RCA Victor Camden/Frederick O. Barnum III collection1887-1983 Majority of material found within 1914-1968
For over fifty years the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was one of the country's leading manufacturers and vendors of radios, phonographs, televisions, and a wide array of consumer and military electronics products. The records of the RCA Corporation consist of three series: Secretary's files; B.L. Aldridge files; and the Camden Technical Library files. The collection is largely RCA technical reports, standards, engineering notebooks, manuals and miscellaneous publications. The Secretary's files document the formation of RCA. Aldridge's files deal almost entirely with the history of the Victor Talking Machine Company, RCA-Victor and the Camden Plant.
- Majority of material found within 1914-1968
- RCA Corporation (Organization)
- Barnum, Frederick O., III (Collector, Person)
250 Linear Feet
The Radio Corporation of America was incorporated in Delaware on October 17, 1919, and changed its name to RCA Corporation on May 9, 1969. For over fifty years it was one of the country’s leading manufacturers and vendors of radios, phonographs, televisions, and a wide array of consumer and military electronics products. Through subsidiaries, it operated the country’s first radiotelegraph, radiotelephone and radio facsimile systems, as well as its pioneer radio and television networks. The company will always be identified with David Sarnoff (1891-1971), who began working for a predecessor company as an office boy in 1906, became vice president in 1922, president in 1930, and served as chairman from 1947 to 1970. Sarnoff was one of the first to grasp the full potential of radio and television and imparted to the company its reputation for research and innovation.
The Beginnings of RCA
Prior to World War I, radio, which then meant long-distance radiotelegraphy, was in the hands of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, formed in 1899 as an American subsidiary of the Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company, Ltd., based in England. It was a mere branch of the extensive wireless network established by radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) and financed by British capital. During the war, the American government had seized the American Marconi stations, largely for the benefit of the Navy. At the close of hostilities, the Navy and its acting secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt strongly desired that control of America's radio facilities be in American hands. The General Electric Company had acquired the patents for the Alexanderson high-frequency alternator, which was necessary to provide the power for long-distance radio transmission, and had been negotiating the sale of these patent rights to British Marconi before the war. The Navy arranged a series of conferences in which it was agreed that General Electric would back the formation of a new American company to take over the Marconi operations and the necessary patents.
As a result of these negotiations, the Radio Corporation of America, controlled by GE, was incorporated on October 17, 1919, with Edward J. Nally of American Marconi as president. On November 20, 1919, RCA acquired all the assets of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America and signed a cross-licensing and patent-sharing agreement with General Electric. GE was to perform all manufacturing, and RCA was responsible only for sales and marketing of equipment and operating the radiotelegraph stations. Commercial radiotelegraph service was resumed beginning in 1920 and was gradually extended around the world. On November 5, 1921, RCA opened "Radio Central" at Rocky Point, Long Island, which served as its main transmitting station and first laboratory.
With government approval, two other cross-licensing agreements followed. On July 1, 1920, RCA and GE signed an agreement with the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), under which RCA received AT&T's wireless patents and rights to the triode developed by Lee DeForest. AT&T received an interest in RCA and the use of RCA's and GE's telephone patents. On June 30, 1921, a similar tripartite agreement was signed with the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, under which Westinghouse obtained a share of RCA in return for its radio patents, including the Armstrong "feedback" amplifier, which allowed for more sensitive reception and wider transmission. RCA also obtained the coastal transmission stations of Westinghouse's International Radio Telegraph Company at Belfast, Maine, Siasconset, Mass., New London, Conn., New York City, and Cape May, NJ With the completion of these patent-sharing arrangements, either RCA, GE or Westinghouse could manufacture and sell a complete set of radio equipment and operate broadcast stations.
Westinghouse's station KDKA received the first U.S. commercial broadcast license on October 27, 1920. RCA made its first permanent broadcast at station WDY at Roselle Park, NJ on December 15, 1921. After a few months, the station was merged with Westinghouse's WJZ at Newark, NJ, to avoid interference.
