Research Paper

Benjamin Abbe
Professor Cloninger
Ready Camera 1
13 November 2009

David “The General” Sarnoff, Televisionary Man of Legend

David Sarnoff “Father of Television”, but a father of what nature? Innovative, cunning, brilliant, strategic, a visionary, with a never say die attitude? Absolutely. Ruthless, conniving, exploitive, and power hungry? Undoubtedly. So who was David Sarnoff? A quick look will show: David Sarnoff was a media pioneer.  “He was responsible for the introduction of radio and television in the United States as forms of mass media.” (Bloomsbury 1) Born in Belarus, a Russian-American Sarnoff emigrated to the United States in 1900; by 1930 he was president of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and later founded the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). His foresight, perseverance and “whatever-it-takes” tactics led to the American development of Television and his accreditation as the “father of television.” It is said that Sarnoff went on to develop FM radio on a commercial basis, where perhaps his darkest character was revealed, and finally Sarnoff brought color television to the people of the United States through strategic legal manipulations. Awarded the rank of Brigadier General during World War II after serving on Eisenhower’s communication staff and establishing Radio Free Europe for allied coverage of the war, he would continue to don the title and star of the general all the way into the grave. Sarnoff’s impact upon the medium of television and broadcasting is unquestionable. But the manner in which he achieved his impact is where the greater mystery lies. Is David Sarnoff the embodiment of the American Dream? And if so how and why was he such a nightmare for so many others who crossed his path? It is this background of the man David Sarnoff, and his quest for television that will be the focal point of this critical essay.

David Sarnoff was born in 1891 in Uzlian a part of Russia, similar to the wild west of America but much more bleak. (Bilby 11) His time there is mostly marked be the rigorous rabbinical studying his Grandfather imposed upon him, and the aloneness he felt as a young boy, especially after his father left for America. (Bilby 12) A nine year old David Sarnoff arrived in Manhattan, New York on July 2, 1900, as so many other Eastern European immigrants that flooded the country during this period did. Sarnoff’s father had worked and saved for four years to have his family come and join him in the United Stated of America. Living in a disgusting squalid apartment on the lower eastside, Sarnoff’s father had difficulty getting work and earning money while his health exponentially deteriorated to the point of being unable to support the family. (Bloomsbury 1) So at the age of nine years old David Sarnoff became the primary breadwinner for his mother, father and five younger brothers and sisters just days after arriving in America. He sold Yiddish newspapers on the streets during the day, earning a quarter for every 50 sold. In addition he also delivered another paper in the mornings, and sang at the local synagogue for a small fee. During all of this he still studied at the Education Alliance, a local school for immigrant children. Within a year the young David Sarnoff was able to read English newspapers, and by fourteen he opened his own newspaper stand employing his father and brothers. (Bloomsbury 1)
It is evident that at a very young age the need to succeed was engrained in David Sarnoff. After all, his families survival was at stake. Sarnoff later reminisces “More than anything in the world, I wanted to rise above that ghetto background.” (Bilby 19) From works like Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle, conditions during these times, in these densely populated areas, made life tough and unyielding for poor immigrants. Work was scarce, low paying and dangerous. At every turn someone is always trying to prey upon your ignorance of the new culture, attempts to con and rob freshly arrived immigrants was all too commonplace. Business in these cities for these people was cutthroat and too often those who were the most resourceful and willing to cut the most throats rose to the top. At a young and impressionable age, David Sarnoff was thrust into this world, and not only did he survive and support those he loved but he excelled. Sarnoff’s  brilliance and drive is unquestionable, but there is no doubt that the mean streets shaped Sarnoff’s outlook on life, where perhaps too often it was success at all costs, no matter who may be caught in the crossfire. Later in life those who worked under him would state. “The General was a man who loved conflict, and he was never more alive than periods of intense industry conflict.” (Bilby 5)
