Born into poverty in a Jewish settlement near the Russian city of Minsk, Sarnoff was nine when his family immigrated to New York. Within days of his arrival, he got a job hawking Yiddish newspapers on the Lower East Side. By 13, he bought a newsstand for $200. He eventually became a telegrapher for Marconi Wireless.
Sarnoff was not an inventor, an engineer, or a scientist; he was a budding entrepreneur. Considered “the father of electronic communications,” Sarnoff formed the National Broadcasting Company and the Radio Corporation of America, which revolutionized radio and television broadcasting. As a corporate manager and executive he championed new technologies, especially for broadcast communications. He first posed the concept of broadcast radio in 1915, and introduced RCA’s electronic monochrome television system in 1939 and the world’s first electronic color television system in 1946.
Sarnoff firmly believed in the possibilities of social improvement through technological progress, and supported the development of RCA’s independent research laboratories. Along with Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, the RCA Labs in Princeton were responsible for inventing or innovating nearly every device that enabled the birth of Silicon Valley, Asia’s dominance of the electronics industry, and the Digital Revolution, from video displays to the integrated circuit, from electron microscopy to CCD cameras. David Sarnoff and RCA can be regarded as basic ingredients of the Second Industrial Revolution in electronics and chemistry, a revolution that continues to play out around the world today.
As a telegrapher, Sarnoff was among the first telegraphers to find out about the sinking of the Titanic. He sent messages for 72 straight hours to chronicle the accident.