From Russia to Radio: The Early Years of Radio Czar David Sarnoff

Born into a small Jewish village in Russia, David Sarnoff would migrate to America and quickly climb the ranks of corporate America to become one of the world's most innovative and successful businessmen. As head of the Radio Corporate of America, Sarnoff ushered in a new era of technology and entrepreneurial prowess.

Born February 27, 1891 in Uzlian, a small village on the outskirts of Minsk, Russia, Sarnoff was the eldest son of Abraham and Leah Sarnoff. From his early years, the family had presumed the young Sarnoff would become a rabbi. Indeed, until his father emigrated to the U.S., and began raising funds to bring the rest of the family over with him, Sarnoff spent his time studying and memorizing the Torah.

In 1900, Sarnoff, his mother and siblings were finally able to join his father in New York City, where the newly reunited family struggled to make ends meet. To support his family, Sarnoff took up a job selling newspapers for one penny before and after school. Things only got worse when his father was struck with Tuberculosis, forcing Sarnoff to quit school and work full-time to support the rest of his family.

As luck would have it, Sarnoff quickly found work as an office boy at the Commercial Cable Company, although he did not last long there. When the company refused to let him take the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah off, Sarnoff quit and promptly went to work for the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company.

Unbeknownst to Sarnoff himself, it was the beginning of a uniquely prosperous sixty-year career in the electronic communications industry. Over the next thirteen years, Sarnoff continued to rise in the ranks at Marconi, from office boy to commercial manager. And, he learned everything he possibly could on the way up - from how to run the business to the most intricate details of the technology itself. It was information that would come in handy down the road.

During his career with Marconi, Sarnoff experienced many firsts, including the first use of radio on a railroad line, and the first use of a hydrogen arc transmitter to demonstrate the broadcast of music from the New York Wanamaker station. Realizing the potential of his activities, Sarnoff began writing memos to his superiors on the potential applications of radio technologies. In 1915, Sarnoff even proposed the development of a "radio music box" for the "amateur" market of radio fans.

Sarnoff, however, was turned down. It would not be the last time Sarnoff was turned down for one of his ideas. But Sarnoff believed in the potential of the work he was doing and continued to push his superiors to listen to him. Throughout World War II, it was indeed difficult to press for any new innovations, as the company was overworked as it was with expanded business. Sarnoff remained Marconi's Commercial Manager the entire time, eagerly waiting for his chance to show the world what he had in store for it.

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