December 2, 1906, is the birthdate of inventor and engineer Peter Carl Goldmark, whose many technological achievements included the development of a system for broadcasting television in color – in the days when black-and-white TV was still in diapers -- and the creation of the long-playing 33 phonograph record, more commonly known as the LP.
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Peter Karoly Goldmark was born in Budapest, in Austria-Hungary, the eldest child of Sandor Goldmark and the former Emma Steiner. One of his great-uncles, chemist Joseph Goldmark, discovered red phosphorus, which is used in making matches, while another one, Karl Goldmark, was a violinist and composer.
When Peter was 8, his parents divorced, and he moved with his mother to Vienna. From childhood, he experimented with different electrical technologies. Setting up a lab in the bathroom, he built a radio receiver and attempted to develop a method for reproducing movie film – and started a fire instead.
Goldmark attended the University of Berlin and then the University of Vienna, where he received both his bachelor's and doctoral degrees (the latter in 1931), in the field of physics. He also continued his independent experiments, and in 1926, after building a tiny television from a do-it-yourself kit, received a patent for a method of increasing the size of the TV's picture.
After receiving his Ph.D., Goldmark spent some time working as a television engineer in London, before moving to New York, in late 1933. In 1936, he took the job of chief television engineer at the Columbia Broadcasting System, charged with getting the company on the air, something that happened in 1941, although the medium really got under way in earnest after World War II.
In the meantime, Goldmark saw the film "Gone with the Wind" in 1940, while on his honeymoon with his second wife (a first marriage, in 1936, had lasted only a short time), and was very taken by its use of Technicolor. He immediately got to work on the technology that would be necessary for color-TV broadcasting. Although a prototype, called the "field sequential system," was actually functioning by August 1940, it never received final approval from the Federal Communications Commission, because it was not compatible with existing black-and-white TVs. Instead, a system developed by RCA became the industry standard.
During World War II, Goldmark was occupied with defense work, and invented several systems for jamming enemy radar, one of which was utilized during the 1944 Normandy invasion.
Getting into the groove
In 1945, a visit to a friend's house, where the host played a 78-RPM recording of Vladimir Horowitz performing Brahms' Second Piano Concerto, proved especially irritating, not only because of the poor quality of the sound, but mainly because the short playing time of the discs – all six of them -- required frequent interruptions.
By 1948, Goldmark had created the 33 RPM long-playing record. All of its technology – the recording process, the physical disc and the grooves in which the music was embedded, and the playback equipment – was an improvement over the 78. Although it took several years for the LP to take off, when it did, it became the industry standard, so that by 1972, LP recordings were providing CBS with a third of its revenue.
Goldmark's numerous other inventions (he was fully or partly responsible or partly responsible for more than 160 different devices and technologies) included a high-quality photo composition system, work on what would become the audio cassette, and even the technology that allowed NASA's lunar modules to send photographic images back to earth.
When CBS created its CBS Laboratories division, in 1951, Goldmark was named its head, a position he held until his retirement, in 1971. He then formed his own company, which gave him more time to focus on educational projects and medical technology. Electronic video recording, a means he developed in 1958 with education in mind was a precursor to the video cassette recorder that became available commercially in the late 1970s. Some of the aspirations he had for using video and television to distribute information to disadvantaged or geographically dispersed populations are being fulfilled today by the Internet.
On November 22, 1977, President Jimmy Carter presented Goldmark with the National Medal of Science for his life work. On December 2, he celebrated his 71st birthday. Five days later, Peter Carl Goldmark was killed in an automobile accident on the Hutchinson River Parkway, not far from his home, in Westchester, New York.