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Chapter 11 - Retirement

On August 1, 1954, having reached the mandatory age of 65 on July 30, Zworykin retired from the Radio Corporation of America. Of course this paper transferal of status was a mere legalistic maneuver since he was simply changing his employee status for that of consultant. Thus, all his projects went on as before.

In September of that year, a seminar entitled "Thirty Years' Progress in Science and Technology" was held in McCosh Hall at Princeton University in honor of Dr. Zworykin's retirement. The seminar included Dean Hugh Scott Taylor who discussed "Synthetic Materials," Dr. J[erome] C. Hunsaker who discussed "Aeronautics," Dr. I[sidor] I. Rabi who discussed "High Energy Particles," and Dr. James Hillier who discussed "Electronics and Vision in Medicine."

The closing day of the seminar, two of Dr. Zworykin's closest professional associates addressed the testimonial dinner given in his honor—Dr. Elmer Engstrom, then Executive Vice President, RCA Laboratories, and David Sarnoff, RCA Chairman of the Board.


This is the closing session of what we hope will be a memorable day for our guest of honor—Vladimir K. Zworykin. It is fitting that we should—as we have—review the progress made in several fields springing from the sciences. It is fitting because our guest of honor has himself, contributed so much to the growth of electronics.

A ceremony such as this is usually referred to as a "retire­ment party." To retire means to step down—to move aside—so that others may fill the ranks and move into the front row. For Vladimir K. Zworykin this is but partly true. For, while there has been a formal change on the records coincident with retire­ment, we will continue to have his counsel. He will continue to share his days with us in the laboratory to the extent that he wishes to do this. This is as he wants it to be and as we want it to be.

If I should on this occasion single out a characteristic of our guest of honor for comment, it would be his boundless enthusiasm. It is enthusiasm that moves in action, prejudice and opposition. It is enthusiasm that flows over obstacles in the path. Someone has said that enthusiasm is faith in action. (p. 116)

Usually coupled with enthusiasm is a kind of salesmanship destined to promote the object of the enthusiasm. During the quarter century of my association with Vladimir K. Zworykin, I have on many occasions felt the power of his enthusiasm and the persuasion of his selling. That I often succumbed may be assumed without my saying so—sometimes even when later contemplation made me wish that my resistance had been stiffer.

In inviting someone to speak to us this evening about our guest of honor, it was natural that we should ask David Sarnoff, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of our Company to do this. This was natural because it was General Sarnoff who first in RCA responded to Vladimir K. Zworykin's enthusiasm. This was more than twenty-five years ago. That response changed and determined the course of action and life of our guest of honor. It also in a large measure affected the course of action of the Radio Corporation of America.

It is, therefore, with much pleasure that I present to you—General Sarnoff.


This being a festive occasion and a happy event, I do not wish to begin by reciting, in obituary form, the good deeds of our hero—Dr. Zworykin. I should like to reverse the process and tell some of the bad things about him. But, you have no idea what difficulties I have met all through the week trying to find somebody who would tell me something bad about him. Those who know, won't talk; and those who talk, don't know.

Tonight, I appealed to his good wife to see what I could elicit from her, knowing full well that legally a wife's testimony is incompetent and prejudiced.

'Of course,' replied Mrs. Zworykin, 'he's human, he's not perfect; but, he's wonderful!'

That doesn't help a great deal in my search.

You know what Mark Twain said when he was once asked about a certain man. He said, 'Well, he's a member of the human race, and nothing worse can be said about anyone.'

I'm not going to recite the record of Dr. Zworykin's accomplishments in the field of science and technology. Those who are associated with him know all that I know and more. Those who are not associated with him will have read about his achievements in the various journals, periodicals, and news­papers. And some of you heard about his work more specifically during the symposium which took place today at Princeton University.

I should like to say a few words about my friend and colleague, Vladimir Zworykin, as a man and as a scientist. (p. 117)

As a man, I would characterize him first, as a dreamer—but a dreamer who dreams of practical things. The more I have lived in the world of science and technology, the more I have become convinced that the really practical men in this field are the dreamers. They have to dream first before reality can translate their dreams into practical results. Dr. Zworykin is that kind of a dreamer. After all, dreaming about television and the electron microscope and about instrumentalities of that nature, calls for more than dreaming in a vacuum.

Salesman? Oh yes! He's the greatest salesman I have ever known. In fact, there have been slack times when we thought of putting Zworykin on the selling staff to help bring in a few more dollars.

