RCA's (former) Sarnoff Center and TCNJ's Sarnoff Collection


This document last updated Apr 16 2020. Content (c) Copyright Herb Johnson except for quoted content.

The former RCA Laboratory in central New Jersey, now called the David Sarnoff Center, maintained for many years a collection of RCA artifacts and records from decades of research, called the "David Sarnoff Library". That included some artifacts of the RCA COSMAC 1802 processor, developed there as part of RCA's CMOS product line. My interest in these is a consequence of my interests in the RCA COSMAC 1802 microprocessor and the 1802-based Membership Card of Lee Hart.

In 2009, the library, archives and records were moved and dispersed: to The College of New Jersey, to the Hagley Museum and Library in DE, to InfoAge in NJ, and a few items went elsewhere. This Web page describes that transition, as a sequence of events and institutions involved; and the status of access to those materials. I focus on the artifacts at TCNJ which is near to my home, and where I became directly involved. I also discuss the Hagley's actions and progress with those Sarnoff documents. As of 2016, some of these materials are accessible, some with permission, or on exhibit, or available as digital copies. Since about 2018, the Collection's curator has moved more material online, created new exhibits, and sponsored numerous public events at the facility. But the Sarnoff Collection continues to lack funds and staff-time for more work and development to occur.

Why am I covering history, not just results? It's uncommon to find information about how a technology museum is established. I hope my account is informative. See the Web sites of the institutions named on this Web page for specifics. What's available has and will change over time.

- Herb Johnson

(former) David Sarnoff Library

As noted in the introduction above, the former RCA research facility became the David Sarnoff Center and housed a collection of RCA artifacts known as "The David Sarnoff Library" That collection's Web site was at davidsarnoff.org until 2013, after the collection was disbursed. As of July 2011, the site described the move of the Library and archives to the Hagley and to TCNJ, with generic links to their respective Web sites.

In December 2009, I contacted the director of the David Sarnoff Library and had a pleasant email exchange. Dr. Alexander B. Magoun, the Curator and Executive Director, told me that the Library's collections contained the Princeton site's technical reports and engineering memos, some photos, an incomplete and uncatalogued collection of RCA Solid-State Division reports, some press releases, manuals, some lab notebooks of participants, interviews with B.J. Call and Joyce and Jean Weisbecker, and most substantially the papers of Joe Weisbecker (the developer of the 1802) as donated by the Weisbecker family. These would go to the Hagley, he said. They would likely complete a catalog of the collection.

Specific to the 1802, he added that a ceramic 1802 was on exhibit, and confirmed the Sarnoff's exhibits were to go to the College of New Jersey for display there. He noted from his prior work, "the missing part of this story is Andy Dingwall's work in reducing Weisbecker's design to an actual chip. That took place in Somerville, and Dingwall died earlier this decade."

Since the collection was dispersed, Dr. Magoun has taught courses and participated in events at TCNJ as related to David Sarnoff; he's published a number of books about, and given or attended discussions on, David Sarnoff and RCA history. In 2013, he became an Outreach Historian for the IEEE History Center in New Brunswick NJ.

Institutions receiving Sarnoff artifacts

The Sarnoff Collection at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ)

TCNJ acquired portions of the Sarnoff Library collection, including many of the Library's technical artifacts, in late Oct 2009. Plans were to house and display the collection in TCNJ's former library building, West Hall, in April 2011. That was delayed, apparently waiting for the hiring of a director for the collection, and for funding. By July 2011, a director of the TCNJ Art Gallery was selected, who would also direct and curate what was then called the Sarnoff Museum; subsequently called the Sarnoff Collection.

The first director of the Collection was Emily Croll, a member of the Communications Studies Department at TCNJ. By 2013, the space for the Collection on the 2nd floor of Roscoe West Hall was in active development, and hundreds of artifacts were in preparation for an October 2013 opening of the exhibit and archive space. Funding for that space and exhibit came from an IEEE grant, with support by a visiting scholar, Dr. Benjamin Gross. The opening was sucessful and the Collection has regular visiting hours as of Nov 2013. In addition, the Sarnoff Collection produced a Web site with a database of artifact photos and descriptions.

