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Highlighting Sarnoff’s legacy in technology

By Courtney Kalafsky

On Friday, Oct. 4, the Brown Bag Series continued its series with Benjamin Gross’s lecture “David Sarnoff, RCA Laboratories, and the Dawn of the Electronic Age.” Gross presented the history of technology to a “standing-room only” auditorium, packed with both faculty and students.

The lecture corresponded with “The Sarnoff Collection,” an exhibition of artifacts displaying technology’s progress from the era of telegraphs to LED screen wristwatches and calculators. Gross is the consulting scholar and curator of the College’s Sarnoff Collection housed in Roscoe West Hall.

David Sarnoff has been recognized as a key player in technology’s advancements over the past century. According to Gross, Sarnoff “stumbled his way” into his future profession while pursuing an early career in journalism.

Shortly after, it was evident that fate had brought him into the world of higher technology. At a young age, Sarnoff was involved with Morse code and even performed an integral role in organizing the rescue for the Titanic. As his dreams and ambitions grew, Sarnoff quickly realized that technology opened a world of opportunity.

Sarnoff supervised a team of engineers through the creation of in-home radios, televisions and other innovations. Despite facing many financial and competative challenges, Sarnoff’s team at NBC made accomplishments that were once thought to be impossible.

“It was a question of confidence … I let them know I believed in them more than they believed in themselves,” Gross said, quoting Sarnoff on his team’s success.

Gross displayed expert oratory in his ability to engage the audience in his lecture. He commanded the room’s attention simply by exhibiting his pure interest in the subject.

Throughout his speech, Gross projected images of Sarnoff, his colleagues and their inventions, allowing the audience to visualize the developments.

Additionally, comedic relief made the speaker relatable to the students. While discussing the names of various organizations, Gross said, “I am sorry for the alphabet soup.”

The lecture was concluded with a statement of the three most important things that Sarnoff left behind after his death in 1971. Technological artifacts, evidently, provide the most concrete testimony of his work. However, Sarnoff also created a community of scientists and engineers, and perhaps most importantly, a positive attitude toward innovation.

Freshman graphic design major Ariana Sluyter expressed her overall deduction on the insight of the lecture.

“It’s interesting to think that engineering and communications work hand in hand — they need each other,” she said.



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