund all the
labs' activities for the first year, then reduce its support to near
zero after the fifth year. This required Sarnoff Labs to change its
business model to become an industrial contract research facility. In
1988 it was transferred to
SRI International (SRI) as the David
Sarnoff Research Center, and subsequently renamed the Sarnoff
Corporation. In January 2011 it was fully integrated into SRI.
GE sold all of its radio station holdings to various owners, and the
Radio Network to Westwood One. In 2011, a controlling interest in
the National Broadcasting Company, by this time part of the multimedia
NBC Universal venture that included TV and cable, was sold by GE to
Comcast, and in 2013,
Comcast acquired the remaining interest.
RCA Building 17 is one of the few remaining buildings in
Camden, New Jersey
Camden, New Jersey that once housed the vast
RCA Victor complex.
RCA antique radios, and early color television receivers such as the
RCA Merrill/CT-100, are among the more sought-after collectible radios
and televisions, due to their popularity during the golden age of
radio and the historic significance of the
RCA name, as well as their
styling, manufacturing quality and engineering innovations. Most
collectable are the pre-war television sets manufactured by RCA
beginning in 1939, including the TRK-5, TRK-9 and TRK-12 models.
RCA Victor Building 17, the "
Nipper Building", in Camden,
New Jersey, was converted to luxury apartments in 2003.
A type of plug/jack combination used in audio and video cables is
still called the
To this day, a variety of consumer electronics including 2-in-1
tablets, televisions and telephones, home appliances and more are sold
RCA brand name.
RCA manufacturing sites have been reported to be
polluted with industrial waste.
RCA facility in Taiwan's northern county of Taoyuan (now
Taoyuan City) polluted groundwater with toxic chemicals and led to a
high incidence of cancer among former employees. The area was
declared a toxic site by the Taiwanese Environmental Protection
Agency. GE and Thomson spent millions of dollars for cleanup, removing
10,000 cubic yards (7,600 m3) of soil and installing municipal
water treatment facilities for neighboring communities. A spokesman
for RCA's current owners denied responsibility, saying a study
conducted by the Taiwan government showed no correlation between the
illnesses and the company's facilities, which shut down in 1991.
On April 17, 2015,
RCA lost the case and the Taipei District Court
(??????) ordered RCA's current owners to compensate its former
employees with a total of NT$560 million (approximately USD18.1
A plant in
Lancaster, Pennsylvania which
RCA operated from the late
1940s to June 1986, released more than 250,000 pounds of
1,1,1-trichloroethane pollutants per year from its exhaust stacks.
Tests by the
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in
the late 1980s and early 1990s, found the groundwater contaminated by
trichloroethylene (TCE) and
1,2-dichloroethylene (1,2-DCE). In
1991 and 1992, contaminants were detected in monitoring wells on the
east side of the
Conestoga River in Lancaster.
The shallow and deep groundwater aquifers beneath the Intersil
Facility in Mountaintop, Pennsylvania, which
RCA operated in the 1960s
and later sold to Harris Corporation, were found in 1999 to contain
elevated levels of volatile organic compounds.
A site in
Burlington, Massachusetts which
RCA used from 1958 to 1994
to make and test military electronics equipment, generated hazardous
waste (VOCs, TCE, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes).
In Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, an RCA-operated plant generated wastes
containing chromium, selenium and iron. Four lagoons holding chemical
waste drained into the limestone aquifer. Used water from the
manufacturing process (process water), containing ferric chloride, was
treated onsite to remove contaminants and then was discharged into a
sinkhole at the site. The treatment of process water created a sludge
that was stored onsite in drying beds and in surface impoundments.
David Sarnoff in 1922
Edwin Armstrong at RCA
Nipper atop the old
RCA distribution building, Broadway, Albany,
Nipper window in Camden NJ.
Nipper stained glass atop the "
Nipper Tower" in the former
RCA Dimensia TV logo 1980s
RCA logo. A later variation of this logo was revived by BMG
after it bought
RCA Records from GE, which is still used by Sony
RCA Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair
Radio ad, circa 1945.
Radio x551, Early '50s AC/DC tabletop radio
RCA 44-BX Bi-Directional Velocity Microphone.
Victor Talking Machine's
His Master's Voice
His Master's Voice logo with
RCA Victor Red Seal Records
RCA Victor Red Seal Records label, 1930s
Arthur Fiedler demonstrates the new
45rpm player and record
in February 1949.