After the opening, the Sarnoff Collection has had regular public exhibit hours. It's co-sponsored a number of presentations related to the history of technology or about the Sarnoff legacy. Since late April 2016, the Sarnoff Collection has a series of directors or curators after Ms Croll departed. Dr. Gross completed his activities there, and became a curator of another museum. Dr. Jonathan Allen, a Ph.D. in physics, continues thru 2020 to provide repairs of vacuum-tube-era artifacts. The building the museum is housed in, has had numerous physical issues including a leaking roof. The Collection continues to have limited funding.

since 2018

Since about 2018-2020, the Sarnoff Collection has a director, Margaret Pezalla-Granlund; and a curator who operates the museum, Florencia Pierri, who is a PhD candidate in history. Ms Pierri has created several short-term exhibits and presentations, recovered and curated technical materials, and added to the Collection and to Web content. She produces Web exhibits on this presentational Web site. She also operates a Twitter account for the Collection; and a Facebook page. Check the TCNJ - Sarnoff Collection Web site for more information about current staff and activities, but that Web site content largely contains prior content. There are several Web sites with Sarnoff Collection content, some recent some not; a current Web search may find more.

This Web page describes the development history around TCNJ's Sarnoff Collection from the Sarnoff Library artifacts, and some general descriptions of materials and artifacts. I've worked there as a technical volunteer in 2013 to 2015, and intermittantly afterwards; including work with COSMAC artifacts of Joseph Weisbecker and his colleagues. The linked Web page describes some of my activities there, in the context of 2016 discussions elsewhere about the "System 00" of Weisbecker on display at the Collection.

Sarnoff Collection 2013 opening exhibit

The Sarnoff Collection space was under development during 2013, and the artifacts prepared for an October 2013 opening of the facility. 2013 announcements about the opening of the Collection have the title: "Opening of the David Sarnoff Collection: Innovations that Changed the World". The opening exhibit and study space design was funded in part by a IEEE grant, which also supported Dr. Benjamin Gross, a scholar in history of science. Here's a descriptive outside sign to direct people to the exhibit.

The opening was scheduled for and occurred October 2nd 2013. It was very well attended, by local and college distinguished guests, former Sarnoff Lab and RCA employees and their families, and members of the Sarnoff family. Here's a peek through the facility's glass wall of the crowd.

A layout of the Sarnoff Collection exhibit space is available on the UJMN Web site as a Jan 2013 news item "Exhibit of the David Sarnoff Collection". UJMN is a private architectural and design firm in Philadelphia. The exhibit consisted of about a dozen sections that represent facets of RCA technical developments and David Sarnoff's professional history. (The exhibit as designed is still the museum's primary displays as of late 2017.)

I and other volunteers attended the opening as guides and technical interpreters. Dr. Jonathan Allen, a Ph.D. in physics, repaired many vacuum-tube exhibited devices and was on hand to explain their history and use. (He continues to provide repairs services, as of 2020.) I interpreted the computing devices. Here's a photo of the computing and digital exhibit area at the time.

Content of the Sarnoff Collection at TCNJ

The original TCNJ Web site for the Sarnoff Collection at TCNJ, is accessible at this Web link. See the top of this Web page for links to current Sarnoff Collection Web content.

In mid-2013 I had an opportunity to examine the Sarnoff Collection at TCNJ, before the initial opening, and to work with the Collection as a technical volunteer. The Collection consists of many original artifacts of radio and television developments by RCA Laboratories; products produced by RCA through the decades; many items owned by General Sarnoff (his preferred title) who was the RCA CEO for many years; and artifacts of audio, video, vacuum tube and semiconductor technology of RCA.

Among these items, of great interest to me are from Joseph Weisbecker, an RCA engineer and New Jersey native. These include Joseph Weisbecker's personal collection of games he developed, licensed and produced apart from RCA; and artifacts of his earliest work on the COSMAC microprocessor and personal computer, game and video products related to it. Those include the earliest prototypes of the microprocessor itself; and prototypes and production versions of the Microtutor, ELF and VIP computers. He led a group of RCA engineers and techs, to build several TTL-based computers in what became the COSMAC design; his first model is displayed in the Collection. The Collection also has his original documents, which show his work and correspondence in these areas of gaming and computing.