In 1922, retired Gen. James G. Harbord replaced Nally as president and David Sarnoff was named vice president & general manager. Sarnoff had already advocated expanding radio from a hobby in which persons assembled their own sets from part to a packaged system of home entertainment. That year, RCA began selling GE's line of home radio products, and in 1923 introduced its "Radiola" line of deluxe home radios. The first superheterodyne set followed a year later. RCA successfully transmitted the first photograph from New York to London and back on July 6, 1924, and in 1926 RCA began a commercial transatlantic radio facsimile service. In 1927, RCA introduced the Radiotron tube, the first to operate on alternating current, eliminating the need for batteries and making possible the mass-marketing of home radios.
National Broadcasting Company, Inc.
At this time, AT&T was pursuing an independent course, hoping to develop a radio network using its long-distance telephone lines to distribute programming, and to this end it had established station WEAF in New York. To eliminate this threat, RCA, GE and Westinghouse joined to purchase WEAF on July 1, 1926. On September 9, 1926, they organized a joint subsidiary, the National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (NBC), which assumed operation of WEAF and RCA stations WJZ in New York and WRC in Washington, D.C. NBC produced its own programs and marketed them to other stations, forming the nucleus of the country's first broadcast radio network. NBC inaugurated its "Red" network with a broadcast to twenty-five stations in twenty-one cities from the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on November 15, 1926, with WEAF as the flagship station. Two month's later, NBC formed the smaller "Blue" network with WJZ as the flagship station. NBC staged the first coast-to-coast broadcast of the Rose Bowl game on January 1, 1927.
RCA Photophone, Inc.
In 1925, the Warner Brothers had organized the Vitaphone Corporation to provide synchronized musical sound tracks for motion pictures using separate phonograph disks. The original system, developed by the Western Electric Company, was crude, and the records tended to get out of synch with the film. General Electric demonstrated its "Pallophotophone" system, in which the sound track was printed onto the same film as the movie, in September 1927 and introduced it commercially in early 1928 as "Photophone." RCA Photophone, Inc. was incorporated on Apri14, 1928, to develop and market the Photophone system.
As the Vitaphone and Photophone systems were incompatible, and Warners already controlled a theater chain, RCA was obliged to ally itself with a chain as well. With the aid of Joseph P. Kennedy, RCA made an agreement with the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Corporation, the owners of a struggling chain of vaudeville houses and movie theaters, and its affiliates, the F.B.O. Pictures Corporation and F.B.O. Productions, Inc. Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corporation (RKO) was incorporated as an overarching holding company on October 25, 1928, with RCA taking a twenty percent share and David Sarnoff as chairman. F.B.O. Productions, Inc. became R.K.O. Productions, Inc., in 1929 and R.K.O. Radio Pictures, Inc., in 1930. RKO secured the rights to Photophone and advertising through the NBC radio network. RCA eventually sold its RKO stock, half in 1935 and half in 1943.
RCA Photophone, Inc., eventually signed contracts with eight theater chains and their associated movie studios. On July 22, 1930, American and German manufacturers and movie production companies, including RCA Photophone, Inc., and RKO, signed a patent pooling agreement providing for international interchangeability of sound track technology. All production companies were to have access to all American and German technology. American manufacturers received exclusive rights to supply North America, Russia, Australasia and India, while German companies were given exclusive rights in the Germanic countries and Eastern Europe. All other countries might purchase from either bloc.
The Radiomarine Corporation of America was incorporated on December 31, 1927 to perform RCA's growing ship-to-shore radiotelegraph business. RCA Communications, Inc., was incorporated on January 3, 1929, to operate commercial transoceanic radiotelegraph, radiotelephone and radio facsimile services.
Victor Talking Machine Company
On March 15, 1929, RCA gained control of the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, NJ, for 54 million through an exchange of shares in order to obtain Victor's manufacturing facilities, dealer network and contract artists.
The Victor Talking Machine Company was incorporated in New Jersey on October 3, 1901, by Eldridge Reeves Johnson (1867-1945), a machinist. In 1896, Johnson had become a subcontractor for the "gramophone" invented by Emile Berliner (1851-1929) and manufactured in Philadelphia by the Berliner Gramophone Company. Because of patent and licensing disputes involving the gramophone, Johnson produced his own record player and records under the "Victor" label in 1900. The Victor Talking Machine Company combined the Johnson and Berliner patents. European sales rights were granted to Berliner's Gramophone Company, Ltd., in London. Victor also acquired the rights to the Gramophone Company's trademark, originally a painting by the artist Francis Barraud (1856-1924) depicting his fox terrier Nipper listening to a gramophone entitled, "His Master's Voice."
