Invented in California: Videotape Recorder

Invented in California: Videotape Recorder

By Mackenzie Hutson
November 20, 2019

When you think about California, a few things likely come to mind: white sandy beaches hugging the shores of the Pacific Ocean; hundreds of surfers and skateboarders; a relaxed, coastal lifestyle; the skylines of L.A. and San Francisco; and a booming tech scene. Since California is home to Silicon Valley, it might not come as a total surprise that revolutionary pieces of equipment, such as the videotape recorder, were invented here. 

While screens and high-definition videos have become a way of life, back in the 1940s, most of the technology we use today hadn’t been invented yet. It wasn’t until 1951 that the first videotape recorder was invented, but it is hard to imagine how modern technology would have advanced without it. What would Friday nights have looked like without strolling through the rows of VHS tapes at Blockbuster? How would we have seen NASA’s space missions throughout the years without the invention of the videotape recorder? 

The world today would look much different without the invention of the videotape recorder. Though we now have inventions that have largely replaced this technology in our daily lives, it is hard to say where we would be without this initial creation.

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Thankfully, these quandaries will never become reality because of Charles Ginsburg’s innovative creation at Ampex Corporation in Redwood City. While audiotape recording was available shortly after World War II, the quality was incredibly poor, leading most television and radio programs to perform each show live. Ginsburg used the audiotape technology but crafted a machine that could run the tape much slower than the rapid 240 inches per second of previous recorders. This new technology allowed television stations to record and edit their programs before airing them, which entirely revolutionized the industry. 

The first videotape recorder was sold in 1956 for a whopping $50,000, but less than two decades later, Sony began selling the first at-home VCR, which continued to popularize the use of videotape recorders. Ginsburg has since been awarded a plethora of honors recognizing his incredible invention and was even inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990 after being credited with "one of the most significant technological advances to affect broadcasting and program production since the beginning of television itself". 

California's videotape recorder is often considered to be one of the most important inventions in the broadcasting industry.

A Brief History of the “Father of The Video Cassette Recorder”, Charles Paulson Ginsburg

Ginsburg was born in San Francisco in 1920 and earned his bachelor’s degree at San Jose State University in 1948. After graduating, he worked in the San Francisco Bay Area as a studio and transmitter engineer for local radio stations. At the age of 31, Ginsburg received a phone call from the founder and president of Ampex Corporation, Alexander Poniatoff, who was confident that Ginsburg could lead the research team in developing the first broadcast-quality videotape recorder—which he helped invent and bring to market within four years. After this great success, Ginsburg continued to work for Ampex in various capacities until he retired. Ginsburg lived to be 71.

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