These early beginnings and the need to succeed undoubtedly led to the ultra-determined mega-mogul that Sarnoff would become, but very well also laid the foundation for the shady and sometimes unlawful ways he went in achieving his prominence. Later on in 1953, Sarnoff reflects on this time to Kenneth Bilby in the writing of The General that “The retentive capacity he developed and the ability to combat fatigue over prolonged periods of intense mental exertion were, in his judgment, central to his professional achievements and particularly to his ability to analyze complex problems of technology and arrive at rational solutions. But those years also cheated him of the ability to enjoy many of life’s amenities in adulthood, even when he could well afford them.” (Bilby 13)
With the Young Sarnoff’s foothold into America now secure, he began his great lifelong climb up the American capital social ladder. He continued his education, and decided he wanted to be a journalist after working so much with newspapers. Eventually, mustering up a great deal of confidence Sarnoff walked into the largest skyscraper, thinking that it was, The Herald, for a job. Only it was not The Herald, the office he walked into was that of the Commercial Cable Company. In no time Sarnoff became a messenger boy for the company. (Bilby 19) And saving up his money he bought a telegraph instrument. As expected Sarnoff excelled with the new technology and in no time became proficient in Morse code and got a job as a junior radio operator for Marconi wireless telegraph company. (Bilby 21) Little did Sarnoff realize that he would spend the better part of his life, roughly sixty years at the company and its successor, the Radio Corporation of America, rising to become president before the age of 40.
With his new job at Marconi, Sarnoff began to idolize the inventor/ owner Marconi himself and began to scheme a way to meet him. One night while studying technical papers Marconi entered the office. Sarnoff was told “He’s the man who makes the lightning.” (Bilby 24). Determined Sarnoff left and began secretly following Marconi. When Marconi unlocked the front street office he was startled by the young Sarnoff’s outstretched right hand. Startled and taken back at first but then noticing the child’s polite, respectful and determined demeanor Marconi’s attention was seized by Sarnoff, who introduced himself as Marconi’s newest American employee. (Bilby 24) Finding interest in the young man, and then hearing Sarnoff’s story of his beginnings as a young immigrant boy supporting his family in America. Marconi hired Sarnoff to be his personal messenger, often delivering flowers, candies and love letters to Marconi’s many New York female lovers. (Bilby 24) Later on Sarnoff would continue to look up to Marconi, stating that they “were on the same wavelength.” (Bilby 25)
Now considered Marconi’s “American Apprentice” (Bilby 26) and quickly rising through the ranks at Marconi, at the age of 21 Sarnoff found himself as radio Operator one fateful night  April 14, 1912 during the Titanic Disaster. In fact it was Sarnoff who discovered the faint transmission being sent by the S.S. Olympic some 1,400 miles away, “‘S.S. Titanic ran into iceberg. Sinking fast.’” consequently the press’s and public’s attention was on Sarnoff and he knew it. Even while scores of others offered assistance, Sarnoff would make sure this was “a one man job” and for the next three days without sleep and little food Sarnoff had “a horrified world hung on his every word.” (Bilby 30).
This would be the first national attention Sarnoff would receive. However, consequently there are many historians who reject this claim. And that the story is beyond a little skewed. After extensive research done by previous researchers of Sarnoff, and deciphering through these notes  it was finally found most likely that Sarnoff who was the manager of the Wanamaker Department Store Marconi Station, was for some reason there after store hours. Carl Dreher’s unauthorized biography of Sarnoff points out that the Wanamaker store hours meant the store would have been closed the night when the initial flash occurred. And although he was a close associate of Mr. Sarnoff for decades, Dreher doubts it happens as Sarnoff describes. Most likely, with the reception ability of the equipment being unable to hear the transmission Marconi operator J. H. Hughes who was listening to the equipment working under Sarnoff who was acting as station manager. And even if he was there when the disaster was first broadcasted, there were still scores of other papers getting coverage. (Bilby 31) So then how did this legend ever come into existence?