Other developers of semiconductors, TV, video recording and other technical innovations, also have work represented in the Collection; it's a very diverse set of artifacts. As of the Nov 2013 opening of the exhibits, cataloging and evaluation of all the artifacts and papers was still in progress, with some items not fully detailed and identified. Later curators have worked to catalog and curate many parts of the Collection, but their efforts are limited by available funding and staff time.

recent COSMAC work at the Sarnoff and Hagley

At various times, I was able to examine and describe (curate) the star COSMAC exhibit at the Sarnoff Collection: the computer created by Joseph Weisbecker and others at RCA as a non-microprocessor prototype of COSMAC design and development systems. This single computer, built from CMOS and TTL individual chips, is called "System 00". See this linked Web page on System 00. Of course many other people contributed to this curation. Several people obtained documentation from the Hagley Museum; recent Sarnoff curator Florencia Pierri permitted access and support; previous Weisbecker colleages provided their memories.

Relevant to the COSMAC archives: in late 2018, over 100 audio cassette digital tape from Joe Weisbecker were digitized, saved as WAV files, and converted back to digital programs. Digitization was performed by curator Flori, with some technical support by me (Herb Johnson) and COSMAC 1802 emulator software (EMMA 02) creator Marcel van Tongren. The Hagley Museum provided an example by their digitization efforts of similar tapes. Details are on this linked Web page.

In June 2018, I was able to curate the "FRED 2" system at the Sarnoff Collection. Documents related to pre-production COSMAC development systems like the FRED 2, were uncovered at the Hagley Museum and made available thanks to COSMAC enthusiasts who obtained them. This is a link to discussion about obtaining "FRED" audiotape digital programs from the Hagley, and their analysis. Also documents were obtained from the Hagley, here's a link to a Web page which discusses that effort in late 2017.

- Herb Johnson

Reportage about developing the TCNJ Sarnoff Collection, 2009-2013

Note: Since I live near the TCNJ campus, I was aware of local coverage about TCNJ's involvement with part of the Sarnoff Library artifacts, before the "Sarnoff Collection" was opened. I think it's informative to see how a collection of vintage technology artifacts becomes a museum; and to see reactions and efforts by the community. - Herb Johnson

The IEEE Spectrum magazine for Oct 2013, featured several pages about the Sarnoff collection. Here's the Spectrum Web site presentation of photos from the Collection and descriptions, as shown in the magazine article.

A "Trenton Times" newspaper article in late October 2009, discussed the status of the Sarnoff exhibit collection at The College. "Sarnoff museum may find home at TCNJ" by Meir Rinde for October 29, 2009, may still be found at the nj.com Web site for the Times.

Extracts from that article are as follows. "The Sarnoff family and TCNJ have tentatively planned to move the exhibits to the campus's former library, which is undergoing renovations...The preservation effort won the enthusiastic support of NJ state Sen. Bill Baroni, R-Hamilton. ...The archives are being packed up into some 3,000 boxes that will go to the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, DE....[Library board member] Robert Bartolini said legal documents...are still being prepared. He said he expected the artifacts would be moved to storage at TCNJ by the end of the year, and the school building could be renovated and opened to visitors in three to six months. There was some reportage about possible funds and "local firms" with potential interest.

During 2011, plans for an exhibit of some artifacts during the "2011 Trenton Computer Festival" at TCNJ never materialized. In spring 2011, there was a course on-campus by the former Sarnoff archivist Dr. Alexander B. Magoun (see below) where he discussed the history of Sarnoff and how its activities and technology impacted 20th century media. (I attended on a few occasions.)

By July 2011, the Times of Trenton reported that TCNJ hired a director, Emily Croll, as curator of the Sarnoff Collection and of the TCNJ Art Gallery. The TCNJ College of Engineering news release of Sept 2011 was "Sarnoff Library Artifacts Find a New Home". There were 2012 dated Web reports on the Sarnoff collection, on the TCNJ Communications Studies Web site, with various plans, but the pages were removed by 2013.

Through 2012 and up to March 2013, the Sarnoff Collection space at the TCNJ's Roscoe West Hall consisted of a small sign at a recently-built exhibit space, with some large unhung RCA site drawings.

