Peter Carl Goldmark (1906-1977), a Hungarian-born physicist and engineer who later became a U.S. citizen, is best known for his invention of the long-playing record, commonly known as the LP. It revolutionized the recorded music industry and dominated sales for 40 years. Spending most of his career as an engineer at CBS, he also contributed to the development of color television, photocopying, audio cassettes, and the video cassette recorder.
Goldmark was born in Budapest, Hungary, on December 2, 1906, the eldest child of Sandor (Alexander) Goldmark, a businessman, and Emma Steiner. His great-uncle, the chemist Joseph Goldmark, discovered red phosphorus, used in making matches, and invented percussion caps for rifles, first used in the U.S. Civil War. Another great-uncle, Karl Goldmark, is considered to be one of Hungary's greatest composers. As a boy, Goldmark received training in piano and cello. From an early age he developed a respect for both science and music. According to his autobiography Maverick Inventor: My Turbulent Years at CBS, Goldmark remembers living on the Danube River in Budapest in 1919, during the Hungarian civil war. As a string quartet performed in their home, rebels who were cruising on the Danube shot into the open windows, as a warning to close the windows. Goldmark's mother directed the quartet to continue and remained in her seat. A second shot hit the ceiling and, much to the amazement of young Goldmark, the quartet continued to play. Only when the music ended did Goldmark's mother close the window.
When Goldmark was eight years old, his parents divorced. After his mother remarried, he moved with her to Vienna. Intrigued with electrical science, Goldmark created a laboratory in the family's bathroom and succeeded in building a radio telegraph receiver. He had a particular interest in motion pictures and slide projection. His attempt to build a device to reproduce movies resulted in a fire when the nitrate film overheated. After beginning his post-secondary studies at the University of Berlin, he transferred to the University of Vienna in 1925, where he studied under nuclear physicist Heinrich Mache. During his time in Vienna, he patented his first invention, called a "knietaster," a mechanism that activated a car horn with knee pressure, thus allowing the driver to keep both hands on the steering wheel. He also continued to experiment from the family bathroom. In 1926 he and a friend purchased a do-it-yourself television kit with a postage stamp size screen; the first televised image he saw was a flickering image of a dancer being broadcast in London by the newly formed British Broadcasting Company. Working from his bathroom, Goldmark was able to increase the size of the image, resulting in another patent. He received his Ph.D. from the Physical Institute at the University of Vienna in 1931, submitting the dissertation "A New Method for Determining the Velocity of Ions," which Mache presented to the Academy of Science in Vienna.
Upon graduation Goldmark moved to England to work for Pye Radio, Ltd. in Cambridge as a television engineer. After serving for two years as the director of the television department, he moved to New York in 1933 to become a consultant to numerous television and radio companies. In 1936 he accepted a position as chief engineer at Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), charged with developing a television department for CBS. In the same year he married Muriel Gainsborough, but the marriage was short-lived and the couple later divorced. The following year Goldmark became a U.S. citizen. He married Frances Charlotte Trainer on January 12, 1940; they had four children, Frances Massey, Peter Carl Jr., Christopher, and Andrew. The marriage ended in divorce in 1954. Goldmark then married his secretary Diane Davis, with whom he had two children, Jonathan and Susan.
While on a postponed honeymoon with his second wife in Montreal in the spring of 1940, Goldmark attended a showing of the Technicolor film Gone With the Wind. He was mesmerized by the color images and quickly became enthralled with the idea of bringing color images to television. Upon his return to the United States, he set about to create a prototype color television. The result, which Goldmark called the "field sequential system," made its demonstration debut in New York on August 29, 1940, projecting colored images of flowers, red boat sails in a sunset, and a girl chasing a ball. On December 2, 1940, the system aired the first live color television images on CBS's experimental channel. Images were filmed using a rapidly spinning three-color disk and viewed using a similar disk. Because the system could not be adapted to work on existing black and white televisions, the Federal Communications Board felt it was too impractical for final approval.
During World War II, Goldmark abandoned the development of color television to work at Harvard University's Radio Research Laboratory. His most important contribution during this time was the invention of the "jammer," a device the size of a shoebox, which housed electronic circuits that confused enemy radar. Allied pilots carried jammers on bombing runs over Germany; they were also used in the Allied invasion of Africa. In 1944, Goldmark joined the U.S. Navy's Office of Scientific Research and Development, where he aided in the development of what became known as an "electronic spook navy" device that transmitted a series of radio signals designed to create distractions on enemy radar. It was used during the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day.
