RCA

RCA Corporation
FateAcquired by GE in 1986, various divisions liquidated
SuccessorGE
RCA (owned by Technicolor)
RCA Records (owned by Sony Music Entertainment)
FoundedOctober 17, 1919; 99 years ago (1919-10-17) as Radio Corporation of America. Name changed to RCA Corporation on May 9, 1969.
Defunct1986
HeadquartersNew York City, New York, U.S.[1]
Key people
Owen Young, David Sarnoff, first general manager
ProductsRadios
Vacuum tubes
Phonograph records
Electric Phonograph
RCA Photophone
Televisions
CED Videodisc
TV Station equipment:
Studio cameras
Videotape machines
Film chains
TV transmitters
TV broadcast antennae
Satellites
DivisionsRCA Records
NBC
www.rca.com Edit this on Wikidata

The RCA Corporation was a major American electronics company, which was founded as the Radio Corporation of America in 1919. It was initially a wholly owned subsidiary of General Electric (GE); however, in 1932, GE was required to divest its control as part of the settlement of a government antitrust suit.

At its height as an independent company, RCA was the dominant communications firm in the United States for over five decades. Beginning in the early 1920s, RCA was a major manufacturer of radio receivers, and also created the first national radio network, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). RCA was also at the forefront in the introduction and development of television, both black-and-white and color. During this period, the company was closely identified with the leadership of David Sarnoff. He was general manager at RCA's founding, became company president in 1930, and remained active, as chairman of the board, until the end of 1969.

Beginning in the mid 1970s, RCA's stature began to weaken, as the company attempted to diversify and suffered major financial losses in the mainframe computer industry and other failed projects such as the CED videodisc. In 1986, RCA was reacquired by General Electric, which over the next few years liquidated most of the corporation's assets. The RCA trademarks are currently owned by Sony Music Entertainment and Technicolor, which in turn license the brand name to other companies including Voxx International, Curtis International, AVC Multimedia, TCL Corporation, and Express LUCK International, Ltd. for their various products.

Establishment by General Electric

Company logo in 1921 stressed its leadership in international communication.[2]

RCA originated as a reorganization of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America (commonly called "American Marconi"). In 1897, the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company, Limited, was founded in London to promote the radio (then known as "wireless telegraphy") inventions of Guglielmo Marconi. As part of a worldwide expansion, in 1899 American Marconi was organized as a subsidiary company, holding the rights to use the Marconi patents in the United States and Cuba.[3] In 1912 it took over the assets of the bankrupt United Wireless Telegraph Company, and from that point forward it had been the dominant radio communications company in the United States.

With the entry of the United States into World War One in April 1917, the government took over most civilian radio stations, to use them for the war effort. Although the overall U.S. government plan was to restore civilian ownership of the seized radio stations once the war ended, many Navy officials hoped to retain a monopoly on radio communication even after the war. Defying instructions to the contrary, the Navy began purchasing large numbers of stations outright. With the conclusion of the conflict, Congress turned down the Navy's efforts to have peacetime control of the radio industry, and instructed the Navy to make plans to return the commercial stations it controlled, including the ones it had improperly purchased, to the original owners.[4]

Due to national security considerations, the Navy was particularly concerned about returning the high-powered international stations to American Marconi, since a majority of its stock was in foreign hands, and the British already largely controlled the international undersea cables. This concern was increased by the announcement in late 1918 of the formation of the Pan-American Wireless Telegraph and Telephone Company, a joint venture between American Marconi and the Federal Telegraph Company, with plans to set up service between the United States and South America.[5]

Two vacuum tube cartons, displaying different generations of the RCA logo

The Navy had installed a high-powered Alexanderson alternator, built by General Electric (GE), at the American Marconi transmitter site in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It proved to be superior for transatlantic transmissions to the spark transmitters that had been traditionally used by the Marconi companies. Marconi officials were so impressed by the capabilities of the Alexanderson alternators that they began making preparations to adopt them as their standard transmitters for international communication. A tentative plan made with General Electric proposed that over a two-year period the Marconi companies would purchase most of GE's alternator production. However, this proposal was met with disapproval, on national security grounds, by the U.S. Navy, which was concerned that this would guarantee British domination of international radio communication.[6]

The Navy, claiming it was acting with the support of President Wilson, looked for an alternative that would result in an "all-American" company taking over the American Marconi assets. In April 1919 two naval officers, Admiral H. G. Bullard and Commander S. C. Hooper, met with GE's president, Owen D. Young, asking that he suspend the pending alternator sales to the Marconi companies. This move would leave General Electric without a buyer for its transmitters, so the officers proposed that GE purchase American Marconi, and use the assets to form its own radio communications subsidiary. Young consented to this proposal, which, effective November 20, 1919, transformed American Marconi into the Radio Corporation of America.[6] The new company was promoted as being a patriotic gesture. RCA's incorporation papers required that its officers needed to be U.S. citizens, with a majority of its stock held by Americans.

RCA retained most of the American Marconi staff, although Owen Young became the new company's head as the chairman of the board. Former American Marconi vice president and general manager E. J. Nally become RCA's first president. Nally's term ended on December 31, 1922, and he was succeeded the next day by Major General James G. Harbord. Harbord in turn resigned the presidency on January 3, 1930, replacing Owen D. Young as the company's chairman of the board. He was succeeded, as RCA's third president, by David Sarnoff, who had been the company's general manager at its founding. RCA worked closely with the federal government, and felt it deserved to maintain its predominant role in U.S. radio communications. At the company's recommendation, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Rear Admiral Bullard "to attend the stockholders' and director's meetings... in order that he may present and discuss informally the Government's views and interests".[7]

As of its founding RCA was the largest radio communications firm in the United States.[8] American Marconi had been falling behind industry advances, particularly in vacuum tube technology, and GE needed access to additional patents before its new subsidiary could be fully competitive. The result was a series of negotiations and a complicated set of cross-licensing agreements between various companies. On July 1, 1920, an agreement was made with the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T), which purchased 500,000 shares of RCA, although it would divest these shares in early 1923. The United Fruit Company held a small portfolio of radio patents, and signed two agreements in 1921. GE's traditional electric company rival, the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Corporation, had also purchased rights to some critical patents, including one for heterodyne receiving originally issued to Reginald Fessenden, plus regenerative circuit and superheterodyne receiver patents issued to Edwin Armstrong. Westinghouse used this position to negotiate a cross-licensing agreement, effective July 1, 1921, that included a concession that 40% of RCA's equipment purchases would be from Westinghouse. Following these transactions, GE owned 30.1% of RCA's stock, Westinghouse 20.6%, AT&T 10.3%, and United Fruit 4.1%, with the remaining 34.9% owned by individual shareholders.[9]

In 1930, RCA agreed to occupy the yet-to-be-constructed landmark building of the Rockefeller Center complex, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which in 1933 became known as the RCA building (later renamed the GE Building, now the Comcast Building). This lease was critical for enabling the massive project to proceed as a commercially viable venture—David Rockefeller cited RCA's action as being responsible for "the salvation of the project".[10]

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