A visit to TCNJ by me on July 12 2012, found a "Sarnoff Collection" space in the Roscoe West Hall building but nothing was installed or on exhibit. The building, the former TCNJ main library, has been under re-use and renovation since 2010. There were no changes apparent, during site visits by me through March 2013.

In 2013 the IEEE Foundation awarded a grant to TCNJ, to develop a "Sarnoff Study Center" around the Collection. This was announced in a January 21, 2013 press release on the TCNJ Web site for the Arts and Communications Department. The Center is directed by Emily Croll and the exhibition guided by "Dr. Benjamin Gross, consulting scholar for the Sarnoff Collection". Dr. Gross is a fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, and has a Ph. D in History of Science based on a history of RCA's LCD work.

At the March 2013 Trenton Computer Festival, a table of Sarnoff artifacts was set up near the "vintage computing" exhibits of MARCH/Infoage. Ms. Croll, Dr. Gross, and others staffed the table and answered questions. In my brief discussion with her, she suggested the Sarnoff Collection could be displayed late in 2013. Follow this link for details of the Oct 2013 exhibit opening. And by 2013, there was a TCNJ Web site for the Sarnoff Collection.

Current information about The Sarnoff Collection is near the top of this Web page.

Hagley Museum and RCA-related holdings

The Hagley Museum and Library Web site describes the organization as "Hagley Museum and Library, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, collects, preserves, and interprets the unfolding history of American enterprise....". The GPS address for Hagley's main entrance is 200 Hagley Rd, Wilmington, DE, 19807. Refer to their Web site for current information about their facility, hours, fees and their various collections of documents. There are public hours for access, and there ARE fees for some classes of use of their content, or for assistance from staff. They offer a list of non-Hagley persons who for a fee will obtain documents.

A search of the Hagley Web site as of July 2012 for "Sarnoff library", produces dozens of entries, as Sarnoff had a long history in broadcasting. A Hagley report from April 2010 describes the acquisition of the former Sarnoff Library collection as follows: "The collection, totaling 2,000 linear feet, includes David Sarnoff’s personal library, a large vertical file of pamphlets and other publications, runs of scientific and trade journals, extensive photographic, film, and video coverage of Sarnoff’s life and works, and material on RCA’s and NBC’s iconic headquarters and broadcast studios in New York’s Rockefeller Center. In addition, the collection includes a large volume of laboratory notebooks and other purely technical materials, including the papers of television pioneer Vladimir Zworykin and other RCA research scientists". - end quote.

As of early 2013, the site noted the "David Sarnoff Library" as one of 53 collections, but did not offer much on-line access to its contents or an index. Some "David Sarnoff" items could be found.

But by mid-2013, the Hagley announced active work on their Sarnoff collection. A May 29th 2013 press release "The David Sarnoff Library Collection: The Weisbecker Papers" described at length the activities of Joseph Weisbecker as a developer of the 1802 microprocessor, and as a private gaming developer in the 1960's and 70's.

In Aug 2013, the Hagley announced online access to the some digitized portions of the Sarnoff Collection . They were RCA internal newsletters, The RCA Engineer technical journals, RCA Annual Reports, advertizements. And in Jan 2014, The Hagley announced a $300K grant for a three-year project to manage and catalog their portion of the former Sarnoff Library collection. A key statement in an now-unavailable Jan 2014 press release is as follows. "The David Sarnoff Library collection will be open to researchers in 2017." See further developments below for documents obtained in 2016. The Hagley Library reported "the David Sarnoff Library Collection Processing Project...concluded in early 2017."

Results of inquiries

A number of people in the COSMAC interest community, have contacted the Hagley to look for COSMAC-related documents or support materials like code listings or software; or other technical materials. As of early 2014, my understanding is that the Hagley is simply not able to extract such things from the "thousands of shelf-feet of documents" they have. Some photos are online, some documents are on line. See the various Web links in the chronology above for progress toward their catalog and access.

A contact with the "Ask Hagley" feature of the Hagley's Web site, led Bill Rowe to an email exchange with Andrew Engel, Project Archivist with the Hagley. For portions of the Sarnoff Library collection which have been processed and indexed online, he suggested the Hagley's finding aids Web page may find such content.

