Andy Rumbaugh: Final Project

On November 20, 1951, the National Production Authority ordered the electronics industry to suspend the manufacture of color televisions for commercial sale. That order was the culmination of a struggle between the Columbia Broadcasting System and the Radio Corporation of America to set the standard for a commercial color television system. This paper looks at the interaction of the science, commerce, and politics in the period between 1950 and 1953 when the Federal Communications Commission finally issued the American standard for broadcasting color television.

STS connections:
What were the competing technologies and which ‘should’ have prevailed if judged solely on scientific merit?
In this instance, the competing technologies involved the difference between a mechanical process and an electronic one. While it took a while for RCA to mature its electronic version and demonstrate its superiority, that is what actually happened.

Within a scientific or technical area, how are standards determined?
As I discuss in my paper, the determination can be made by the scientists (or engineers), business, government, or the public. In this case, the arbiter was a consortium of electronics manufacturers who coalesced around the RCA standard and argued for it before the FCC.

Compatibility was an issue in the choice of a standard. How much does the existing paradigm influence choices?
In this case, it became an overwhelming consideration. Almost singly, the fact that the RCA system was compatible with the existing black and white televisions and the CBS system was not made the difference for the industry and ultimately the FCC.

What is the intersection among business, technology, and the public good?
That's a tough call since each acts to maximize its best interest. In this case, those interests aligned but that is not always true.

Competing Voices:
Regulatory Agencies

Annotated bibliography: (These were useful as a guide to other sources and a description of the principal issues of the problem.)
Bilby, Kenneth. The General: David Sarnoff and the Rise of the Communications Industry. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
Sterling, Christopher H. Stay Tuned: A History of American Broadcasting. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.
Webb, Richard C. Tele-Visionaries: The People Behind the Invention of Television. Hoboken, NJ: IEEE, John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

Primary sources: (I was surprised that I could not find an article in Science, Scientific American, or Popular Science published between 1949 and 1953 that explained the contest. There were many references to color television but they were brief status reports, not explanations of the technologies. The best sources for my purpose were the contemporary accounts in the press, specifically the NYT and the WSJ.)
Records of the Federal Communications Commission (National Archive Record Group 173)
Records of the National Production Authority (National Archive Record Group 277)
United States Serial Set
Congressional Record
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
Washington Post
Scientific American

None. I did not find unvarnished truth in the public record so some interpretation (applying the proverbial grain of salt) was necessary. However, the story seems pretty clear to me.

I added a PDF file to discuss the cultural situation. Click 'files'.
The final paper is titled 'Over the Rainbow' and has been loaded as a PDF file.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License

SSL configuration warning

This site has been configured to use only SSL (HTTPS) secure connection. SSL is available only for Pro+ premium accounts.

If you are the master administrator of this site, please either upgrade your account to enable secure access. You can also disable SSL access in the Site Manager for this site.