RCA/Thomson Lancaster recordsCreation: 1929-2006
The Radio Corporation of America (RCA)’s Picture Tube Division, later known as the Video Component and Display Division, was headquartered at a research and production facility in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1987, the French firm Thomson Consumer Electronics acquired RCA’s consumer electronics business, including the Lancaster plant, and operated the facility until Thomson shut down its consumer electronics operations in 2005. Materials in the collection document a diverse array of activities at the RCA/Thomson Lancaster plant between the facility’s early days of operation and its closure. Corporate memoranda, correspondence, product technical data, photographs, and audiovisual materials trace the development of RCA/Thomson’s picture tube product line. Corporate publications chronicle major moments in company history.
- Creation: 1929-2006
91 Linear Feet
General Physical Description (AVD portion only)
(AVD portion only) 383 photographic prints : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. and larger; 47 photographic prints : b&w ; 4 x 6 in. and smaller.; 24 photographic print : color ; 8 x 10 in.; 167 photographic print : color ; 4 x 6 in. and smaller; 92 photographic negatives : b&w ; 8 x 10 in.; 26 photographic negatives : b&w ; 3 x 5 in.; 1481 photographic slides : color ; 35 mm.; 4 photographic slides : b&w : 35mm.; 64 glass lantern slides : b&w ; 3 x4 in.; 100 plastic lantern slides : b&w ; 3 x 4 in.; 28 transparencies : color ; 7 x 7 in. and larger; 3 transparencies : b&w ; 8 x 10 in.; 22 transparencies : b&w ; 3 x 5 and smaller.; 3 videocassettes (VHS) : ½ in.; 2 videocassettes (Digital Betacam).; 1 reel (400 ft.) : si., b&w & color. ; 16mm.; 1 reel (500 ft.) : sd., color ; 16mm. 2 photographic prints : color ; 11 x 14 in. 1 photographic print : color ; 16 x 20 in. mounted on board. 4 photographic prints : color ; 15 x 17 in. mounted on board.
The Radio Corporation of America (RCA)’s Picture Tube Division, later known as the Video Component and Display Division, was headquartered at a company research and production facility on New Holland Avenue in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The site had originally been a military electronics production plant owned by the United States Department of the Navy and operated by RCA during the Second World War. After its purchase of the site from the Navy in 1949, RCA used the property to support its efforts in the race to perfect a color television set. The firm was in direct competition with CBS, which also had models under development. Employing RCA’s innovative shadow mask tube technology, the first commercially functional color televisions in the world rolled off the assembly lines at the Lancaster plant on March 25, 1954.
For years thereafter, the plant researched and produced display tubes, developmental products, stamped metal parts, cathodes, heaters, phosphors, and shadow (aperture) masks, spearheading many of the significant developments in color picture tube technology. In 1982, RCA developed a color tube system called COTY (Combined Optimum Tube Yoke)-29 and a year later debuted COTY-FS (full square), which featured a technologically sophisticated rectilinear screen. In 1984, the company debuted a line of monochrome and color data-display computer monitors. The Lancaster plant became the headquarters of the Thomson tubes and displays North America tube division after the acquisition of RCA’s consumer electronics division by Thomson Consumer Electronics (later Thomson Multimedia), a state-controlled French technology firm, in 1987. The Lancaster Research and Development Center, as it was then known, oversaw glass production at Scranton, PA, and Circleville, OH, as well as tube production at Marion, IN, and Mexico City, Mexico. By the year 2000, Thomson manufactured and sold more than 16 million color picture tubes annually.
Despite this volume, Thomson struggled to stay competitive in the television market as the industry changed in the 1990s and 2000s. They shifted production from cathode ray tubes to wide screens for digital and HDTV as well as flat tube technology, but the company eventually closed its consumer electronics operations. The Lancaster plant shut down in 2005.
Contents of the collection are divided into thirteen series:
I. Ellie Adams papers
II. Company serials
III. Gary Gendel papers
IV. Istvan Gorog papers
V. Lab notebooks
VI. A.M. Morrell papers
VII. Product promotional literature
VIII. Martin R. Royce papers
IX. Service guides
X. Technical data
Scope and Content
Materials in the collection document a diverse array of activities at the RCA/Thomson Lancaster plant between the facility’s early days of operation and its closure. Drafts and final copies of product specifications relate technical characteristics of many of RCA/Thomson television tubes, as well as insight on research, development, and executive functions at the plant. Product promotional literature including trade brochures and advertisements intended for public consumption offer an overview of marketing and publicity of RCA and Thomson products. Corporate magazines, newsletters, annual reports, and other print publications document major events in company history. Published service guides trace the development of RCA tubes over time. Printed and manuscript materials donated to the collection by early researchers and technicians shed light on professional life at the plant.
