A major pioneer of radio and television, David Sarnoff rose from humble beginnings to become the head of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). A Russian immigrant whose early studies were for his future as a rabbi, he came to the U.S. in 1900. At age nine, he began his career in media by selling Yiddish-language newspapers in New York to help support his family. A clever child, he improved his English by reading discarded newspapers and soon ran his own newsstand.
Sarnoff left school after eighth grade and joined the Marconi Wireless Company as an office boy in 1906. In four years he became the youngest manager employed by company. He served as a wireless operator on the S.S. Beothic and S.S. Harvard, experiences that served him well when in 1912 he found himself one of the few narrators of news of the Titanic disaster.
Sarnoff¿s greatest contributions were as an industrial pioneer in broadcast technologies. In 1915 he proposed sales of a "radio music box" to exploit that as an early form of radio broadcasting as it is known today. He became the general manager of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1921, which absorbed the Marconi firm, and its president in 1930. Having predicted network radio broadcasting, Sarnoff championed the organization of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in 1926, and then led NBC over the next 35 years through the innovation of the electronic and color television broadcasting systems invented at RCA. In 1961 the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Sarnoff a Founders Emmy for his basic role in establishing the industry.
But Sarnoff did not contribute solely to the broadcast arena. Ever grateful to his new country, he received his commission as lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army reserve, in 1924 and was promoted to colonel in 1931. During World War II, he developed and implemented electronic news coverage systems for D-Day and the liberation of Paris. He served as communications consultant to General Dwight Eisenhower and was appointed brigadier general, U.S. Army, in 1944.
Sarnoff has been widely honored by the media industry and world at large. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1989, was an inaugural member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, was recognized as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century by TIME magazine, and was recipient of 27 honorary degrees from such institutions as Columbia University and New York University.