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British Industrial History

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Isaac Shoenberg

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Sir Isaac Shoenberg (1 March 1880 – 25 January 1963) was an electronic engineer born in Russia who was best known for his role in history of television.

Shoenberg was born in Pinsk, Imperial Russia (now Belarus) and studied mathematics, mechanical engineering, and electricity in St. Petersburg.

1905 Shoenberg went to work with S. M. Aisenstein at St Petersburg

1907 Their enterprise became the Russian Wireless Telegraph and Telephone Company

1911 The company became the Russian Marconi Company. He was the chief engineer of this pioneer enterprise, responsible for the research, design, and installation of the earliest wireless stations in Russia. The links between the British and Russian Marconi companies brought him into contact with England which attracted him.

1914 he moved to London with his wife and four children. He was admitted to work for a higher degree at the Imperial College of Science and Technology.

On the outbreak of war, he volunteered for military service, but was turned down on medical grounds. He then joined the Marconi Wireless and Telegraph Co. He soon became head of the patents department, and then general manager.

1919 He became a British subject.

Became friends with Louis Sterling, head of the Columbia Graphophone Co. Sterling invited Shoenberg to join Columbia and to introduce his ideas about sound recording.

1928 Appointed general manager.

He remained with the company through the merger that formed EMI.

1931 Shoenberg became director of research and head of patents. The important question was whether the company should, at a time of severe recession, continue with the development of television. Following Shoenberg's advice, the company decided to continue. He recruited 114 engineers and scientists for television research, from some of the best laboratories in Europe, such as the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. These included Alan Blumlein, Gerhard Lubszynski, James McGee and W. F. Tedham.

1932 the team succeeded in making an electronic television picture-generating tube, the basis for a leading British position in the field.

1935 Recommended that EMI should aim for the 405-line standard, despite involving higher risk and greater cost and technical difficulties. This was substantially higher than was achieved by Baird's competing system.

1936 The BBC selected the EMI system for television; Shoenberg was always reticent about his role in its development, so that it became known as the EMI system.

He was Alan Blumlein's supervisor during the period when Blumlein invented stereo recording.

Shoenberg continued to develop television equipment, perfecting the machinery used for outside broadcasts of the swimming events in the London Olympics in 1948.

1954 he was awarded the Faraday Medal by the Institution of Electrical Engineers for his services to television and the communication industry.

1955 Became a director of EMI

1962 Shoenberg was knighted.

With his wife, Esther, Shoenberg was the father of British physicist David Shoenberg, gynaecologist Rosalie Shoenberg Taylor, psychiatrist Elisabeth Shoenberg, Mark Shoenberg and Alec Shoenberg.

1963 Died at his London home in Willesden.

1963 Obituary [1]

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