Victor moved rapidly to become the leading U.S. manufacturer of phonographs and phonograph records. It established its first recording studio at Carnegie Hall in New York its first high-quality "Red Seal" records in 1903, and in the following year City and produced made the first American recordings of the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. Caruso became the anchor of a distinguished roster of operatic and popular musical artists on the Victor label.
Victor introduced its first "Victrola" in 1906, featuring fine cabinet work that would not be out of place in upper middle class parlors. The company opened a recording studio and research laboratory in Camden in 1907, and by 1911, the Camden facility had grown into a fully-integrated factory complex of twenty-two buildings. By the early 1920s, however, sales were stagnant because of inroads made by the free radio broadcasting of music and other entertainment. Deluxe radios like RCA's 1923 "Radiola" usurped the place of the Victrola in many homes. In 1925, Victor contracted with RCA to manufacture a line of combined radios and phonographs in one cabinet. The following year, Victor also contracted with the Warner Brothers' Vitaphone Corporation to provide synchronized recordings for talking motion pictures.
On January 6, 1927, a banking syndicate of Speyer & Company and J. & W. Seligman purchased control of the Victor Talking Machine Company from Eldridge Johnson, and then offered the shares to the public. Two years later, the Radio Corporation of America acquired the Victor Talking Machine Company. RCA incorporated the Radio-Victor Corporation of America in Maryland on April 25, 1929, to act as a sales company. Manufacturing at Camden was conducted by the Audio Vision Appliance Company, incorporated in New Jersey on April29, 1929, and owned by GE and Westinghouse in a 60/40 ratio.
On December 26, 1929, RCA, GE and Westinghouse agreed to unify all research, manufacturing and sales of radios, phonographs, vacuum tubes, and television. Vladimir K. Zworykin (1889-1982), a émigré Russian electrical engineer working for Westinghouse, had already developed the "iconoscope" or first practical camera tube, and had just demonstrated the first "kinescope" or picture tube. Zworykin relocated to the Victor facilities at Camden.
On the same date, RCA was restructured to create a fully integrated company with research, manufacturing and sales facilities. The RCA Victor Company, Inc., was incorporated in Maryland and assumed the manufacturing activities of the Audio Vision Appliance Company and the sales function of Radio-Victor Corporation of America, plus title to the Victor Talking Machine Company plants in Camden and Oakland, Calif. The RCA Radiotron Company, Inc., assumed operation of the former GE tube works at Harrison, NJ, and the Westinghouse plant at Indianapolis. All radio research at the old RCA lab at Van Cortlandt Park, New York City, GE at Schenectady, and Westinghouse at East Pittsburgh was consolidated at Camden, and all tube research was moved to Harrison.
In purchasing the Victor Talking Machine Company, RCA also obtained Victor's 1920 half interest in Britain's Gramophone Company, Ltd. (later consolidated with the Columbia Graphophone Company, Ltd., to form Electric and Musical Industries Limited), and well as the Victor Talking Machine Company of Canada, Ltd., the Victor Talking Machine Company of Japan, Ltd. (Nihon Bikuta Kabushiki Kaisha), and other foreign subsidiaries. RCA sold its holdings in EMI in 1935. With militarists in power in Tokyo, RCA sold its 68 percent interest in Japanese Victor to Nihon Sangyo (later Nissan Motor Company) and Tokyo Shibaura Electric (later Toshiba) in 1936-38. Japanese Victor (NC) played a role analogous to RCA's and went on to develop the VHS system of home videotape recording in the 1970s.
Antitrust and Innovation
The federal government, which had fostered the formation of RCA in 1919, had become alarmed at its growth, and on May 31, 1930, it began antitrust proceedings against the patent pooling arrangements at the foundation of the company. After two years, the suit was settled out of court on November 21, 1932. Under the consent decree, RCA retained all of its patents but repaid or cancelled its outstanding debts to GE and Westinghouse. GE and Westinghouse distributed their RCA shares to their own stockholders, AT&T having disposed of its RCA shares some years before. The GE heritage lingered only in NBC's trademark three-note chime, G-E-C. General Electric soon developed a competing line of radios and other consumer electronics.
