Sarnoff Corporation

Sarnoff Corporation

Sarnoff Corporation, with headquarters in West Windsor Township, New Jersey, was a research and development company specializing in vision, video and semiconductor technology.[1]

The cornerstone of Sarnoff Corporation's David Sarnoff Research Center in the Princeton vicinity was laid just before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. That facility, later Sarnoff Corporation headquarters, was the site of several historic developments, notably color television, CMOS integrated circuit technology, electron microscopy, and many other important technologies affecting everyday life worldwide. Following 47 years as a central research laboratory for its corporate owner RCA (and briefly for successor GE), in 1988 the David Sarnoff Research Center was transitioned to Sarnoff Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of SRI International, in which capacity it served multiple clients. At the beginning of 2011 Sarnoff Corporation merged with the parent company.[2]


Current activities

Sarnoff Corporation is a highly diverse developer and provider of technology solutions, products, and services to government and commercial clients.

Princeton-area facility

The Sarnoff Corporation Princeton, NJ facility includes the historic David Sarnoff Research Center, formerly the central research laboratory of RCA Corporation. Although located adjacent to Princeton University, the two are not, and have not been, directly affiliated. Until 2010, the David Sarnoff Research Center housed important exhibits and archives dating from the RCA years.

In 2010, the Sarnoff Corporation transferred off-site the David Sarnoff Library,[3] a museum highlighting the important work which occurred at the facility over many years, and the important role of longtime RCA leader and labs namesake David Sarnoff as the impresario and entrepreneur bringing broadcast radio and television to North America. Exhibits associated with this library are transitioned to nearby facilities at The College of New Jersey.[4]

Separately, also in 2010, archival RCA documents pertaining to the history of industrial innovation are transitioned to the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society at the Hagley Library in Wilmington, DE.[5]


Science and technology

To date, two historic technology developments among many that took place at Sarnoff Corporation's David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton, NJ have been recognized by the IEEE History Center[6] Milestone Program.[7] These two are the 1946-1953 invention of Monochrome-Compatible Electronic Color Television[8] and the 1968 invention of the Liquid Crystal Display.[9]

Beginning in the 1940s, key aspects of thin film technology were developed at Sarnoff Corporation's David Sarnoff Research Center. Thin film technology, including evaporation of thin metal and dielectric materials in a vacuum to coat a surface, was first developed intensively for photoemissive surfaces required for television camera technologies under development at RCA since the 1930s. It was later applied to semiconductor fabrication process development leading, in part, to the historic growth of solid state electronics.

In the mid-1950s, while working at Sarnoff Corporation's David Sarnoff Research Center, Herbert Kroemer developed key aspects of his theories of heterostructure physics for which he was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics.[10]

Other pioneering and historic technology developments attributable to Sarnoff Corporation's David Sarnoff Research Center include development of the electron microscope, the photon-counting photomultiplier, the CCD imager, CMOS integrated circuit technology, and early optoelectronic components such as lasers and LED's.


Although the facility existed under the name David Sarnoff Research Center for many years, the modern Sarnoff Corporation was created as a result of the purchase by General Electric (GE) of RCA in the late 1980s. A few years prior to the takeover, RCA had written off hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in videodisc technology. RCA's SelectaVision product was overtaken by the videocassette recorder, which allowed easy recording and could store an entire movie on one tape. This major product failure led to the failure of RCA and its purchase by GE.

In the deal, which was intended to gain ownership of NBC (created and owned by RCA), RCA was broken into pieces. General Electric's Jack Welch sold several RCA units, while retaining RCA's broadcast company, NBC. Lockheed Martin acquired RCA's government systems unit located in the Philadelphia area. Harris Corporation acquired RCA's semiconductor division, located along Route 202 in New Jersey. Thomson SA, the French company, acquired RCA's consumer electronics division with manufacturing activities in Indianapolis, IN and Lancaster, PA.

At first, GE did not have a solution for the RCA David Sarnoff Research Center. GE did not require an augmentation of already existing GE labs in Schenectady, and Syracuse, NY. There was contemporaneous interest in developing an east-coast "Silicon Valley" in the Princeton area, and there was a desire for the David Sarnoff Research Center to play a role as an important component of such a regional center.

GE needed to maintain the David Sarnoff Research Center, among other purposes, to service the lucrative patent licensing business it had inherited as a result of acquiring RCA. A late 1950s antitrust consent decree had required RCA to provide low-cost licenses to domestic U.S. competitors. RCA had monetized its intellectual property by selling additional licenses internationally, leading in part to the explosive growth of the consumer electronics business in Japan and, later, elsewhere in East Asia.

To address this need, GE engaged non-profit SRI International as an independent third party. Ultimately, in 1986, GE accepted an SRI International proposal that it acquire the David Sarnoff Research Center by donation, along with sufficient operating funds to maintain the activity for several years. In fact, the patent licensing revenues associated with RCA television technologies significantly exceeded operating costs. GE retained the excess and the David Sarnoff Research Center continue to support the licenses and ensured they maintained their value. A sizable part of the workforce was reduced by a layoff. A nearby GE facility was opened as the licensing center for the former RCA intellectual property.

A provision of the divestiture was that, should the organization not be profitable five years after it was emancipated from GE, its land (nearly 300 acres (1.2 km2) of valuable property) would revert to GE. Sarnoff was able to attain profitability and the deed was transferred to Sarnoff Corporation around 1995.

At the beginning of 2011 Sarnoff Corporation merged with SRI, ceasing to exist as an independent company.[2]


Sarnoff Corporation is industry's longest continuously running R&D laboratory in semiconductor diode lasers. Millstone River Photonickers is an informal affinity group consisting of individuals involved in the development of diode laser and related technology at Sarnoff Corporation and its daughter or spin-off organizations.


  1. ^ "About Sarnoff". Retrieved August 1, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "SRI International completes integration of Sarnoff Corporation". SRI Press Release. January 3, 2011. 
  3. ^
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  6. ^ "List of IEEE Milestones". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  7. ^ The IEEE Milestones in Electrical Engineering and Computing program honors significant technical achievements in areas associated with IEEE.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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