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April 14: David Sarnoff and the Titanic

April 14, 2013

220px-DavidSarnoff_1922After the Titanic crashed into an iceberg and rapidly began to take on water in the final minutes of this date in 1912, David Sarnoff, a telegrapher at the Marconi Wireless station atop the Wanamaker Hardware building in New York, sent and received wireless messages about the tragedy (for 72 straight hours, according to his own testimony), gathering names of survivors and spreading the news around the world. Sarnoff, a child immigrant to the U.S. at age 9, had presented a memo at age 16 to the head of the Marconi company proposing “radio music boxes” that could broadcast music, news, sports, lectures, and entertainment into people’s homes. He weathered his boss’s rejection and, in 1920, with a $2,000 investment from General Electric, founded the Radio Corporation of America, which rapidly transformed radios from hobbyists’ gadgets into a mass medium. Sarnoff also launched the National Broadcasting Company and was, for many years, the most formidable figure in broadcasting. Named a Reserve Brigadier General of the Signal Corps in 1945, he was nicknamed “The General” and acted the part as a commanding and ruthlessly ambitious figure. He was also a prominent Cold Warrior. Sarnoff, who died at 80 and was interred in a mausoleum featuring a stained-glass vacuum tube in Valhalla, New York, was prone to exaggeration, self-promotion, and fabrication — which may be the case, according to some scholars, with some of the details in this edition of JEWDAYO.

“We hate those who will not take our advice, and despise them who do.” —David Sarnoff

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