Well it appears that initially The American and Jack Binn of The Republic, exaggerated the story. And this story was very important to the foundation of Radio communications. Then in 1930, Fortune doing a piece on Sarnoff turned this story into the legend that has been regurgitated so many times. (Bilby 32) Sarnoff just never really had a problem with what story was told just as long as he was involved. This snippet of time covering the Titanic disaster was important to Sarnoff and his snowballing career, and with a deeper look this is an excellent historical example of misinformation and media manipulation being used when the medium was still in its infancy.
The years that would follow would be of Sarnoff quickly rising through the ranks of Marconi. He had many ideas and plans during this time but most were stifled by war. World War I led to many changes, among them was an interesting buyout or really a takeover of the British owned American Marconi by General Electric and The United States Navy. Of note Sarnoff was involved in the naval communications department for Marconi at this time. (Bilby 44-46) Coincidence? The New company that would be formed out of American Marconi was Radio Corporation Of America (RCA) which was composed of the staff of American Marconi.
There seems to be a pattern forming in these events of David Sarnoff. It is evident of his keen ability to make opportunities for himself. When RCA was founded despite popular myth Sarnoff was not a founder. He was not even an officer of the corporation or a board member. But Sarnoff did meet Owen D. Young, head counsel man at GE, and Sarnoff was commercial manager for American Marconi. Young at their meeting was wowed by Sarnoff’s intelligence, personality, and the sparkle in his eyes. (Bilby 52) Young had Sarnoff help him negotiate Patent Rights to help formulate RCA’s buyouts of communications. This would lead to the continual rise of Sarnoff, who seemed to gain a great deal of disdain from his colleagues. Sarnoff was not trusted and openly disliked, for reasons entirely unclear, but what he says was antisemitism. However, looking at Sarnoff’s life story, he was often all to inspired by other peoples ideas and he had a way of adopting them for his own exploits. Sarnoff now very unhappy with his working conditions would then ask Young for a favor. Sarnoff took Young out for a long, private and expensive dinner, something he would refer to as a milestone in his career (Bilby 55). During this dinner Sarnoff found the opportunity to tell his life story, of his troubles as a young boy immigrant supporting his family. He then told Young of the problems he was having with coworkers. In the next few days it was known that Sarnoff was now the voice of Young and that anyone who slurred at or had a problem with Sarnoff had a problem with Young. Sarnoff ascends farther up the American social ladder.
The years to come would be radio and the formation of the first real network, the National Broadcasting Company, NBC. For Mr. Sarnoff this was undoubtedly important to the events of his life and work. However, I shall stray away from this period though as it is my aim to address his work in television, and his work in radio is easily another research report in itself. I will state that this time is what brought Sarnoff to the forefront, with NBC’s radio ratings dominating under his industry strategies. Now without further ado, the television era begins for David Sarnoff.
In 1929,when Sarnoff was forcing the unification of the radio group’s manufacturing and research facilities under RCA, (Bilby 120). He was visited by a scientist of Westinghouse by the name of Vladimir T. Zworykin. Zworykin informed Mr. Sarnoff, now president of RCA,  in what would be a classic understatement, that he could build a working television video system for about $100,000 in under two years time. (Bilby 121) Sarnoff was intrigued, he had been obsessed with the idea of television while it was still considered fantasy, and thus far only modest developments had been made in the medium to this point. He also found much of himself, in Zworykin. Zworykin was roughly the same age as Sarnoff and was also a Russian-American immigrant. Zworykin was brilliant, and as seems very important to Sarnoff, he was caught by the man’s eyes. He told Sarnoff of his revolutionary idea of an electronic eye, what he would eventually call his iconoscope. Sarnoff approved without even seeking the immediate approval of his superiors. (Bilby 121) The development of a television system would take much longer and require more resources than Zworykin originally projected, by about just shy of a decade and $49,900,000 (Bilby 121). But perhaps, Zworykin and Zworykin’s iconoscope were more like David Sarnoff than first appeared as it would later be discovered that Philo Farnsworth had much to do with the advent of the working image dissector and kinescope, which was the foundation of the iconoscope.