RCA moved its headquarters into the new 60-story RCA Building on June 2, 1933. NBC and state-of-the art NBC broadcasting studios followed in November. The RCA Building was the principal structure in Rockefeller Center and gave the complex its alternate name of "Radio City."
The RCA Radiotron Company, Inc., absorbed the E.T. Cunningham Company in 1931. RCA Photophone, Inc., was merged into RCA Victor Company, Inc. in January 1932, and on December 15, 1934, the RCA Manufacturing Company, Inc., was formed in Delaware into which the RCA Victor Company, Inc., and RCA Radiotron Company, Inc., were merged as divisions.
RCA suffered in the worst years of the Depression, but recovered relatively quickly after 1933. David Sarnoff, who had become president in 1930, spent liberally on research while cutting back in other areas. Television was only the most prominent of RCA's research initiatives, with the first public demonstration being staged on April 20, 1939, at RCA's pavilion at the New York World's Fair. NBC launched the first commercial television station, WNBT at New York on May 2, 1941. Concurrently with this work, RCA built and installed a complete television station for Moscow in 1936-38. Substantial work was done on color television, but further development of commercial television, whether black & white or color, was halted by World War II. Camden researchers tackled FM (frequency modulation) radio beginning in 1930, and the first experimental FM station, W2XWG, went on the air in New York in January 1940. Vladimir Zworykin and James Hillier produced the first electron microscope in April 1940. Groundbreaking work was done in microwave communications, radar and sonar. A fuller list of RCA's technical achievements will be found in the notes to Record Group II.
In order to consolidate research efforts, RCA formed a new division called RCA Laboratories in March 1941 and constructed a new research center at Princeton in 1942. In 1941, the FCC ruled that NBC's ownership of two radio networks constituted a monopoly. RCA and NBC sold the weaker Blue Network Company, Inc., to Edward Noble in 1943, and he reorganized it as the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Flagship station WJZ became WABC.
World War and Cold War.
America's entry into World War II permanently changed the nature of RCA. Development of commercial television and radio projects ceased, and the company became a major military contractor. Much of the research of the Depression years was now turned to military uses. To meet the military demand for electron tubes, the Navy constructed a plant at Lancaster, Pa., that RCA operated and purchased at the war's end. RCA worked with the Navy Bureau of Ordnance to develop and manufacture proximity fuses at a new plant in Bloomington, Ind. In order to better coordinate manufacturing activities, the RCA Manufacturing Company, Inc., was merged into RCA as the RCA Victor Division on December 31, 1942.
During the war, RCA developed and produced the SHORAN (Short Range Navigation) system, airborne radar and television equipment, automatic fire control, and military communication systems. RCA Communications, Inc., provided wireless communications between America and the front lines. Wartime research and development produced a new generation of electronics for both military and civilian use.
RCA's postwar conversion to civilian production was rapid, particularly in the area of television, with the first mass-produced commercial set going on the market in 1946, the same year in which NBC started the first U.S. television network. Commercial color television was perfected between 1945 and 1953, but RCA received a major setback when the FCC approved CBS's rival mechanical system as the standard in 1950. The CBS system offered better picture quality but, unlike RCA's all-electronic system, was not compatible with black & white broadcasting. RCA worked on improving its picture quality and lobbied through the National Television Standards Committee and finally succeeded in having the FCC approve its system in December 1953. NBC broadcast the Tournament of Roses Parade in color nationwide on January 1, 1954, and opened its "Color City" studios in Burbank, Calif., in the following year. In 1954, the Home Instruments Department and the RCA Service Company, Inc., relocated from Camden to a new suburban facility in nearby Cherry Hill, NJ The new building contained a public exhibit, the RCA Hall of Progress, with actual models displaying the evolution of record players, radios, and other home instruments.
