Discover how the expansion of radio and television technology, and the rise of mass media empires, accelerated America's transformation into a consumer-based society through the lens of pioneer David Sarnoff, President of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), and other industry papers.

RCA World-wide Radio Communications System, 1945 © Special Collections & University Archives, University of Maryland

RCA World-wide Radio Communications System, 1945. Material sourced from Special Collections & University Archives, University of Maryland

This resource enables research into the development of mass broadcasting through the papers of pioneer David Sarnoff. Sarnoff’s work with RCA pushed the company to become a broadcasting, home media and technological powerhouse of the twentieth century. The American public’s acceptance of mass media, fuelled by constant developments in radio and television technology, changed forever the consumer culture landscape of North America.

The rise of large media corporations transformed radio from a one-to-one communication tool to a means of broadcasting ideas and information to the masses. The papers in this resource provide insight into the impact of broadcasting innovations on advertising, consumer culture, global conflicts, and the Space Race. Sarnoff’s personal papers, from Hagley Museum and Library, are supplemented with official and legal company records, trade catalogues and advertisements. Wider industry pamphlets from Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland, track the evolving relationship between broadcasters, legislators, and a new mass audience, with debates over censorship, ethics, marketing techniques and the impact of broadcasting on demographics such as children.

The bulk of the material spans the 1920s to the 1970s, representing the decades of David Sarnoff’s career at RCA. Some additional content covers pre-1920s broadcasting developments, and the final years of RCA before its sale in 1986.

For further information on the material selected for inclusion in this resource, visit the Selection Criteria and Guide to the Archival Collections.


Brenda Cancellieri displays an old RCA radio tube in front of the new 15-cent "Progress in Electronics" postage stamp, 1973

Brenda Cancellieri displays a 1920s RCA radio tube in front of the new 15-cent "Progress in Electronics" postage stamp, 1973. Content compilation © 2023, by the Hagley Museum & Library. All rights reserved.

Documents in this category include advertisements and market research material, such as communications, user demographics and other consumer-related research. This material includes questionnaires for radio and television audiences through to advertisements for products.

This theme encompasses material which refers to the use of communications technology for creating and consuming art, music and other forms of culture and its expression. Examples include advertisements for electronic music speaker technologies and broadcasting of cultural events.

This large category of documents contains those which relate to the broadcasting and media industry, both radio and television. Examples include Federal Communications Commission guides to announcement making and permitted broadcast content.

Documents tagged in this category have content relating to the censorship of broadcast material, and debates on the ethics of broadcasting certain topics. These can include guidance to broadcasters and research into appropriate programs for child audiences. 

This theme includes material which concerns competition between businesses, as well as disagreements regarding patents. Examples include court documents relating to market monopolization or patent disputes.

Documents within this theme concern communications technology and those which have material relating to the use or construction of satellites. This includes material such as shipping communication technology and weather satellite inventions.

This broad theme includes material referring to the use of radio by its listeners, such as usage statistics, products, program preferences and advertisements made for the consumer market.

Documents tagged with this theme are those which concern electronic technologies, such as guides on their use, material regarding their invention and inventors, and ways in which they were introduced into the market. These technologies can include consumer market goods, as well as more specific technologies for industrial use.

This theme primarily explores new products and their recreational value during the twentieth century, with a particular focus on trade catalogues, advertisements, and pamphlets that emphasize leisure as a key selling point. This theme also covers recreational events attended by notable people within the broadcasting industry, such as awards, dinners and speeches.

This theme explores legal and political topics relating to the broadcasting industry, especially through documents involving the United States judicial system, such as those concerning policy, legislation, and legal disputes. It also includes documents that centre around discussions on public broadcasting, freedom of speech, and presidential election campaigns.

This theme explores the ways in which communication technology was utilized by the United States military in World War One, World War Two, and the Cold War. It also provides insight into the companies that assisted the military during the twentieth century by developing technologies such as missiles, radars, and warning systems. Furthermore, this theme provides an opportunity to explore the military’s strong connection with RCA and David Sarnoff.

This theme explores the rise of radio stations from the 1920s onwards, documenting the beginning of commercial broadcasting and the emergence of spot advertising. In addition to this, there is content that provides records on which radio stations were affiliates of major companies, as well as covering the transition from AM radio to FM radio. 

This theme includes a wide-ranging and comprehensive collection of documents exploring the history of RCA, especially through annual reports, addresses by David Sarnoff, minutes and stockholder meetings, and newspaper clippings. This theme covers over 60 years of corporate history, from the formation of RCA in 1919 to its decline in the 1980s.

This theme explores the history of sound recording throughout the twentieth century. It includes content on work carried out by Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner in the transmission of sound, early phonographs and gramophones from the Victor Talking Company (later RCA Victor), and the use of sound recording studios for mass media purposes in the broadcasting industry.

This theme explores the development of television and color television during the 1930s-1950s, and documents its rise in popularity in the latter half of the century to become a dominant medium for entertainment and information. It also includes a number of reports and pamphlets that discuss ethical considerations around television, such as underrepresented groups, exposure to violence, and impact on children’s development.

This theme explores space technology developed in the communications industry, such as equipment for the Apollo missions, lunar probes, camera technology, and satellites. With most documents dating from the 1960s and 1970s, this theme is foregrounded against growing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

This theme explores the expanding career opportunities for women within the broadcasting industry, both on-air and behind the scenes, and in manufacturing and product development. Central to this theme is a series of annual reports from the RCA, which details the company's efforts to reduce gender inequality in the workplace.


Themes have been attributed to documents in Broadcasting America as metadata tags to enhance browsing functionality. Use the filters in View Documents to focus on documents relevant to your research.

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