i3 - November/December 2019 - 41

FOUNDER, RCA
( 1 8 74 - 1 9 62 )

I

f one person can be
credited as "the father" of
the consumer technology
industry, it's Owen D. Young.
Over the summer of 1919,
Young shepherded the nation's
leading radio patent holders
into organizing the U.S.'s first
radio company, RCA, which
made the commercialization
of radio and the creation of
the consumer technology
business possible.
Young was born on October
27, 1874, the only child of Smith
and Ida Young, on the family
dairy farm in the upstate
town of Van Hornesville,
NY. He attended the local
red schoolhouse, then the
academy in East Springfield,
then, at age 16, he enrolled
at St. Lawrence. He earned
his B.A. in 1894, then earned
his law degree from Boston
University two years later and
joined the law practice of
Charles Tyler in Boston.
Young became Tyler's
partner in 1907. Work with a
prominent electrical company
brought him to the attention of
Charles Coffin, the co-founder
and first president of GE. Coffin
convinced Young to join GE as
general counsel and VP in 1913.
In 1915, Young started
negotiating the multi-milliondollar sale of the company's
Alexanderson Alternator, the

C TA . t e c h / i 3

world's most powerful radio
transmitter, to British Marconi,
but World War I put the sale
on hold. Once the war ended,
negotiations resumed. But
the U.S. Navy, citing national
security, implored Young
to not sell the powerful
alternators to a foreign power.
Lacking another customer,
Young set about organizing an
American radio company at a
time when "radio" was primarily
a point-to-point Morse Code
transmission technology, and
the primary "wireless" patents
were held by a number of
companies, which kept any of
them from further consumer
product commercialization.
So, during the summer of
1919, Young herded, negotiated
with, cajoled, and strong
armed the largest commercial
radio patent owners of the
time - the U.S. Navy, AT&T,
Westinghouse, American
Marconi and United Fruit - into
investing in an American radio
company with GE. On October
17, 1919, the Radio Corporation
of America - RCA - was

incorporated, with Young
serving as the company's first
CEO and president.
With radio patents now
consolidated and readily
available, and with AM
technology enabling oneto-many broadcasting of
voice and music, a thriving
amateur radio market quickly
emerged. On November 20,
1920, Westinghouse produced
the RA-DA, the first factory
mass produced radio and,
therefore, the first consumer
electronics product. Over
the next few years, dozens
of entrepreneurial radio
manufacturing and broadcast
companies were founded,
creating a brand-new industry
and a communications
revolution.
Even with this onslaught of
competition, Young led RCA
to become both the world's
leading consumer technology
and broadcast company.
RCA established control of
virtually all radio traffic in
the western hemisphere,
became the leading seller

of radios and phonograph
players, established the
nation's leading radio network
(NBC) and the world's bestselling record company, and
engineered global agreements
to divide the world into radio
zones.
Young simultaneously
maintained his position at GE,
becoming that company's
board chair in 1922, and
leading its move into the new
consumer appliance business.
While running the two
largest technology companies
in the world, Young also
conducted international
diplomacy and advised
Presidents Wilson, Harding,
Hoover, Roosevelt and Truman
on economic issues. In 1929,
Young was named Time
Magazine's Man of the Year,
the first and only consumer
technology executive to be so
honored.
In 1933, a federal court
ordered Young to give up
the chairmanship of RCA,
leadership of which then
passed to David Sarnoff. In
1939, Young retired from GE,
but returned as board chair
temporarily from 1942-44,
before permanently retiring
to the family farm in Van
Hornseville, where the local
high school he founded is now
named for him.
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019

41


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