Research in solid state physics during the 1930s and 1940s led to the invention of the transistor by Bell Laboratories in 1948. RCA entered the field of semiconductor research almost immediately and established a Semiconductor Division for manufacturing in 1953. It scored its first successes with photoconductors that would be potentially useful in television camera tubes, but its research efforts also embraced thermoelectric, luminescent and magnetic materials, and materials exhibiting the photovoltaic effect. RCA developed new types of transistors and applied the new technology across its product lines.
RCA was also an early entrant into the field of electronic computers. RCA Laboratories produced the "Selectron," an electron tube with 256 memory elements, in 1947, and the "Graphophon," a visual memory tube in 1949. RCA produced the largest electronic analog computer ever built as part of the Navy's "Project Typhoon" in November 1950 and the "BIZMAC" computer data processing system in 1955. The RCA 501 of 1958 was the first fully-transistorized computer system.
During the early 1950s, RCA expanded its traditional line of consumer electronics to include other types of electric household appliances. RCA purchased the Estate Heatrola Division (gas and electric ranges and space heaters) from the Noma Electric Corporation in November 1952 and introduced its own line of air conditioners and dehumidifiers the same year. On September 15, 1955, RCA merged its stove and air conditioner business with the Whirlpool Corporation and Seeger Refrigerator Company to form the Whirlpool-Seeger Corporation, later the Whirlpool Corporation. RCA sold most of its Whirlpool stock between 1962 and 1964.
However, the company's greatest change in the 1950s came about as a result of the permanent rearmament and arms race that accompanied the Korean War and Cold War. RCA became a major military and aerospace contractor. In addition to radar, sonar, and military communications and sensing equipment, RCA developed missile guidance and checkout equipment. In 1958, it established an Astra-Electronic Products Division which produced weather and communications satellites and later contributed to lunar and Mars probes and the lunar missions of Project Apollo. Also in 1958, RCA received the primary contract to develop the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), a chain of radar stations across the Arctic. The Missile Electronics & Controls Department established a new plant in Burlington, Mass., in 1958, and the West Coast Electronics Center opened in Van Nuys, Calif., two years later. Van Nuys worked on missile checkout, radar navigation, electronic countermeasures and the Saturn V launch vehicle. By 1962, aerospace and defense projects employed a quarter of RCA's workforce and accounted for a third of earnings.
Debacle and Demise.
David Sarnoff's son Robert succeeded to the presidency in 1966 and was named CEO in 1968. The younger Sarnoff began a program of conglomerate diversification, acquiring publisher Random House, Inc., and the Hertz Corporation rental car business in 1966. In a makeover designed to erase its historic connection with radio, the Radio Corporation of America became RCA Corporation on May 9, 1969. A modernist block letter logo replaced the old circle with lightning bolt, and the company also retired the familiar "Nipper" and "His Master's Voice" trademarks. After Robert succeeded his ailing father as chairman in January 1970, the acquisitions continued apace: Banquet Foods, Inc., commercial real estate agent Cushman & Wakefield, Inc., and home furnishings manufacturer Coronet Industries, Inc. Robert Sarnoff also began an ill-fated push to make RCA the number two computer manufacturer, but after only a year, RCA sold its entire computer business to Sperry Univac in 1971-73.
The color television market, that had sustained the company through the 1960s, had now matured, and Japanese imports began claiming ever larger shares of the U.S. market for consumer electronics. Still, RCA continued to improve its consumer products, but solid state research, military electronics, aerospace and telecommunications were the main growth areas during Robert Sarnoff's tenure. RCA Communications, Inc., became RCA Global Communications, Inc. ("Globcom") in 1969. The RCA Satcom System introduced domestic satellite telecommunications in the U.S. on December 21, 1973, using leased transponders on other satellites. Satcom I was launched on December 12, 1975, and Satcom II on March 26, 1976. RCA American Communications, Inc. was created to operate this domestic system.
RCA was badly hit by the depression and inflation of the mid-1970s. Ironically, Sarnoff's new acquisitions fared better than most of RCA's traditional electronics business. The company ceased manufacturing audio equipment (radios, phonographs, tape recorders and players) in 1975, and between 1971 and 1976 jettisoned Cushman & Wakefield, the Graphic Systems Division, the Solid State Division's liquid crystal operation, the RCA Institutes training school, 16-mm. projectors and microwave devices. The Harrison, NJ receiving tube plant closed in April1976.