Vladimir Zworykin, had been developing his own electronic television system at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh since 1923. Before leaving Westinghouse, Zworykin visited Philo Farnsworth’s laboratory and was sufficiently impressed with the performance of the image dissector that he had developed. Zworykin and his team at Westinghouse make a working copy of it, which was later what he took with him to RCA. He later found that the dissector’s excessive illumination requirements made it impractical and then turned his attention to what would become the Iconoscope. (Farnsworth) In 1931, David Sarnoff of RCA offered to buy Farnsworth’s patents for $100,000, with the stipulation that he become an employee of RCA, but Farnsworth refused. (Farnsworth) In 1932, Farnsworth would file a patent dispute to stop the television giants progress. RCA would later file an interference against Farnsworth, claiming Zworykin’s 1923 patent had priority over Farnsworth’s design. The U.S. Patent Office rendered a decision in 1935 stating that the “electrical image” of Farnsworth’s image dissector was not in Zworykin’s inventions, and priority of the invention was awarded to Farnsworth. (Postman 2)
This posed a serious problem to Sarnoff and his quest for television. Realizing that this could be tied up for years more in court, and Sarnoff knowing that he could not buy the patents outright from Farnsworth meant that RCA would have to get them licensed from Farnsworth and pay royalties. This was a first for RCA, who was in the business of licensing to other companies not the other way around, and according to legend the RCA official who signed the legal document had tears in his eyes. (Bilby 128) Farnsworth nevertheless lost some court decisions for other key television inventions, (Burns) and would not be the last person to be used and abused by David Sarnoff.
With the technology finally achieved and legally free and clear, Sarnoff and RCA’s first television airing was at the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York.  There Sarnoff proclaimed:
a new industry, based on imagination, on scientific research and accomplishment. Now we add radio sight to sound. It is with a feeling of humbleness that I come to the moment of announcing the birth in this country of a new art so important in its implication that it is bound to affect all society. It is an art which shines like a torch of hope in a troubled world. It is a creative force that we must learn to utilize for the benefit of all mankind. (Bilby 133)

Sarnoff had captured the public’s attention. And the public wanted television. “With sets springing up and beginning to be sold by different companies the FCC scrambled to set standards. The fear was that if people bought sets using existing standards, broadcasters would be reluctant to adopt improvements in picture and sound that could not be received on the old television sets. Also researchers believed if broadcasters would not adopt any improvements, then research would stop.” (Edwardson 2)
As companies like Zenith, Philco, Dumont and CBS balked and made cases about unfair standards and of the FCC being loaded with RCA supporters or of being afraid of the giant company, the FCC and Fly seemed cautious about what to do. They were hesitant and unsure of how to approach and embrace the new medium while preventing sales of sets by RCA that may very well be obsolete. Sarnoff is quoted “We live in obsolescence don’t we? (Edwardson 3) How postmodern of Sarnoff. Sarnoff began to call out the FCC using his great media capabilities, he said the FCC was stifling American growth and technology and that Europe was surpassing them in its technology because of the FCC. (Edwardson 4) “The Chairman, James Lawrence Fly, an ardent New Dealer, an antimonopolist of deep conviction, seemed more concerned with preventing big company domination of the new art than with which set of standards ultimately prevailed… Fly’s commission suggested a further cycle of experiments leading up to limited commercial telecasting; by September 1940. But again it failed to freeze standards.” (Bilby 135) With Sarnoff’s media voice and the public’s desire for television, Fly and the FCC were underpressure.
