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David Sarnoff took charge of RCA in 1930 and was still chairman during the formative years of the CED system from 1964 through 1969. He passed away on December 11, 1971 at 80 years of age. His son Robert Sarnoff, who became RCA President in 1966, served as Chairman of RCA from 1970 through 1975.
On January 7, 1970, the Board of Directors of RCA Corporation elected David Sarnoff the first Honorary Chairman in the company's history. The Board accepted with deepest regret General Sarnoff's resignation, effective December 31, 1969, as Chairman and a director and his retirement as an employee of RCA.
The Board adopted the following resolution of appreciation for General Sarnoff's services:
"More than any other man, David Sarnoff was the architect of RCA's rise to world leadership in electronics. He gave RCA many of its enduring characteristics - its constant probing for new ways to bring electronics to the public service, its unique ability to turn the concepts of science to the products of commerce. He placed an imprimatur of quality on everything RCA undertook - whether the recording of a great musical performance or the design of an orbiting spacecraft."
"David Sarnoff's career spanned 63 years, and he left RCA a vastly different organization from the one he first served. To an important degree, it was different because of his personal contributions to communications and radio, to black-and-white and color television, to the nation's cultural life and its utilization of space. He served his country with distinction as a soldier in time of war, as an advisor to Presidents in time of peace. As a citizen, as an industrial leader, as a visionary, David Sarnoff has left his mark upon the nation and the world."
"As his friends and associates, we are grateful for the many years he shared with us, and we pledge ourselves to perpetuate the standards of excellence that he set for RCA and for himself."
- RCA 1969 Annual Report
At a golden anniversary dinner held on September 30, 1956, to commemorate David Sarnoff's fifty years of service to radio, television and electronics, Dr. Elmer W. Engstrom, Senior Executive Vice President, announced the establishment of what has become the David Sarnoff Outstanding Technical Achievement Awards.
The first award was made for the year 1957. Since then, RCA has given outstanding scientists and engineers over 330 gold medals that resemble the embossment on our cover. After a quarter of a century, the award still stands for high ideals espoused by a man who had visionary faith in long-term technological solutions to "impossible" problems. He combined this faith in science and engineering with a practical business sense. Though not an engineer or a scientist, he was an industrialist with a brilliant understanding of technical work, and the motivating ways in which the creative aspirations of the human spirit are fundamentally expressed in technological achievement. He delineated this "philosophy" in many speeches throughout his career.
Many younger engineers at RCA may not have been born in 1953 when Sarnoff addressed the graduating class of the Drexel Institute of Technology, in Philadelphia:
"The principles it [science] uncovers are taken over by engineers who proceed to fashion them into instrumentalities for mankind to enrich our everyday life," he said. "For some, engineering will remain merely a trade, like any other trade," he continued. "But for others, the more imaginative and courageous, it can be a noble and satisfying dedication . . . [These engineers] will assume its responsibilities in a spirit of mission, in the awareness that they are starting out on a great adventure. It is this difference in approach, believe me, that will determine whether engineering will be just a treadmill - or a fascinating highway to knowledge and achievement. In this, even more than in other areas of effort, the more you put into it - in terms of work and devotion - the more you will get out of it."
Sarnoff knew the nature of creative minds - they form new combinations and conceive new applications. He knew the ways these creative people could be stimulated - through encouragement and exposure to a variety of intellectual disciplines. And he recognized creative characteristics among the fraternity of doers-- constant-inquiry, problem-solving ability, and wide interests. Members of the selection committee for this year's award looked for many of the same kinds of abilities as they chose the winners.
As in the recent past, members of the engineering staffs of RCA Divisions and subsidiary companies, and members of the research staffs of the RCA Laboratories were eligible. No specific limitation on the number of awards was made. The Selection Committee considered both individual and team efforts. Originally, in 1956, two awards were announced - an "engineering" award for outstanding achievement, and a "science" award for outstanding research achievement. A fuller recognition of the role of manufacturing engineering and a closer bond between RCA Laboratories and the other business operations contributed to the elimination from the award in 1973 of the distinction between science and engineering. At the same time, efforts to recognize personal technical excellence redoubled.
Generally, the Chief Engineer, Research Laboratory Director, or the equivalent submits nominations from an activity. The Selection Committee, consisting of the following people, then determines the Award Winners: W.C. Hittinger, Executive Vice-President, Research and Engineering; G.H. Fuchs, Executive Vice-President, Industrial Relations; J.V. Regan, Staff Vice-President, Patent Operations; H. Rosenthal, Staff Vice-President, Engineering; and W.M. Webster, Vice-President, Laboratories. The award consists of an engraved medal, a citation certificate, and a monetary award fo each individual or team member.
With mighty help from his scientists and engineers, David Sarnoff's driving personality and pervasive influence dominated the electronics industry for more than 50 years. This year, the cited Achievements and the Personalities that merited the Sarnoff Award show that RCA 's scientists and engineers continue to build on achievement.
- Preface to the 1981 David Sarnoff Awards for VideoDisc
See David Sarnoff on the cover of TIME on July 23, 1951, and read the accompanying article.
See David Sarnoff jump for joy on December 17, 1953, upon being informed the FCC has approved the RCA standard for color television.
David Sarnoff in the TIME 100.
Visit the David Sarnoff Library, an institution dedicated to the legacy of David Sarnoff.
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