New Jersey Was the “Silicon Valley” of Electronics in NewsWorks

Sarnoff Collection

(Photo courtesy of Jessi Franko)

October 17, 2013 - Ewing, NJ

By Ilene Dube

There was a time, not too long ago, when men dreamed of broadcasting music, news, sports, and even lectures over the airwaves. Many scientists and business leaders were involved in developing radio, but one man had the vision and business skills to bring them to fruition: David Sarnoff is often credited as the inventor.

He didn’t stop with radio. The phonograph, black-and-white and color television, electron microscopy, computing, integrated circuits, home video, and flat panel displays—all got their start right here in central New Jersey at the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

Visitors can explore everything from the golden days of radio to the roots of modern technology in the newly opened Sarnoff Library on the campus of The College of New Jersey. Innovations That Changed the World traces the history of telecommunications through more than 80 artifacts from the Sarnoff Collection, as well as dozens of vintage photographs, letters, and advertisements. There is correspondence between David Sarnoff and Presidents Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Truman and Kennedy, as well as films and recordings of Sarnoff’s speeches.

Greeting visitors to the library’s new home in Roscoe West Hall is Nipper, the iconic head-cocking dog looking into a Victrola—the symbol associated with RCA-Victor.

Nipper had a fondness for listening to music, according to legend, and was doing just that when artist Francis Barraud captured the scene on canvas in 1899 in “His Master’s Voice.”

Eldridge Johnson, the founder of Victor Talking Machine in Camden, had a revelation when he saw that painting—it could become a symbol of how his machine was so good, even a dog couldn’t tell the difference between a recording and his master’s voice. An astute businessman, Johnson launched Nipper’s image and company name world-wide by branding everything from Victrolas and recordings to salt and pepper shakers. (In 1929, RCA purchased Victor to become RCA Victor.)

The Sarnoff collection includes many objects with the beloved animal’s likeness, including a hand-hooked rug, a stained glass window, even a Nipper necktie.

“These are the secret gems of electronic history,” said Curator Benjamin Gross of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, walking through a large room filled with artifacts from the pioneering days of radio and television. “It’s a treasure house of materials from the dawn of the 20th century.” Gross couldn’t be more suited to the job—he wrote his dissertation on the development of the first liquid crystal displays by scientists and engineers at RCA.

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