In November 1975, the RCA board demanded and received Robert Sarnoff's resignation. His successor, Anthony L. Conrad, lasted less than a year, when it became known that he had filed no income tax returns for the years 1971-75. Edgar H. Griffiths, a career executive concerned with short-term profits, became president and CEO in September 1976. Griffiths restored a modernized version of "His Master's Voice" in 1978, but otherwise pursued a program of divestiture and downsizing. In 1980, Random House, Inc., was sold to Newhouse Publications and Banquet Foods, Inc., to Conagra, Inc. In the same year, however, Griffiths bought C.I.T. Financial Corporation, a financial services conglomerate in the hope of dampening RCA's traditionally cyclical earnings. Instead, the purchase caused RCA to lose its "A" credit rating. A year later, the board ousted Griffiths and named Thornton F. Bradshaw of American Richfield Company chairman and CEO. Robert R. Frederick, formerly of General Electric, was named president.
Bradshaw and Frederick continued the divestiture program: Avionics Systems and Mobile Communications in 1981, C.I.T. Financial Corporation in 1984, and the Hertz Corporation in 1985. RCA Records became RCN Ariola International, a joint venture with Bertelsmann AG of Germany in 1984.
On June 9, 1986, RCA Corporation was acquired by General Electric in the then largest merger outside the oil industry. Under terms set by the Justice Department and the FCC, GE was obliged to sell its vidicon tube business, and NBC, which became a GE subsidiary, was required to sell five radio stations in New York, Chicago and Washington. NBC sold its radio network to Westwood One, Inc. in 1987 and disposed of its individual radio stations to unrelated operators. GE sold Coronet Industries in December 1986. Bertelsmann AG acquired the remaining interest in RCA/Ariola International in 1986, and GE sold the former GE and RCA consumer electronics business to Thomson S.A. of France and RCA Global Communications, Inc. to MCI Communications Corporation in 1987. RCA's New Products Division was spun off to an independent company, the Detek Corporation, which purchased RCA's old Lancaster facility. Also in 1987, GE donated the David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton to SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif. The Solid State Division was sold to Harris Corporation in 1988. GE integrated those portions of RCA's former operations that meshed with its own business strategy, principally domestic satellite communications, defense and aerospace, with their GE counterparts. The NBC television network became a GE subsidiary, and the RCA Building became the General Electric Building.
In 1991, GE signed an agreement with the City of Camden to develop a new office site on former Campbell Soup Company property at Third and Market Streets. Most of the old Camden Plant was then razed for redevelopment, but Building No. 17 with its landmark tower with "His Master's Voice" stained glass windows was converted to condominiums. General Electric sold its entire aerospace business, including the Camden facility, to Martin Marietta Company in April 1993.
B.L. Aldridge was an employee of the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, NJ and later Manager of Sales and Administration of Home Instruments for the Victor Division of RCA. From the early 1950s to 1959, Aldridge also functioned as a part-time company historian. During this time he used his long familiarity with Victor's consumer products, mostly radios and record players, to amass a collection of historic and significant Victor and RCA instruments which were then used in traveling promotional displays and later installed in a "Hall of Progress" exhibit at RCA's new facility in Cherry Hill. Aldridge also researched and wrote exhibit labels, brief model histories and several company histories.
History of RCA Research Facilities
At its formation, RCA had no research facilities, relying on obtaining the right to use technologies patented by General Electric, Westinghouse or AT&T. It had established a Technical & Test Department at 242nd Street in the Bronx near Van Cortlandt Park in 1924. This department consisted of two groups, one under Arthur Van Dyck that handled design coordination of radio apparatus submitted by GE and Westinghouse, and a radio research and development group under Julius Weinberger.
The 1929 purchase of the Victor Talking Machine Company gave RCA its first substantial manufacturing and research facility, and all radio research formerly conducted at Van Cortlandt Park was concentrated there The Victor Talking Machine Company established its first research laboratory at Camden in 1907. With the formation of RCA Victor Company, mc., in 1929, Camden research fell under its Engineering Department. In 1934, it became the RCA Victor Division of the RCA Manufacturing Company, Inc., and in 1942, the RCA Victor Division of RCA.
