RCA is a trademark used by three now separate companies descended from a common ancestor, the Radio Corporation of America. Various product lines and business interests of these companies now carry the RCA brand.
History of RCA
During World War I the patents of the major companies involved with radio in the United States of America were merged to facilitate the war effort. All production of radio equipment was for the military. The seizure of the assets of Italian-owned American Marconi (Italy was allied with Germany at the time) by the United States Navy and the cooperation between the General Electric, United Fruit and Westinghouse Electric laid the groundwork for the Radio Corporation of America, RCA. After the war many saw radio as a "natural monopoly". The United States Navy tried, but failed, to gain the monopoly for the Navy.
Owen Young convinced the United States Congress to entrust in his company, General Electric ("GE"), together with American Telephone and Telegraph ("AT&T"), a monopoly of international radio. They formed RCA in 1919, which was given the monopoly, as a publicly-held company owned in part by ATT and GE, and placed David Sarnoff in charge as General Manager. Its charter required it be mostly American owned. RCA subsumed the assets of American Marconi, and was responsible for marketing GE and Westinghouse's radio equipment. It also acquired the patents of United Fruit and Westinghouse, in exchange for ownership stakes.
By 1926, RCA had grasped the market for commercial radio, and purchased the WEAF and WCAP radio stations and network from AT&T, merged them with RCA's own attempt at networking, the WJZ New York/WRC Washington chain, and formed the National Broadcasting Company NBC.
In 1929, RCA purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, then the world's largest manufacturer of phonographs (including the famous "Victrola") and phonograph records (what are called "gramophone records" in British English). The company then became RCA-Victor. With Victor, RCA acquired use of the famous trademark of the dog "Nipper" listening to "His Master's Voice" in the New World and other various other countries (European and Commonwealth rights to the logo were retained by Victor's independent British partner HMV). RCA-Victor produced many radio-phonographs. The company also created new techniques for adding sound to film.
In 1939, RCA demonstrated a 441 line television system at the New York World's Fair. With the standardization of the American system of 525 lines, 30 frames per second by the National Television System Committee (NTSC), the FCC authorized the start of commmercial television transmission on July 1, 1941. World War II slowed the deployment of television in the US, but RCA began selling television sets almost immediately after the war was over.
Anti-trust concerns led to the breakup of the NBC radio networks by the Federal Communications Commission and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. On October 12, 1943, the "NBC Blue" radio network was sold to "Life Savers" candy magnate Edward J. Noble for $8,000,000, and renamed "The Blue Network, Inc." It would become the American Broadcasting Company in 1946 when Mr. Noble purchased the name from broadcaster George Storer. The "NBC Red" network retained the NBC name, and RCA retained ownership.
In 1953, RCA's color-TV standard was adopted as the standard for American color TV. RCA cameras and studio gear became standard equipment at many American network affiliate television stations. Perhaps surprisingly David Sarnoff commented in 1955 Television will never be a medium of entertainment.
In many ways the story of RCA is the story of David Sarnoff. His drive and business acumen led to RCA becoming one of the largest companies in the world, successfully turning it into a conglomerate during their era of their success. However in 1970, now 69 years old, Sarnoff retired. He died the next year. Much of RCA's success died with him.
During the 1970s, RCA became increasingly ossified as a company. Despite maintaining a high standard of engineering excellence in such fields as broadcast engineering and satellite communications equipment, other businesses such as the NBC television network declined. Forays into new consumer electronics products, such as the innovative but technologically obsolescent SelectaVision videodisk system, proved money losers. In 1986 RCA was sold to its creator, General Electric. GE kept the NBC broadcasting interests, sold the RCA record business to the German communications firm Bertelsmann AG, and then sold the consumer electronics parts to Thomson Consumer Electronics of France, one of the world's largest manufacturers of television and radio equipment.
Today, Thomson markets consumer TV, audio, and satellite equipment under the RCA brand name. Bertelsmann markets compact discs on various RCA-branded labels through its Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) subsidiary. General Electric continues to own most of the remainder of what was once the RCA conglomerate, including the NBC television network. GE maintains rights to the RCA branding and trademarks but does not widely use them.
See also: List of record labels