I have told this story before, but perhaps those who have heard it won't mind the repetition. Twenty-seven or twenty-eight years ago—when I first met this young man Vladimir Zworykin who spoke then with about the same accent he has today, he told me about a cathode-ray tube that he envisaged, what it could do in television, and the great hope he had for it. About that time, technicians were having a "little difference" of view—a difference about a mechanical and electronic method of doing the television job. Then, the argument was about black-and-white television. But, you will recall, the same little difference was repeated only recently but, more loudly, in color television. And the final decision, in both cases, was the same. The electronic method prevailed.

I confess that I understood little of Zworykin's first description of the tube, but I was greatly impressed with the man. So, I asked him, "Assuming all you say is so, what would it cost the Radio Corporation of America to translate your ideas into practice? How much money would we have to spend before we could have a practical television system?" He took a good look at me, drew a deep breath, and answered confidently, "I think about $100,000 would do it."

Well, I felt a practical television system was certainly worth $100,000; so, I fell for Zworykin's persuasiveness. How near right he was can best be understood when I tell you that before the Radio Corporation of America produced and sold the first commercial television receiver, we had spent fifty million dollars! Now if that isn't good salesmanship, I ask you, what is?

Vladimir Zworykin not only dreams, he also thinks. He is a thinker who thinks ahead of his time. Sometimes he gets into a little difficulty on that account, and sometimes the rest of us get into a little difficulty with him. But, we are living at a time when events are moving so rapidly that often they move faster than men think. Therefore, I regard his qualifi­cations as a thinker as an asset to humanity rather than a liability. (p. 118)

Vladimir Zworykin is also a worker. And he is a worker of extraordinary character. I have seldom heard Zworykin discuss his work of yesterday or today. He always talks about tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. He is genuinely interested in the job to be done than in the job that was done. I have never found him wasting much time in discussing achievements or accomplishments of the past. It is this dream, the imagination, of what is ahead that always occupies his mind, that stimulates the expression of his thoughts, and inspires those around him.

Vladimir Zworykin has another characteristic. He is a persistent fellow. Using a phrase of [RCA] President Frank Folsom's, 'He just doesn't brush off easily.' You tell him no, and he will come back tomorrow, and the day after, or the month after, and tell you the same story in a different language, but with the same accent! You know, a girl sometimes says, 'Yes,' to a persistent guy in order to get rid of him; but, she often finds later, that despite her doubts, she had made the right choice. That has been our experience when we have changed our mind from 'No' to 'Yes,' and backed up Zworykin.

Now, Zworykin the scientist: This morning at home in my library, knowing that we would meet this evening in the rarified atmosphere of great scientists, I indulged in a little excursion into the dictionary. Though I have been connected with science for many years in one form or another - at least as a fireman - I thought I would see what definition the dictionary gives to science.

Well, I found as many definitions of 'science' as you can find honorary degrees and clubs in Who's Who along­side the name of a prominent man. But the definition that struck me as the most interesting was this one.

'Science is accumulated and accepted knowledge which has been systematized and formulated with references to the discovery of general truths or the operation of general laws: knowledge classified and made available in work, in life, or in the search for truth: comprehensive, or profound, or philosophical knowledge.'

That is the definition of science which not only appeals to me, but which I think lays down specifications that are completely and admirably fulfilled by our guest of honor tonight.

Perhaps it is not amiss to mention at this point the circumstances which best enable a scientist to work and to express the forces within him. For I am sure that Dr. Zworykin and his associates—especially those who worked with him in his earlier days across the seas—will agree that the opportunity to express the forces with which a man may be endowed, depends much upon his environment. These very men, with all their genius, did not have the opportunity to express their talents in the environment of their native land. (p. 119)

But, Zworykin found that opportunity in America. I think we may well reflect upon the important contribution which freedom makes to the scientist and the creative worker. Nowhere in the world is that freedom to be found in such measure as it exists in America. When you add to the genius of Zworykin, the freedom and the opportunities provided by America, you really nourish the divine spirit and ignite the divine spark of achievement.

Zworykin was also stimulated, as I am sure he will agree, by the scientific spirit which he found to pervade the men and women who constitute this RCA family. For we are an organization founded upon science. We make our living by the tiniest thing known in the world; the tiniest particle that scientists know about—the electron. And with that tiny electron, we are able to do big things, and to serve the needs of mankind.

The electron has lifted RCA from a small company with a humble beginning and with very modest means, to the role of leader in a great industry. RCA's business, alone, is approach­ing a billion dollars a year. It was that scientific spirit, and the enthusiasm and cooperation of the colleagues who have worked alongside Dr. Zworykin during the past quarter of a century, that combined to produce the results of which we are so proud and which we celebrate tonight.