In mid-2016, the Hagley Museum provided COSMAC "FRED" related documents upon request as scanned PDF. Details about those documents and background about a "FRED" and System 00 are on this linked Web page. Sometime in 2017-18, the Hagley completed their cross-referencing of their Sarnoff Collection and related donated materials. They claim these documents (very few artifacts) are indexed on-line; one can obtain them by either a scheduled appointment to the Museum, or by contracting with local researchers who will access those items for fees. Essentially, copies of materials require personal presence and fees for access. Several people in the "vintage COSMAC community" have obtained such copies and made them available online. Other Web pages on my site, discuss specifics.

InfoAge and MARCH (now VCF Inc.) recieved Sarnoff artifacts

It was reported on the Sarnoff Library Web site, that recipients of the Collection included TCNJ, the Hagley, and InfoAge. Specifically, the "RCA Broadcast Division Manuals Collection" is being cataloged by InfoAge's NJARC. Also, select items were donated to the Camden County Historical Society.

The Infoage facility near Wall, NJ, is a science museum and educational site, established at the former Camp Evans military research base. There are several groups housed there, each of which support something of technical or historic interest, and providing educational and archival resources. The MARCH group joined Infoage, to support a vintage computing museum and produce related activities. (A Web link is at the end of this section.) There's also the New Jersey Antique Radio Club (NJARC) that maintains the "Radio Technology Museum" and a "National Broadcasters Hall of Fame ".

In the MARCH on-line discussion group hosted by Yahoo! called midatlanticretro, was Dave Sica's account "Re: interesting infoage day", on Wed Dec 23, 2009. He recounts how he helped the David Sarnoff Library with their move of their archives and artifacts. He confirms the division of most materials between Hagley and TCNJ. He relates some specific items and duplicates (and a lot of books) went "to InfoAge", that is to their various radio, broadcast and vintage computer groups. Some computer-related items went to MARCH. Only the most unsalvageable materials were discarded by Sarnoff; Dave retrieved some of those as well.

Not long after that report, MARCH President Evan Koblentz reported Jan 28, 2010 that a COSMAC Microtutor and a VIP, in their original but somewhat damaged packaging, were obtained from the Sarnoff collection via Dave's "salvage". These are part of MARCH's exhibits .

I'm not aware of other Sarnoff artifacts as exhibited by other groups at InfoAge. A portrait of Marconi (who operated a very early radio station at the Camp Evans site) was apparently received by Infoage. The MARCH Yahoo discussion group archive has additional correspondence about the Sarnoff collection pickup, and email from Joyce Weisbecker (Joseph's daughter) about her father's work; and her own work of writing early 1802 programs, sold to RCA.

In October 2015, the MARCH nonprofit corporation was dissolved and assets transferred to Vintage Computer Federation. Initial President Evan Koblentz continued to operate the MARCH museum at Infoage through 2020; a VCFed committee now operates the museum. VCF sponsors a vintage computing events at Infoage called VCF-East, usually in the spring. They may archive the former MARCH Yahoo group content on their vcfed.org Web site; they have a private email list for VCF-Midatlantic (the persons around the InfoAge museum) activities.

- Herb Johnson

Background: When was the COSMAC 1802 produced?

The architecture or design of the 1802 microprocessor, was first implemented in about 1973, as a stack of TTL circuit boards, for processor and program development within RCA. The COSMAC microprocessor version was produced as a two-chip set, later called the 1801, in 1974-75. The 1802 as a single-chip became available in 1975-76. See this Web page of mine for some dates for the COSMAC microprocessors. Many Web sites provide a history of RCA's COSMAC product line of CMOS logic chips and microprocessors. Here's a few links:

Decode Systems private RCA 1802 product collection

Cosmac Elf Web site article on Joseph Weisbecker
The book "Inventing the PC: The MCM/70 Story" by Zbigniew Stachniakhas, has several pages on Weisbecker's work. The link is to (I believe) the author's Web site. Book pages 32-35 (first edition) discuss Weisbecker's development of a TTL implemented computer called FRED followed by its LSI implementation as the COSMAC 1801 and 1802.

Contact information:
Herb Johnson
New Jersey, USA
To email @ me,
see my home Web page.

This page and edited content is copyright Herb Johnson (c) 2020. Copyright of other contents beyond brief quotes, is held by those authors. Contact Herb at www.retrotechnology.com, an email address is available on that page..