It became Fly vs. Sarnoff, The Government’s New Deal vs. Big Business. When the FCC suggested “limited commercial telecasting” with freezing the standards, Sarnoff responded by putting full page adds in the New York Dailies on television sets offered in the New York area at reduced prices and stating that RCA would begin commercial telecasts in September on a regular Basis. (Bilby 135) The FCC gave an inch and Sarnoff took a mile. Sarnoff is quoted looking back at this time, “opportunities have to be viewed as though they were a barrel of apples. You pick out one you like, rub it briskly, and sink your teeth into it. In other words, you have to pick out the opportunity and make the most of it.” (Bilby 135)
The response from the FCC was anger and Fly ordered the suspension of the sale, as he said this would give RCA an obvious advantage over its competitors. Sarnoff responded publicly that “the chairman was more interested in protecting RCA’s competitors than in getting TV off the ground.” (Bilby 136) At this point even President Roosevelt a friend of Sarnoff from the fireside chats and the Worlds Fair Broadcast tried to negotiate a truce between the two. Even this failed. Eventually with the public grew more and more restless, and Sarnoff’s promise to a downtrodden American economy of a massive new economic stimulant in the form of a new billion dollar industry that would create half a million new jobs if only the FCC got off his back, was proving to be persuasive. This seemed to be the final straw, and shortly thereafter the FCC set standards close to what was RCA’s current standards at the time, which meant that those who already had sets could have them tuned to the standards free of charge. Sarnoff was triumphant but his success in television would be delayed when WWII breaks out, and the General is born.
At the onset of World War II, Sarnoff already a reserve colonel was recommended to serve on Eisenhower’s communications staff. I will keep this brief as again Sarnoff’s military career is another research report in itself. Arranging expanded radio circuits for NBC to transmit news from the invasion of France in June 1944. Sarnoff was responsible for establishing communications for the coming Allied invasion into France. Afterwards, Sarnoff arranged for the restoration of the Radio France station in Paris and oversaw the construction of a radio transmitter powerful enough to reach all of the allied forces in Europe, called Radio Free Europe. Thanks to his communications skills and support, Sarnoff received the Brigadier General’s star in December 1945, and thereafter was known as “General Sarnoff.” (Bilby 142-151) The star, would be adorned wherever he went, and was a measure of great pride for Sarnoff. Sarnoff’s relationship with Eisenhower and the military would later on pay dividends as during the cold war RCA’s military contracts doubled (Hilmes 158) and no doubt aided his influence when dealing with the government.
In late 1946 , before most established industries had completed shifting from war to consumer manufacturing, RCA sets began rolling off the production line, and by 1947 it was apparent that Sarnoff was right about the venture as sales began to even outperform his estimates. Which was good considering the RCA investment into television was about 50 million dollars. But within four years TV sales accounted for nearly half of RCA’s sales. After establishing successful marketing campaigns, life at RCA seemed to be a calm. This would be short lived as the general would be called up to fight the television color war. This time Sarnoff would not be facing off with the government but William Paley and Peter Goldmark of CBS.
Sarnoff and Paley already had a competitive relationship from radio. “The urge to beat RCA and its ruler, David Sarnoff, was… an overriding force at CBS.” (Baughman 62) In 1947, CBS and Goldmark showed it had the capability of color television. As one TV manufacturer groused “if I had sat down and tried to think of some way to screw up the industry, I couldn’t have done a better job than CBS did.” (Baughman 62) As an NBC executive wrote “Columbia is trying to establish itself in television, and at the same time is trying to delay the commercial advent of the immediately available practical television.” (Baughman 62) When coming before the FCC CBS adopted a different strategy than that of Sarnoff and tried to woe the committee. In March of 1947, the FCC denied CBS’s motion. Simply the color system and UHF were too inconclusive. This would end up costing CBS dearly, as they would not recoup the money in Goldmark’s investment and they had not renewed VHF licenses. The battle for the time being had been won by Sarnoff.