RCA Studio B
RCA Studio B recording studio in Nashville, Tennessee; known in the
1960s for being part of the Nashville sound.
Vladimir K. Zworykin
Vladimir K. Zworykin with an early experimental TV
Grace Brandt and
Eddie Albert in a 1936
NBC television program The
Honeymooners-Grace and Eddie Show using an early
Television test pattern created by
RCA in 1939
First U.S. commercial TV set, the
RCA Victor TRK 12 (1939)
RCA 630-TS, the first mass-produced television set, sold in
RCA TK-41C dolly-mounted color broadcast camera
RCA television camera
RCA Radiotron Image Orthicon TV Camera Tube
RCA Studio II
RCA Studio II home video game console (1977)
Colortrak TV set, using the CTC101 chassis, c. 1980
RCA Universal Remote RCU403, c. 2002-2003
RCA AutoShot VHS Camcorder, c. 1998
RCA connector used for audio and video.
RCA 1802, sometimes known as the COSMAC, an 8-bit
Berliner Gramophone Company, whose Canadian operation became RCA
Victor of Canada
Capacitance Electronic Disc
Capacitance Electronic Disc format, marketed as
Claude Robinson, American pioneer in advertising and opinion survey
CMOS 4000 series
Colortrak 2000, notable trademarks for RCA's early color
Dimensia, a high-end advanced trademark TV for RCA
Edwin Howard Armstrong, Inventor and
Radio Engineer working with RCA
Elmer T. Cunningham
Empire State Building broadcast stations
Ernst F. W. Alexanderson RCA's first Chief Engineer, 1920–1924
Film Chain –
RCA TK-26, TK-27 and TK-28
George H. Brown, research engineer who headed RCA's development of
Harold H. Beverage vice president of research and development at RCA
HMV – His Master's Voice
Victor Company of Japan (JVC)
List of phonograph manufacturers
Missile Test Project
Professional video cameras – TK 47 and more
RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer
RCA Photophone, Motion Picture sound recording
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, joint venture between
RKO Pictures, founded in part by RCA
RCA trademark for their line of superheterodyne
receivers during the early 1930s.
Vladimir K. Zworykin
Vladimir K. Zworykin Invented the Iconoscope image pickup tube for RCA
early television camera video system.
RCA trademark for extended life and 100% solid state chassis
on color television sets in the 1970s and later.
Radio Corporation of America)".
IEEE Global History Network.
IEEE. Retrieved 1 June 2017.
Radio Corporation of America advertisement, The Wireless Age, August
1921, page 4.
^ "A Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company for America", Electrical World
and Engineer, December 2, 1899, pages 870–871.
^ "Attempts to Establish a
United States Government
History of Communications-Electronics in the
United States Navy by
Captain L. S. Howeth, USN (Retired), 1963, pages 313–318.
^ "A New Wireless Chain Between the Americas" by John V. L. Hogan,
Popular Science Monthly, November 1918, pages 140–143.
^ a b History of
Radio to 1926 by Gleason L. Archer, 1938, pages
^ Archer (1938), pages 187–188
^ Page, Walter Hines; Page, Arthur W (May 1922). "The March Of Events:
America in Control Of Its Wireless". World's Work. XLIV: 11–13.
Retrieved 1 June 2017.
^ The Continuous Wave by Hugh G. J. Aitken, 1985, pages 445–447,
^ "Rescuing the Project" section of Memoirs by David Rockefeller, New
York: Random House, 2002, p. 55.
^ The Book of
Radio by Charles William Taussig, 1922, page 320.
^ "The Opening of
Radio Central", The Wireless Age, December 1921,
pages 18–22, 45.
^ Dr. Harold H. Beverage interview (hard-core-dx.com)
^ Archer (1938), pages 112–113
^ "Voice-Broadcasting the Stirring Progress of the 'Battle of the
Century' ", The Wireless Age, August 1921, pages 11–21.
^ "Early History of Network Broadcasting", Report on Chain
Broadcasting: May, 1941, Federal Communications Commission, pages 5-8,
^ Rule 3.107, Report on Chain Broadcasting: May, 1941, Federal
Communications Commission, page 92.
^ The General by Kenneth Bilby, 1986, pages 246–249.
Radio Manufacturers of the 1920s: Volume 3 by Alan Douglas, 1991,
RCA trademark exhibit at Heritage Museum in
Big Spring, Texas
Big Spring, Texas (2004
Nipper trademark is also used by the British music &
entertainment company HMV.