At the end of the war, Goldmark returned to CBS to become the director of engineering research and development in 1944. He continued to make improvements to his field sequential system and finally received federal approval. However, his system was quickly replaced on the commercial market by Radio Corporation of America (RCA)'s development of electronic color television, which used electrons fired at red, blue, and green phosphorescent spots on the screen. Because it was compatible with existing televisions, RCA's system became the industry standard. Nonetheless, because of its smaller, lighter camera and easier handling, Goldmark's color system was widely used in closed-circuit television, especially for instructional purposes in industry, medical facilities, and educational institutions.
Goldmark's most important invention, like his development of color television, grew out of his everyday life experiences. In the fall of 1945, he and his wife were being entertained at a friend's home. After dinner, the host played a 78-rpm record of Vladimir Horowitz playing Brahms' "Second Piano Concerto." Bothered by the thinness of sound, scratches, and clicks, Goldmark was especially annoyed at the short playing time. To complete the concerto took six records, which meant consistent interruptions of the music. Intent on lengthening the playing time and improving the overall quality of the recording, Goldmark set out on a quest that resulted in the development of the long playing record, which became universally known as the LP. Goldmark slowed the revolution speed from 78 rpm to 33 1/3 rpm and increased the grooves to 300 hairline grooves per inch. He exchanged the steel needle with a sapphire stylus and decreased the weight by refashioning the tone arm and employing vinyl rather than shellac for making the records. He also made improvements to the microphone to produce a clearer, cleaner sound. Playing time was increased to approximately 20 minutes-long enough to complete an average classical music movement. He demonstrated his new product in 1948; the first LP featured a secretary at CBS playing piano, an engineer on violin, and Goldmark playing the cello. Put on the market by CBS on June 21, 1948, the LP was not an immediate success. Five years later, it was in the market to stay with the successful recording of the popular musical South Pacific. By 1972, LP sales constituted one third of CBS's revenue; it remained the industry standard until being replaced by the compact disc.
In 1950 Goldmark was promoted to vice-president of CBS and continued experimenting in electronic innovation. Involved with numerous research projects, his most technologically advanced invention was a system called the Linotron, an ultra high-speed photo composing system. Always attune to graphic quality, Goldmark's Linotron could electronically produce page-by-page composition 1,000 characters per second and maintain a high level of graphic integrity. Based on his previous work with color television, Goldmark developed a rotating-drum line scanner that was used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to transmit incredibly clear, detailed color pictures of the moon by the Lunar Orbiter. Goldmark's attempt to market a record player for cars never caught on, but the idea of taking recorded music into the automobile remained. By the late 1950s, he was working with the 3M Company to develop a tape cassette system for home and car use. The resulting work by his team led to a series of patents that eventually evolved into the audiocassette.
Having been promoted to president of CBS Laboratories in 1958, Goldmark moved his laboratory offices from New York to Stamford, Connecticut. Before retiring from CBS in 1971 to form his own company, Goldmark Communications Corporation, he offered one more important development to electronic communications: electronic video recording (EVR). Believing that communications should work for the good of education, Goldmark felt that the ability to project recorded images on television at a reasonable cost would be vastly beneficial to educational projects, especially in rural areas where resources were limited. Created in 1958, two decades later, EVR developed into the video cassette recorder. Goldmark never garnered the wholehearted support of the CBS executives in the development of EVR because they feared that it would eventually lead to competition in the viewing market.
When Goldmark left CBS to form his own company, his attention turned from experimentation to humanitarian efforts. He served as the head of the Antipoverty Office in Stamford and as a visiting professor for medical electronics at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, where his color imaging technology had long been in use. Goldmark spent more and more of his time advocating for increased educational opportunities and improved quality of life. Believing that the congested living conditions of the city were causing many social woes, he began promoting the New Rural Society. According to his social plan, electronic communications could provide services, opportunities, and employment beyond the city, thus allowing more citizens to live in rural areas. Having contributed to numerous important electronic inventions, Goldmark's life ended in an automobile accident in Rye, New York, on December 7, 1977, less than a week after his 71st birthday. Among the numerous honors bestowed on him during his lifetime, President Jimmy Carter awarded Goldmark the National Medal of Science in 1977. Goldmark recorded his many experiences, especially his time at CBS, in his autobiography, Maverick Inventor: My Turbulent Years at CBS (1973).
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