Entering this museum, you are immediately hit with the sounds of the past: a 1936 radio plays Depression-era advertisements, Groucho Marx graces the small screen of a 1948 television, and the strains of a waltz emanate from a hand-cranked Victor Talking Machine Company phonograph.
The Sarnoff Collection is a surprising display of phonographs, radios, televisions, television cameras, and other artifacts that showcase the history of communication technology in the 20th century. This fascinating, quasi-hidden museum was formed in 1967 in the main research laboratory of the Radio Corporation of America.
RCA, founded in 1919, was the foremost electronics company of the 20th century in the United States, and responsible for many of the technological achievements of the century, including radio, television, and flat-screen technology. RCA built some of the first commercially available radios, developed the technology for television, built the first electron microscope, and held the patents for both LCD and LED technology.
Though the Sarnoff Collection began as a museum dedicated to the history of RCA, its mandate now is the preservation and exhibition of any object related to the history of 20th century electronic innovation. The collection includes rare prototypes and experimental models of technologies we now take for granted: everything from cone-type speakers to flat screens for television from 1955.
The exhibits display some surprising artifacts, including a prototype propaganda phonograph used in the Cold War, handmade radios from the 1890s, television cameras that went to the Moon, an electron microscope from 1942, and the world’s oldest blue LED. The collection is also a treasure trove of unsuccessful technologies: a doomed attempt to put movies on something akin to a vinyl record, a prototype virtual reality headset from the early 1990s, and self-driving cars… from 1961!
Know Before You Go
The museum is on the second floor of Roscoe West Hall, on the campus of the College of New Jersey. It's open on Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.