Scope and Content
The records of the RCA Corporation consist of three series: Secretary's files; B.L. Aldridge files; and the Camden Technical Library files. The collection is largely RCA technical reports, standards, engineering notebooks, manuals and miscellaneous publications. The Secretary's files document the formation of RCA. Aldridge's files deal almost entirely with the history of the Victor Talking Machine Company, RCA-Victor and the Camden Plant.
Secretary's files is organized into two subseries: Contract file; Contract file analysis. This series consists of documents removed from the Secretary's Contract File because of supposed historical value. At some point after 1980, they became associated with the B.L. Aldridge file in Series II, but were not part of them.
The first subseries of original contracts and agreements pertain to the formation of RCA between 1919 and 1932. This includes prior rights acquired from the Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company Limited , the construction of American transmission stations by the Marconi; world radio communication rights; the dissolution of the American Marconi company; disputes over the Marconi and Alexanderson alternator patents; the disputes among RCA, GE and Westinghouse; and the antitrust suit.
The second subseries, "Contract File Analysis," consists of copies of cover sheets from the Contract File giving the contract number, the name of the parties and an abstract of the action. The series appears to have been produced in 1929-1933 at the time of the antitrust suit, when RCA became an independent company for the purpose of determining which agreements should be assigned to which of the new RCA subsidiaries and which were no longer in force.. The sheets include most of the important contracts entered into by RCA or inherited from predecessors down to early 1933. The oldest contract is dated 1887.
B. L. Aldridge files is arranged into eight subseries: Histories and background; General historical files; Museum files; Model files; Distribution and allocation records; Chronological files of sales and marketing materials; Miscellany; and Oversized materials. The records consist of documents created and collected by Aldridge as both historian and Manager of Sales.
Histories and background subseries include general histories of RCA and RCA Victor and a notebook of general operating and sales statistics.
General historical files contain information about the history of Victor and RCA Victor including advertisements; miscellaneous products; the Nipper trademark and its originator Francis Barraud; the Berliner Gramophome Company and its patents; other phonograph, radio and record manufacturers; the company's various plants and facilities; Victor recording artists including Enrico Caruso and Arturo Toscanini; the development of color television; Victor founder Eldridge Johnson; the "Hall of Progress"; and recordings.
Museum files are concerned with the creation and administration of the colleciton of radios and phonographs.
Model files document models produced by Victor and RCA Victor. Materials contained in this series include trade catalogs, tearsheets, short manuscripts of the model's history and significance written by Aldridge, exhibit labels and adverisements.
Distribution and allocation records contain extensive information about RCA's policies for allocating instruments to dealers during World War II shortages. Also included in the series is information about dealer and distributor sales and discounts, product distribution, production control, field personnel, sales comparisons, sales training and seasonal trends.
Miscellaneous records include the 1963-1964 product line catalog, the "Computer Systems 1971 Business Plan" and a brief run of the company newsletter "Notes from Nipper."
Oversized items include a scrapbook of advertising (1913-1915) featuring Victor Victrolas and recording artists, a scrapbook for the Camden's Plant's job safety program (1955), tear sheets and advertisements.
The Camden Technical Library files series represent a selection from the contents of the former RCA technical library located on the sixth floor of Building 10 of the Camden Plant assembled with the cooperation of company historian Frederick O. Barnum III. The materials are organized into four subseries: Technical reports; Engineering notebooks; Standards; and Publications and manuals.
Following RCA's original practice, all of the technical reports in this subseries have been cataloged individually on Hagley's OPAC and may be accessed by author, title and subject or free-text searches. If you know the serial number of a report, you may locate it using a "keyword" search by placing the number within quotation marks, e.g. "PTR-2". Likewise, you may use "keyword" searching for the name or location of an individual laboratory, department or division or any other significant phrase. The report runs generally end in 1969-1975 and are not complete.
