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April 2024

Grounded in History
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A Bittersweet Gift

In 1987, two RCA executives visited the International Office to meet with International President J.J. Barry. They brought with them an antique Victrola phonograph as a donation to the IBEW Museum, an item with great significance for both organizations.

The gift also symbolized the end of an era, as RCA was to close its doors at the end of the year.

RCA was founded in 1919 under a partnership among General Electric, Westinghouse, AT&T and United Fruit. They began manufacturing receivers for the burgeoning radio industry and even created the first nationwide radio network, NBC.

To expand its product line, RCA purchased Victor Talking Machine Co. in 1929. Under the new name of RCA Victor Division, the Camden, N.J., facility continued manufacturing radio sets, as well the last models of hand-cranked Victrola phonographs. In 1930, the Victrolas were converted to all electric.

In 1932, RCA became an independent company after an antitrust suit forced the original partners to divest their ownership. With the corporate conglomerate out of the way, the opportunity of organizing the RCA began. Although the IBEW had the support of the America Federation of Labor, it was the United Electrical and Radio Workers of America that signed the first contract with RCA in 1936.

It wasn't until 1950 that the IBEW won recognition across all of RCA's operations, including 10,000 workers at the Victor Division and 3,000 at the RCA Service Co. This allowed IBEW workers to enter the industry of television service and repair.

Over the next three decades, IBEW members helped make RCA the dominant electronics and communications firm in the United States. Starting the in 1970s, as in many trades, competition from international firms began to diminish the company's prominence. RCA was reacquired by GE in 1986 and became defunct in 1987. Today, it exists as a brand name only.

It was therefore bittersweet that, in October 1987, RCA Vice President of Employee Relations Ed Scanlon and Vice President of Labor Relations Don Ponturo visited the International Office to meet with Barry. They presented him with a Victrola phonograph from 1929, which is still in working order. It was one of the last hand-cranked models to be built by Victor as the Camden phonograph line was converted to electric.

The donated Victrola thus had historic significance for the RCA, and the executives wanted to ensure that it had a suitable location for its preservation and display. The IBEW Museum is proud that it was chosen for that honor.

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The donated RCA Victrola Phonograph, c. 1929


Left to right: RCA Vice President for Labor Relations Don Ponturo, RCA Vice President for Employee Relations Ed Scanlon, and IBEW International President J.J. Barry.