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History of the RCA Engineer

In 1955 the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) debuted its bimonthly magazine “by engineers for engineers.” Nearly twenty years earlier, in 1936 when the technical staff numbered perhaps 250 in two states, the company launched RCA Review, an elite technical journal modelled on peer-reviewed scientific publications and the Bell Telephone Systems Journal and published quarterly. Now, with a staff of engineers numbering in the thousands spread across the United States in the corporation's increasingly diverse divisions—consumer electronics, military, business—RCA needed a means of circulating information about its technologies beyond the responsible groups. The articles in RCA Engineer featured few equations and offered readers a qualitative introduction to projects, processes, and products that they could learn more about as necessary with technical reports or contact with the authors. In the first decade, RCA's engineers wrote articles for their peers on everything from color television and the BIZMAC computer to integrated circuits and electronics in space, totaling 3,800 pages over 60 issues, many of them dedicated to special technological subjects. Over the next 21 years, until General Electric Company bought RCA in 1986 and RCA Engineer's publication stopped, its editorial staff continued to solicit and publish articles five to seven times a year; employees could search back issues with subject-author indexes prepared for the 25th anniversary and in 1983.

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This website includes scanned pdfs of articles from RCA Engineer Volumes 1 through 28, covering 1955 through 1983.

The RCA Engineer archive project

In the 2000s historian Alexander Magoun ran the David Sarnoff Library, a nonprofit museum and archives located next to Sarnoff Corporation's technical library at the former RCA Laboratories, or David Sarnoff Research Center, in Princeton, NJ. Among other activities, high school students volunteered weekly for a couple of hours to work on archival and digitization projects. When one of them, Swapnil Mhatre, asked if he could volunteer for the entire summer, Magoun proposed that he scan the contents of RCA Engineer, by article, on Sarnoff Corporation's Canon copier in the technical library. He warned Mhatre that this would be a tedious but ultimately useful part of making the contents of RCA's largest general publication available online. Mhatre and another student began by debinding a duplicate set of the magazine's 31 volumes. Magoun created a standard file-naming format for the articles and other sections of the magazine. Michael Gordon, another student volunteer, scanned the three columns of text of the 25-year subject-author index, transferred the data to a spreadsheet, and corrected the OCR errors generated in scanning the 6-point pica font.

Some months after that summer, during which Mhatre scanned the bulk of the series, Magoun was hosting the IEEE Princeton-Central Jersey Section Computer Society/ACM meeting in the auditorium adjoining the Library. In a conversation with Allan Kugel, he mentioned that he had the spreadsheet and the files and wished he had a volunteer who could develop a database to connect them that could eventually be posted online. Kugel began thinking aloud about the requirements and offered to take up the project.