Audiovisual materials include black and white as well as color photographs, negatives, lantern slides, 35mm slides, transparencies, videocassettes, and video reels. These primarily deal with development, production, and publicity of picture tubes at RCA and Thomson in Lancaster, Pennsylvania from about 1950 until about 1990. There are also photographs of picture tube and television production in RCA plants in China and Brazil.
The collection is arranged into thirteen series: Ellie Adams papers; Company serials; Gary Gendal papers; Istvan Gorog papers; Lab notebooks; A.M. Morrell papers; Product promotional literature; Martin R. Royce papers; Service guides and parts directories; Technical data; General; Audiovisual; and Photographs.
Ellie Adams papers contain print publications collected by Ellie Adams as well as a manuscript poem Adams wrote upon the scrapping of a piece of electrical machinery named “LEO” in 1973, which was circulated widely among staff. Adams made manuscript notes on the verso of front covers of two publications in which he reflects on his career: “A Novel Ultra-High-Frequency High-Power-Amplifier System” by L.L. Koros, and “Simplified Methods for Computing Performance of Transmitting Tubes” by W.G. Wagener.
Company serials series contains corporate publications printed by General Electric (once an owner of RCA's consumer electronics brand) and Thomson Consumer Electronics.
The Gary Gendel papers include manuals and publications related to his work on the COSMAC VIP microprocessor while at RCA Solid State Division in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Istvan Gorog papers document Gorog’s years as General Manager of the Lancaster Research & Development Center. They include operational records, such as departmental memos, executive summaries, and progress reports, as well as records of the plant’s efforts to develop cathode ray tube (CRT)-based television technologies to compete with products manufactured by overseas companies. An electrophotographic phosphor screening (EPS) project, dating to the early 1990’s, supported a broader initiative called “Eagle” that intended to produce a family of Thomson (CRT) televisions with high image quality. Both projects played central roles in an institutional reorganization effort called “TIGER” that aimed to reestablish the company’s market leadership position it had lost to competitors. Other papers, including the “Ice Tea project” series, document business ventures aimed at expanding and refining Thomson’s operations.
Lab notebooks series, sometimes referred to as engineering notebooks or research records, served as the official record for research conducted at Lancaster. By clearly showing the process and dates of research, the notebooks were essential evidence in patent applications.
Most notebooks are highly technical and difficult to follow without subject expertise. However, researchers sometimes inserted reports, correspondence, or meeting records into the books. More frequent are printouts, charts, and photographs pasted onto the pages.
Notebooks are arranged alphabetically by scientist and then by notebook number. Notebooks with prefixes (C&P- or L-) are listed first. Note that the notebooks are physically arranged entirely by notebook number.
Albert M. Morrell papers are mostly scientific publications by other authors. A few unpublished documents relate to Morrell’s professional responsibilities at RCA/Thomson.
The Product promotional literature series contains advertisements and other promotional literature for RCA/Thomson products between 1960 and 2003.
Martin R. Royce papers consist primarily of published research and data from others within RCA and other engineering organizations, including a steam table, reports on RCA phosphors, and a history of the shadow mask aperture tube. Personal items include a 1964 RCA Engineering Achievement Award presented to Royce, as well as a technical paper he authored, titled “Study of Particle Size and Its Effect on Screen Efficiency.”
The Service guides and parts directories series contains service manuals and parts directories published by RCA for purchase and use by technicians and dates between 1939 and 1980.
Technical data series is arranged in seven subseries: Electronic Industries Association (EIA); Picture tube cumulative file; Tube specification process files; PIX publications; ST publications; TPS publications; and General. RCA/Thomson’s color television research and development enterprises resulted in the production of many new tube models, which were designed to comply with industry standards. The company prepared tube specification publications (also known as “data sheets”) that outlined each model’s technical features. The technical data series includes internal correspondence, rough drafts, and final drafts of many of these documents, as well as print and manuscript materials related to the sharing of that technical information with standards-setting organizations. The collection also includes a variety of other internal and external technical publications written and used by RCA/Thomson employees as part of their research.
The General series includes materials documenting life at the RCA/Thomson Lancaster plant. Files include various commemorative documents honoring RCA/Thomson history and achievements, external publications about the color television industry, employee training materials, competitor product literature, employee manuscript presentation notes, company brochures, procedures manuals, conference and symposium reports, financial statements, annual reports, activity reports, press releases, memoranda, and internal correspondence.