Dr. Engstrom has referred to retirement. Sooner or later all of us reach that technical milestone in the march of life. But I see no relationship whatever between retirement and Vladimir Zworykin. Not only does he continue as a consultant and as an officer of the RCA, but in fact, he will continue to do whatever work interests him most. A scientist like Vladimir Zworykin never retires. He does not even fade away. What he does is to acquire more time for thought that leads to bigger ideas, greater discoveries and more important inventions. For when the imagination and the creative instinct of the true scientist go, he generally goes with them—perhaps to a place of even greater knowledge.

A scientist operates upstairs. How high he reaches depends upon his imagination. But, he never has hours and he never has mileposts. He never has periods, or semicolons, or even commas, in his poetry. He simply flows along like the waves of the ocean.

A story was told me recently about an occasion when Dr. Zworykin was riding to work in an automobile with several of his associates. It was early in the morning. It was 8:00 o'clock. That hour, I suppose was mentioned in order to impress me. They became snowbound; the automobile was struck and could not move. Dr. Zworykin closed his eyes, reclined and said, 'Now it is time to go to work.' That is the way he went to work—by closing his eyes and dreaming and thinking and planning. (p. 120)

Now, since we are in the midst of scientists and in this home of science, perhaps it may not be amiss to say a word or two about the relationship of scientists to the rest of us ordinary mortals.

I think there is something scientists, too, must know, and if they don't know, they must learn it and most of all they must recognize it. One thing that they must recognize, it seems to me, is that the physical sciences alone are not enough to make this a better world in which to live. Impor­tant as they are, they are not enough. There are other aspects of life that must go hand in hand with their achieve­ments in science.

The scientist must understand and appreciate the human problems of society and the impact of his discoveries and inventions upon slow-moving humanity. It is all very well for the scientist to sit back and say, "Well, I have forged this knife for you. Whether you use it with the skill of a surgeon and save a life, or whether you use it with the abandon of an assassin and destroy a life is your problem, and there is nothing I can do about it." That is not enough.

I am not ready to place upon the scientist all the responsibility for human nature. But, as a scientist must constantly seek the truth, I plead with him to recognize the truth about humanity as well. He must appreciate the distinctions between the particles of science and the organisms of human beings. After all, once you have learned how an electron, a neutron, a proton, or a meson behaves, you have learned that in their own category, they all behave the same way. If you organize them in the same fashion, arrange them in the same manner, they will response in the same way.

But there are no two human beings whose behavior is exactly the same. Atoms are alike—but Adams are different. And so the statesman, the politician, the businessman, and the executive who has to deal with independent Adams all of the time, has not the control over his human associates that the scientist who deals with atoms has over his physical slaves. Therefore, each must learn to respect the capabil­ities and the limitations of the other. We now live in an Atomic and Electronic Age which creates problems for society, at a speed much faster than the ordinary human being is able to assimilate.

All of us are creatures of habit, and you know how difficult it is to change a habit. When we talk about con­trolling other people, how well do we do the job of controlling ourselves? Poorly, I think all of us will agree. But how much more difficult it is to control 100 million or a billion people! (p. 121)

With the rapid march of science and its revolutionary impact upon society, the time has come for the scientist to appreciate the problem of the layman and for the layman to cooperate with the scientist. Only by working together, only by being sympathetic and cooperative with each other's problems, only by having a regard and respect for the other man field, can we possibly achieve the common goal.

If we deal in an understanding and helpful fashion with each other, we do not need mechanical instruments to measure our efforts. Our conscience is our guide, and I use the word conscience advisedly. As you know, the prefix "con" means with or together. So, when you put con in front of science, you have the word CONSCIENCE.

Dr. Zworykin, I now have the very great pleasure to advise you, officially, that at the last meeting of the Board of Directors of the Radio Corporation of America, held on August 6th, 1954, a Resolution was unanimously adopted and it reads as follows:

'On the occasion of the retirement of Vladimir K. Zworykin as a Vice President of the Radio Corporation of America, the Board of Directors has approved the following resolutions proposed by the Chairman of the Board:

RESOLVED: That, the Directors express their deep appreciation to Dr. Vladimir K. Zworykin for his long and distinguished service to the Corpora­tion and for his pioneering accomplishments in radio, television and electronics.

RESOLVED: To mark the Directors' regard of the unique position which Dr. Vladimir K. Zworykin has attained, he is hereby elected an Honorary Vice-President of the Radio Corporation of America.'

In presenting to you this handsomely engrossed Board Resolution, let me add, Dr. Zworykin, that we have come here tonight to do you honor, to say, 'Hello,' and not, 'Goodbye.' May you continue to dream, to think, to work, and to be ever stimulating in the future as you have always been in the past. (p. 122)

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