During this time another less known battle raged between Sarnoff and his friend Edwin Howard Armstrong. The two had been close friends for a long time, ever since Sarnoff saw Armstrong’s radio work in a basement at Columbia. “In 1933, Armstrong demonstrated FM to Sarnoff, who recognized the discovery as both ingenious and perilous, RCA sold AM sets and owned two AM networks. With its clarity, FM could kill AM. In addition, Sarnoff was pushing television. FM and TV would inevitably compete for spectrum space and for consumer dollars.” (Bates 3) Time went by and Armstrong fine tuned his technology. The FCC assigned FM to the spectrum just below TV and authorized commercial operation in 1940. The commission also ruled that television broadcasts would use FM for sound. Which meant that for the duration of Armstrong’s patent, TV manufacturers would have to pay him royalties. However after the war for some reason (perhaps Sarnoff’s new influence?), the committee seemed to flip flop. According to Dale Hatfield, a telecommunications professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, called to testify before the FCC. He claimed that sunspots have caused static on channel 2 of analog TVs, and FM was lower on the spectrum, where interference was likelier and thus was not reliable. This claim Dale Hatfield would later regret making based on partial information, as it would kill FM. (Bates 5) “Build a better mousetrap, he [Sarnoff] once remarked, and somebody will develop “a virulent poison which is death on mice and there will be no longer any demand for mousetraps.” (Bates 5)
“Shortly after the FCC’s decision, the chair of the FCC resigned to become general counsel at NBC, a division of RCA, after the spectrum decision. It later emerged, too, that RCA had sent FCC commissioners free televisions during the FM hearings.” (Bates 5)
Armstrong’s troubles weren’t over. RCA next took the position that his FM patents were no longer valid, so he wasn’t entitled to royalties from the sale of televisions that used FM for sound. Armstrong filed suit in 1948. During his deposition, David Sarnoff said of Armstrong, “We were close friends. I hope we still are,” then he insisted in what is speculated as a lie, that RCA engineers had invented FM. (Bates 5)
On January 31, 1954, with Armstrong’s legal battle becoming more and more heated. Armstrong wrote a note to his wife, Marion: “God keep you and may the Lord have mercy on my soul.” Wearing a suit, scarf, and gloves, Armstrong jumped out the window of his 13th-floor apartment. The death seemed suspicious. (Bates 5)
Sarnoff hearing the news was quick to express, “I did not kill Armstrong”. (Bloomsbury 3) A few months later, RCA settled the lawsuit and agreed to pay Marion Armstrong, Armstrong’s widow, $1,000,000. RCA had licensed other companies to manufacture FM equipment, and those companies continued to fight, but one judge after another upheld the validity of the Armstrong patents. In the end, Marion Armstrong finally collected another $10,000,000. (Bates 6) But Edwin Howard Armstrong had already found out what it meant to be long time friends with David Sarnoff as he fell 13 floors.
Now to the next round of the color war and CBS. The FCC in 1940 had cited “promising experiments with color television” — namely, the color disc developed by Peter Goldmark. However, heeding the NTSC’s recommendation, in the end  they declined to establish color standards. CBS tried again to establish color television in 1946, but regulators held the same position they had in the 1930′s concerning black and white television: “The Commission must be satisfied not only that the system proposed will work but also that it is as good as can be expected within a reasonable time to come.” (Bates 6)
The problem for CBS color technology was that it was incompatible with existing black and white TVs. If the FCC adopted CBS’s standards, older sets would continue to receive black and white programs but not color ones. To see those programs, owners would have to buy either a color TV or a converter projected to cost at least $100. (Bates 6)
When CBS again asked the FCC to adopt its system, in 1949, RCA was ready and announced that it had almost perfected a compatible, all-electronic version, without any “horse and buggy” spinning discs. (Bates 6)
The idea of obsolescence as previously mentioned never troubled Sarnoff before. But now it did and especially with black and white TV. The FCC agreed, “Obviously, it is essential that all receivers be capable of receiving all transmissions,” (Bates 6) But the FCC flopped, though compatibility would be optimal, consumers wanted color and CBS had the better technology. Goldmark’s disc became the official standard. Sarnoff wouldn’t stop fighting the decision until it was finally upheld by the Supreme Court. (Bates 6)
With color TV, as with FM before, Sarnoff profited from war. When the Korean War escalated in 1951, the government barred nonmilitary uses of cobalt, a component in CBS color TVs. (Bates 6) Which meant that the development of CBS’s Color television would have to be postponed, until the war was over or the ban in cobalt lifted. Is it possible Sarnoff was able to use his military contacts to make such a ban happen? I like to think yes.
