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Peter Goldmark

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Peter Goldmark

Born: 02 December 1906
Died: 07 December 1977

Peter C. Goldmark ranks among the most important inventors of sound recording and television technology history. Born in Hungary, Goldmark received his doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1931, before moving on to work for a British radio company. After two years in England, he emigrated to the United States, where he joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) as a construction engineer. It was at CBS that he would develop his most famous inventions.

Television in the 1930s was a new still experimental medium, with limited channels, black and white images, and very few shows. It was the radio that entertained Americans with sitcoms, news, and commentary. Goldmark was one the strongest voices arguing that television had great potential to become important and that shows could be transmitted in rich and engaging color.

In 1940, inspired by the lush color of the film Gone with the Wind, Goldmark decided that it was possible for television to deliver color images. He set out to create what has become known as the field-sequential system, a method of sending a series of primary colors to the eye. The Goldmark system, sponsored by CBS, briefly became the standard in the United States in 1950, but was abandoned several years later in favor of a competing system developed by RCA.

In the mid-1940s Goldmark changed his focus to sound recording and began developing a new sound technology—the long-playing record (LP). Goldmark was frustrated with the poor sound quality of 10-inch, 78-rpm discs and annoyed by the frequent need to flip sides. Despite limited knowledge of the sound recording process, in 1945 he and a team of engineers began developing a better record. The team adopted the vinyl material and the 33 1/3-rpm speed that had been used for v-disc records during the war. They enlarged the diameter to 12 inches and experimented with recording techniques to capture sound better. By 1948, the LP was ready to be introduced to the public. They could hold much more music—an entire symphony—and produce better sound then a 78.

In the mid-1950s, as the automobile changed the American landscape and freeways began spreading across America, Goldmark and his CBS colleagues began another project—developing a record player for the car. To be viable, the car record player had to be small enough to fit in the glove compartment. Goldmark, who had spent the 1940s making records bigger, now turned his attention to making them smaller. The end result was a seven-inch record. In addition to shrinking the record, the rotating speed was reduced by half and the number of grooves per inch tripled. Goldmark’s team struggled to eliminate the effects of road vibration, which caused the record to skip, but were never completely successful. The car record player debuted in Chrysler luxury autos in the late 1950s, but was never good enough to gain wide acceptance.

By the late 1960s, Goldmark was one of the most famous engineers in the United States. He was frequently quoted in newspapers and magazines on issues related to the entertainment industry. He completed an autobiography in 1973, and died in Westchester, New York in 1977.