^ Hoag Levins (March 2009). "A Photo History of RCA's Golden Years in
^ A similar attempt the previous decade by
Edison Records to market a
commercial long play record format had also failed. The Edison
approach used a microgroove vertically recorded disc with 20 minutes
playing time per side.
^ "Sound Recording".
^ Dominic Muren, "Monday Masterpieces: Streamline+Vinyl=Awesome",
IDFuel: Industrial Design Weblog, 2004. Accessed July 22, 2012
^ Wallerstein, Edward. "LPs historic". musicinthemail.com. Retrieved
^ "Diskery Goes 33 in March To Service Entire Market; 45 Promotion in
High Gear". Billboard. 7 January 1950. Retrieved 1 June 2017.
^ "Record Collector's Resource: A History of Records". cubby.net.
^ "RCA's interest in the motion-picture industry", Report on Chain
Broadcasting: May, 1941, Federal Communications Commission, pages
^ "Government Starts Anti-Trust Suits", Gettysburg Times, May 14,
1930, page 2.
^ "The Consent Decree", Big Business and
Radio by Gleason L. Archer,
1939, pages 364-386.
RCA and Associates Separate Under Consent Decree Terms",
Broadcasting, December 1, 1932, page 16.
Television (magazine) Vol. X, No. 2, June, 1939. (inside
front cover) New York: Popular Book Corporation.
^ "Brochure for 1939
RCA TV sets". tvhistory.tv.
^ Bilby (1986), pages 208, 213.
David Sarnoff by Eugene Lyons, 1966, page 190.
CT-100 Color Receiver Gallery". Archived from the original on
^ Based on a design originally developed by
Ampex in the mid-1950s, it
used a vertical scanning drum with head motion at 90° to tape
direction. This method was developed prior to helical scanning, used
in commercial and home tape machines.
^ Peck, Merton J. & Scherer, Frederic M. The Weapons Acquisition
Process: An Economic Analysis (1962)
Harvard Business School
Harvard Business School p.619
Radio Age by the
Radio Corporation of America, p. 26
^ Lyons (1966), page 339, from a speech delivered in October 1964 to
the Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco.
RCA Spectra 70" (PDF). (computerhistory.org). March 1965. Retrieved
1 June 2017.
^ Clausing, Don; Victor Fey (2004). Effective Innovation. New York:
ASME Press. p. 7. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
^ "RCA: Now Elvis rocked for Bertelsmann, too" (PDF). Bertelsmann
Worldwide Media. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-02-15.
^ "The History of Television, 1942 to 2000".
RCA TV Equipment Archive". oldradio.com.
^ The Victor Lofts website, Camden, New Jersey. victorlofts.com
General Electric Will Buy
RCA for $6.28 Billion" by Paul Richer,
Los Angeles Times, December 12, 1985.
^ "MCI Agrees to Acquire
RCA Global From G.E." by Barnaby J. Feder,
New York Times, September 4, 1987.
^ "Company News; Harris Signs Accord To Buy a Unit of G.E." New York
Times. November 9, 1988. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
General Electric Co., in the largest non-oil merger in..."
SRI International Completes Integration of Sarnoff Corporation"
(Press release). SRI International. 2011-01-01. Retrieved
^ Scott Mayerowitz (AP Business Writer) (12 February 2013). "General
Electric gets out of the TV business".
RCA Victor Company, '
Nipper Building' Rehabilitation", New Jersey
Historic Preservation Awards Program, 2004,.
^ Yi, Matthew (May 24, 2002). "Taiwan workers plead cancer case / Link
RCA plant to disease". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Communications.
^ Ton, 1999 Ton C-D, Exposure and Health Risk Assessment of
Groundwater Contamination – A Case Study of Contamination Site
of Tao-Yuan RCA. Master Thesis, National Taiwan University. 1999 (in
^ Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Archived 2009-03-27 at the Wayback
^ Chao, Stephanie (18 April 2015). "
RCA parent firms to pay NT$560
mil". Retrieved 2015-07-05.