During this time, RCA engineers continued working. By the end of the war in 1953, RCA color was about the same as CBS color, and it was compatible with black and white TVs. RCA achieved compatibility by transmitting brightness and color separately black and white sets got brightness and color sets would get both.
While developing a compatible color system, Sarnoff had also slashed prices and sold black and white TVs as fast as he could. “Every set we get out there makes it that much tougher on CBS,” he said. The number of black and white televisions rose, from nine million in 1950 to an astonishing 23 million in 1953. (Bates 6) The NTSC was forced to reconvene, and compare the two systems, it was now obvious RCA color would be the choice. The General won another decisive battle. It is worth noting, as much as Sarnoff’s technical colorcast may have been in the best interest of RCA,  it did not seem to benefit NBC. As CBS simply had the shows that fans tuned into week after week. (Hilmes 157)
These were perhaps the most triumphant battles of David Sarnoff’s career and Sarnoff was at the top of the ladder. He would continue to reside over things for sometime, but he also did his best to put people he could control under him, he also began grooming his son Robert Sarnoff to become the head of NBC. Before this, Pat Weaver was put in control of NBC but it was floundering in the ratings to CBS. Weaver blamed Sarnoff’s inflexibility and refusal to copy CBS’s approach to pay its stars enough to make them millionaires and use multiple “magazine” style advertisers. (Hilmes 159) In the turmoil that was ensuing pat Weaver had this to say about Sarnoff’s leadership style, “As corporate chairman, surrounded by minions, press agents , lawyers and aides he [was to all whom he dealt] a cold unloved authoritative figure.” Weaver’s time was short and Robert Sarnoff took over, after hiring the famed TV programmer Wasserman to aid his son at NBC, the network finally began to catch up to CBS in the early sixties with Wagon Train. (Hilmes 164)
David Sarnoff’s methods of success throughout his life and career may have been less than virtuous, but television needed a visionary like Sarnoff. A man to be obsessed with initial idea and carry it through until its conception. Sarnoff’s pursuit of technology and his willingness to do whatever, use whoever and fight whoever is what made his quest to create the medium of television successful. If it were not for this man, who knows how long it would have been before the medium of television would of finally come to fruition. So was David Sarnoff the embodiment of the American Dream or the Evil emperor of early television? I think you can make that decision for yourself, as for me I believe in the end he was the American Dream, perhaps just not as candy coated of a version as one might desire. As to the lasting impact of Sarnoff, well I believe Sarnoff had the most to do with that thanks in part to a friend.
Joseph P. Kennedy, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s father, during there friendship imparted to Sarnoff a philosophy of living that Sarnoff never forgot. More important than the substance of the individual was the appearance he projected.  It was the perception that counted, the image the public held. In relationship to Sarnoff’s career this suggested that if the public accepted him as the hero of the titanic disaster, as the infallible prophet of the technological future, as the founder of RCA, then history would be frozen in that heroic configuration. (Bilby 94)
During my research I found this to be quite true, as many records and journals contained much of the same perpetuated myths such as Sarnoff founding RCA. I used The General by Kenneth Bilby extensively because of how often it would point out the attempted truth under so much myth. I noticed most articles I encountered on David Sarnoff and television used The General as a primary reference like, Edwardson and Bates. I attempted to find Carl Dreher’s unauthorized biography on Sarnoff but its life was quick after publication, (hand of Sarnoff?) and some aspects of its validity are questioned, Bilby’s The General addressed this. So even long after Sarnoff’s death in 1971, these myths have perpetuated to create some contradictory facts on Sarnoff’s legacy. A legacy that lives on whether it happened or not. And perhaps this is the real American Dream. Ironically most dreams aren’t remembered, and ask anyone who invented the light bulb and they will probably tell you Edison. Ask who invented TV, and only those who have researched it seem to know. Sarnoff cheated many people throughout his life, but perhaps he cheated himself in the end, as TV’s early history can seem as fuzzy as the first transmissions of Felix The Cat.

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