Sir Isaac Shoenberg

Biography of Sir Isaac Shoenberg

Sir Isaac Shoenberg: image courtesy of Robert Alexander Sir Isaac Shoenberg (IET Faraday Medallist) was a prominent electronics engineer who played an important part in the development of television, and was responsible for perfecting the machinery used for outside broadcasts of the swimming events in the London Olympics in 1948.

Sir Isaac Shoenberg was born at Pinsk, Russia in 1880.  He was educated at the Real School in Pinsk and The Kiev Emperor Alexander II Polytechnic Institute.  After taking his degree in engineering he worked from 1908-1914 for the Societe Russe de Telegraphes et Telephones sans fil, where he was in charge of the Technical Department which was responsible for research, design and installation of the earliest wireless transmitting stations in Russia. 

1948 London Olympics In 1914 he came to London and joined the Marconi Company.  He moved to Columbia Gramophone in 1928 as General Manager and was made Director of Research in 1931, when Columbia merged with the Gramophone Company to form Electric and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI).  While working at EMI he led the research team which perfected the cathode tube for receiver and camera, developed the electron beam scanner and devised the 405 line format.  He was always reticent about his role in the development, so that it became known only as the EMI system.

In 1935 the BBC operated both the Baird system and the EMI system for a trial period, but in 1936 opted for the EMI system as against the mechanical Baird system, which could not provide pictures of such high definition. 

Early television set Shoenberg continued to work on television development and in 1954 he was awarded the Faraday Medal by the Institution of Electrical Engineers for his services to television and the communication industry.  He was elected a Director of EMI in 1955 and awarded a knighthood in 1962.

He played quite a prominent role in the celebrations for the 25th Anniversary of the BBC Television Service in 1961, which was unusual as for much of his life he shunned any publicity connected with his work, preferring that credit should go to EMI and the other members of his team.  He was exceptionally modest and shy but possessed a charm which won him many friends.

Shoenberg became a British Subject in 1922.  He was married for nearly 60 years to Esther and had 3 sons and 2 daughters and was an active member of the Liberal Jewish synangogue. He died on 25 January 1963.

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The image of Sir Isaac Shoenberg supplied courtesy of Robert Alexander