The reports collected in the Camden library were generated by work in many RCA laboratories on a wide array of commercial and military subjects. Some report series are the work of a single facility, while other collect the work from many different facilities. The bulk of the reports were generated at Princeton and Camden, but the Camden library collected copies from most of the other research facilities in the system. Reports generated in the Camden Plant come from both the Commercial and Aerospace & Defense Groups. The former deal with research in radio, black and white and color television, sound recording, the "Photophone" system of motion picture sound tracks, "Electrofax", and computers, Many of the reports deal with basic research into electronic components and the materials used therein, from vacuum tubes to solid state and superconductors. The Aerospace & Defense reports deal with radar, sonar, air traffic control, surveillance systems, communications, weather and spy satellites, ICBM's, military communications systems, hardware for the lunar and Mars missions, and designs for space stations and space vehicles.
All of the reports are highly technical in nature with heavy use of equations, graphs, and diagrams. Most cannot be read without a background in electronics engineering. The exceptions are a sizeable number of reports generated by trips to European laboratories and RCA's European licensees which discuss the state of research in electronics and computers, the development of television broadcasting, and the growth of markets for consumer electronics. RCA engineers kept abreast of developments at most of the major manufacturers and research institutes in Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy and some contacts with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Most of the reports are highly focused on very narrow problems, or very specific properties of materials and parts of larger devices. Thus it would be necessary to peruse a large number of the reports to get a sense of the larger directions in RCA's research or understand which experiments were commercially successful. Only a small minority of the reports describe the functioning of large pieces of apparatus that a non-specialist would recognize or the state of research on a broad topic.
The engineering notebooks comprise volumes issued to engineers of the RCA Manufacturing Company, Inc. and, after 1942, the RCA Victor Division of RCA. The notebooks contain a log of work done with sketches of apparatus.
The Standards subseries is further organized into six sub-subseries of standards consist of looseleaf binders with printed company, industry and government standards governing the dimension, composition and manufacture of electronic components and materials, along with written specifications or instructions and graphs showing performance characteristics. The Master Items list all the parts of a particular assembly with drawings, if appropriate. The Manufacturing Guides outline procedures to be followed in the manufacture of components and materials. The Test Report Index refers to microfilmed reports that are not part of this accession.
The Publications and manuals is futher organized into six sub-subseries of miscellaneous publications and manuals are almost random samples. They include product news bulletins and a series of computer operating and programming manuals. Historical miscellany includes a history of the Advanced Technological Laboratories, a paper on RCA's contributions to the space program, copies of two architectural articles on buildings in the Camden Plant, and programs from award ceremonies. "Instructions" are short operating instructions for RCA devices or looseleaf trade catalog pages for an assortment of electronic components. Finally there are series of training manuals prepared by RCA Institutes, Inc., including ones on computer programming and television repair.
No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.
Company historian Frederick O. Barnum III salvaged a large group of materials (Boxes 1-288) from the abandoned photo lab on the 4th floor of Building 10 of the RCA Camden Plant, after the plant had been vacated and abandoned by successor company Martin Marietta Corporation in April 1993. Barnum donated two more groups of material to Hagley on 17 December 1993 (Boxes 304-310) and 19 May 1994 (Boxes 311-313).
The files of previous company historian B.L. Aldridge and the Secretary's Contract File (Boxes 289-303) were donated on 17 September 1993 by an individual who salvaged them from the company's defunct "Hall of Progress" exhibit in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Books, trade journals and company publications were transferred to the Published Collections Department.
Frederick O. Barnum III collection of RCA Victor Company negatives (Accession 1995.220), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.
- Barnum, Frederick 0., "His Master's Voice" in America: Ninety Years of Communications Pioneering and Progress: Victor Talking Machine Company; Radio Corporation of America; General Electric Company (Camden, NJ: General Electric Company, 1991).
- Moody's Industrial Manuals, 1931-1998.
- RCA: An Historical Perspective (n.p.: RCA Corporation, 1978)
- "RCA Corporation," International Directory of Company Histories, v. 2, pp. 88-90.
- RCA Corporation (Organization)
- Barnum, Frederick O., III (Collector, Person)
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- RCA Corporation records
- Christopher T. Baer, Stephen C. Shisler, Ellen M. Felser
- Description rules:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description:
- Script of description:
Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA