Charles Ginsburg

Videotape Recorder (VTR)
Computing and Telecommunications

Inventor Charles Paulson Ginsburg, otherwise known as the “father of the video cassette recorder,” was born in San Francisco in 1920. He received his bachelor’s degree from San Jose State University in 1948 and worked as a studio and transmitter engineer at a San Francisco area radio station. He stayed there until 1951, when he received a telephone call from Alexander M. Poniatoff, founder and president of the Ampex Corporation in Redwood City, Calif., who believed that Ginsburg could help him with an important project.

In 1952, Ginsburg began working for Ampex. It was there that Ginsburg had the opportunity to lead the research team that developed the first broadcast-quality videotape recorder (VTR), U.S. patent number 2,956,114.

The VTR is said to have revolutionized television broadcasting. Tape recording of television signals dates back to just after World War II, when audio tape recorders were used to record the very high frequency signals needed for television. These early machines were pushed to their limits, running the tape at very high speeds of up to 240 inches per second to achieve high-frequency response.

Ginsburg and his team came up with a design for a new machine that could run the tape at a much slower rate because the recording heads rotated at high speed, allowing the necessary high-frequency response. The Ampex VRX-1000 (later renamed the Mark IV) videotape recorder was introduced on March 1956. The machine sold for $50,000. With the advent of the VTR, recorded programs that could be edited replaced most live broadcasts.  CBS was the first network to employ VTR technology, starting in 1956. With that, today’s multimillion dollar video business was born.

Ginsburg held the position of vice president of advance development at Ampex from 1975 until his retirement in 1986. The first video cassette recorder, or what is popularly known as the VCR, was sold by Sony in 1971. Its existence was made possible by the advances Ginsburg and his team made in the 1950s.

Ginsburg was a fellow of both the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers and of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Over the course of his career, he received the David Sarnoff Gold Medal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (1957), the Vladimir K. Zworykin Television Prize of the Institute of Radio Engineers (1958), the Valdemar Poulsen Gold Medal by the Danish Academy of Technical Sciences (1960), the Howard N. Potts Medal of The Franklin Institute (1969), the Master Designer Award of Product Engineering Magazine (1969), and the John Scott Medal of the Board of Directors of City Trusts of The City of Philadelphia (1970). In 1957, he also received an Emmy Award presented to Ampex by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

In 1990, Ginsburg was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, where he was credited with "one of the most significant technological advances to affect broadcasting and program production since the beginning of television itself." He died in 1992 in Eugene, Oregon at the age of 71.