RCA Laboratories at Princeton, New Jersey


Research laboratories, from the time of Thomas Edison’s “invention factory” at Menlo Park to the present day, have been the driving force behind progress in electrical engineering. One of the longest-lived and most important corporate research laboratories in the electrical engineering field began its life in late 1942 in Princeton, New Jersey. That year, the leaders of the Radio Corporation of America decided to concentrate their research and development activities in a new facility built near Princeton University. The location was close to RCA’s main manufacturing facilities at Camden and Harrison, New Jersey, and its corporate headquarters in New York City. Launched in the midst of World War II, the RCA Laboratories staff naturally turned to war-related work almost immediately. Over the next few years, engineers developed improved radar antennas, radar-jamming systems, and acoustical depth charges to combat enemy submarines, all the while continuing to improve their newly developed system of electronic television.

After the war, RCA was able to attract government funding for military research and development, and also to invest more of the company’s own profits back into basic research. The research staff in the 1950s, now about double its wartime size, led in the development of a variety of new technologies such as color television, high-fidelity phonographs and tape recorders, transistors, lasers, computers, integrated circuits, advanced vacuum tubes, and one of the first commercial videodisc players.

The facility was renamed the David Sarnoff Laboratories in 1951 to honor the founder of RCA. After RCA was purchased by the General Electric Corporation in 1986, Sarnoff Laboratories was renamed Sarnoff Corporation and became a subsidiary to SRI International, the non-profit company that was once the research institute of Stanford University in California.