^ EPA,OSWER,ORCR,PIID, US. "Corrective Action Programs around the
Nation - US EPA" (PDF). US EPA. CS1 maint: Multiple names:
authors list (link)
Intersil Corporation, S-1 SEC Filing, 11/10/1999
^ SUPERFUND ANNUAL REPORT 2001. U.S. EPA Region I
^ U.S. EPA, Environmental Quality Board, National Priority List (NPL),
Site Inspection Report/Site Evaluation Report. EPA, San Juan
RCA del Caribe, October 1987
^ John M. Hunter and Sonia I. Arbona, "Paradise Lost: An Introduction
to the Geography of Water Pollution in Puerto Rico", Soc. Sci. Med.
Vol. 40, No. 10, pp. 1331–1355, 1995. Pergamon Press.
^ 20058 - 20060 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 73 / Monday, April 18,
^ This photo is reversed from the normal orientation because it was
taken from inside the "
Nipper Tower". It shows the 2003 replacement of
the 1979 replacement of the 1915 original glass.
^ On display at the Wolfsonian–Florida International University
center in Miami, Florida.
^ Located at the American Museum of
Radio And Electricity. The TV is
playing an episode of the Superman television program.
Brewster, Richard (2013). "
RCA TV Development: 1929–1949". The AWA
Review. Antique Wireless Association. 26. access-date= requires
Cowie, Jefferson (1999). Capital Moves: RCA's Seventy-Year Quest for
Cheap Labor. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
Sobel, Robert N. (1986). RCA. New York: Stein and Day.
Taussig, Charles William (1922). "
Radio Central". The Book of Radio.
London: D. Appleton & Company. pp. 312–327. Retrieved
Wikimedia Commons has media related to RCA.
Radio Corporation of American records (1887–1983) at Hagley Museum
David Sarnoff Library Digital Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.
RCAGlobal.com – web site dedicated to what was
RCA TV equipment archive (oldradio.com)
RCA in the
20th Century Press Archives of the German
National Library of Economics (ZBW).
Cable protection system
Prepay mobile phone
The Telephone Cases
Timeline of communication technology
Undersea telegraph line
Edwin Howard Armstrong
John Logie Baird
Alexander Graham Bell
Jagadish Chandra Bose
Lee de Forest
Erna Schneider Hoover
Charles K. Kao
Alexander Stepanovich Popov
Johann Philipp Reis
Vladimir K. Zworykin
Free-space optical communication
Network switching (circuit
Public Switched Telephone
World Wide Web
Academy Honorary Award
Warner Bros. /
Charlie Chaplin (1928)
Walt Disney (1932)
Shirley Temple (1934)
D. W. Griffith
D. W. Griffith (1935)
The March of Time
The March of Time /
W. Howard Greene and
Harold Rosson (1936)
Edgar Bergen /
W. Howard Greene /
Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art Film Library /
Mack Sennett (1937)
J. Arthur Ball /
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Mickey Rooney /
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Smith, Farciot Edouart, Loyal Griggs, Loren L. Ryder, Harry D. Mills,
Louis Mesenkop, Walter Oberst /
Oliver T. Marsh and Allen Davey /
Harry Warner (1938)
Douglas Fairbanks /
Judy Garland /
William Cameron Menzies / Motion
Picture Relief Fund (Jean Hersholt, Ralph Morgan, Ralph Block, Conrad
Nagel)/ Technicolor Company (1939)
Bob Hope /
Nathan Levinson (1940)
Walt Disney, William Garity, John N. A. Hawkins, and the RCA
Manufacturing Company /
Leopold Stokowski and his associates / Rey
Scott / British Ministry of Information (1941)
Charles Boyer /
Noël Coward /
George Pal (1943)
Bob Hope /
Margaret O'Brien (1944)
Republic Studio, Daniel J. Bloomberg, and the Republic Studio Sound
Walter Wanger / The House I Live In / Peggy Ann Garner
Harold Russell /
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Walter Wanger /
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Jean Hersholt /
Fred Astaire /
Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil B. DeMille / The Bicycle Thief
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer /
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The Walls of Malapaga (1950)
Gene Kelly /
Merian C. Cooper
Merian C. Cooper /
Bob Hope /
Harold Lloyd / George Mitchell / Joseph
M. Schenck /
Forbidden Games (1952)
20th Century-Fox Film Corporation / Bell & Howell Company / Joseph
Breen / Pete Smith (1953)
Bausch & Lomb Optical Company /
Danny Kaye / Kemp Niver / Greta
Jon Whiteley /
Vincent Winter / Gate of Hell (1954)
Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1955)
Eddie Cantor (1956)
Society of Motion Picture and
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"Broncho Billy" Anderson /
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Gary Cooper /
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