The TVs of Tomorrow: How RCA’s Flat-Screen Dreams Led to the First LCDs
April 5, 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
(Photo credit: Mark McDonald)
In 1968, a team of scientists and engineers from RCA announced the creation of a new form of electronic display that relied upon an obscure set of materials known as liquid crystals. At a time when televisions relied on bulky cathode ray tubes to produce an image, these researchers demonstrated how liquid crystals could electronically control the passage of light. One day, they predicted, liquid crystal displays would find a home in clocks, calculators—and maybe even a television that could hang on the wall. Half a century later, RCA’s dreams have become a reality, and liquid crystals are now the basis for a multibillion-dollar global industry. Yet the company responsible for producing the first LCDs was unable to capitalize upon its invention.
In his new book, The TVs of Tomorrow, Benjamin Gross explains this contradiction by examining the history of flat-panel display research at RCA from the perspective of the chemists, physicists, electrical engineers, and technicians at the company’s central laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey. Drawing upon laboratory notebooks, internal reports, and interviews with key participants, Gross reconstructs the development of the LCD and situates it alongside other efforts to create a thin, lightweight replacement for the television picture tube. He shows how RCA researchers mobilized their technical expertise to secure support for their projects. He also highlights the challenges associated with the commercialization of liquid crystals at RCA and Optel—the RCA spin-off that ultimately manufactured the world’s first LCD wristwatch. The TVs of Tomorrow is a detailed portrait of American innovation during the Cold War, which confirms that success in the electronics industry hinges upon input from both the laboratory and the boardroom.
Benjamin Gross is Vice President for Research and Scholarship at the Linda Hall Library. He was previously a research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation and consulting curator of the Sarnoff Collection at the College of New Jersey. He earned a BA in history from Yale University and a PhD in the history of science from Princeton University.
Copies of The TVs of Tomorrow will be available for purchase at the event courtesy of Rainy Day Books. A book signing will immediately follow the lecture.
The lecture is free and open to the public; however, e-tickets are required.
Parking is free in Library parking lots and along the west side of Holmes Street between 51st and 52nd streets. The main entrance to the Library grounds is on Cherry Street. The Linda Hall Library is not affiliated with UMKC. Parking in all UMKC lots is by permit or meter. Doors open at 6:00 p.m.
Questions? Contact Eric Ward at 816.926.8753 for more information about these events.