The Audiovisual series consists of films and videos dating from 1985 to 2009. These materials promote the work and the products of the RCA Thomson Lancaster Picture Tube Plant. The film “Lancaster Tube Plant” is an edited fully produced program depicting the work in the plant and explains some of the technology of the picture tube. Another film, “Lancaster Tube Man,” includes footage from the plant and a credit sequence, possibly to be used in the edited film. Of note is a video explaining “How a Picture Tube Works” and another that discusses the future of picture tubes (“Thomson Americas Tube Operations”). The film, “Lancaster Tube Plant” has been digitized and it is noted in the scope and contents of the film where the digital surrogate exists.
Some of the video material is on Digital Betacam which cannot be viewed at this time.
The Photographs series is organized into eight subseries: Picture tube and electron gun models; Promotional material and research papers; Design; Production; Buildings and grounds; Gallium arsenide and germanium laser experiments; RCA Picture Tube Division and RCA electronic components and devices.
The Picture tube and electron gun models subseries includes diagrams and images of picture tubes and electron guns. Each diagram has a unique identification number. These images appear to depict developed products.
The Promotional material and research papers subseries is comprised of newspaper articles, short research papers, staged photographs, and various other promotional ephemera. These include images by Jack Moscony for a 1999 article on HDTV, a press release for the Society of Information Display (SID), picture tube product guide images from the 1960s through the 1980s, as well as a few newspaper articles and press releases about color picture tubes in 1983.
The Design subseries depicts television designs from the 1950s to the 1990s. The majority of images show the evolution on the picture tube and electron gun. This includes the shape and appearance as well as the technical changes from black and white to color. A lot of images are cutaways of picture tubes and electron guns to show how the television works. As well as general images there are also a few from the work of individuals including Jack L. Sullivan, Len Smolsky, and M. Cunningham.
The Production series are photographs that document the manufacturing of televisions at the RCA/Thompson factory in Lancaster, Pennsylvania as well as factories in Marion, Indiana, China and Brazil. There are diagrams explaining the American 'Chainless' Conveyor system and how it made picture tube production easier and more efficient. Other images depict the conveyor system in operation on the factory floor. Additionally there is information about a pilot run of color television manufacturing in Marion, Indiana. There are also small transparencies that show the Scranton Blemish Gauge and Convergence Gauges. Another set of images depicts assembly and inspection of picture tubes (televisions). Also, a set of slides follows the manufacturing process of a picture tube including the metalized bead suppressor, heating, cathodes, washing and drying of parts, shadow mask manufacturing, and shipping.
The Buildings and grounds subseries depicts external and internal images of the Lancaster buildings. The images include construction of the building, external photographs of the complete building, and a photograph of employees getting lunch in the cafeteria in the 1960s.
The Gallium arsenide and germanium laser experiments subseries predominantly contains graphs and charts measuring visibility and reflectivity. They show Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) Diode Emissions, Tunnel Assisted Emissions, and levels of emission and absorption under the Fermi Level. The Germanium experiments show the Reflectivity of Pure Germanium as well as Arsenic Doped and Tin Doped Germanium.
The RCA Picture Tube Division subseries consists of presentation slides of graphs and charts related to color television, picture screen dimensions, in-line guns, CRT guns, and screen evolution. There are also presentations slides from four technical seminars about 19VGZP22, RCA Precision In-line System, and two about COTY-29
RCA electronic components and devices subseries contain slides related to management policies. The images are of lab facilities in Lancaster, Indianapolis and manufacturing at Yam II Scranton and other unidentified locations.
Existence and Location of Copies
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.
This collection contains material from the Manuscripts and Archives Department (M&A) and the Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department (AVD). Box prefixes indicate which department holds an individual file or item.
All materials are subject to a 25-year time seal measured from date of creation, except series II. Company serials and series VII. Product promotional literature.
Film materials, negatives and slides are housed in cold storage and must reacclimate prior to viewing (Film Cans 1-2, Boxes AVD8 and AVD9). Please contact the Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department at least 48 hours in advance of research visit.
Boxes M&A 925 to M&A 987 are stored offsite. Please contact the Manuscripts and Archives Department at least 48 hours in advance of research visit.
Language of Materials
The bulk of the records were donated to the David Sarnoff Library by Thomson in 2006. In 2009, along with the rest of the archival collections of the David Sarnoff Library, the collection was donated to the Hagley Museum and Library.
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- RCA/Thomson Lancaster records
- Alexander Lawrence Ames and Kenneth Cleary
- Description rules:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description:
- Script of description:
- The collection was processed with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant.