Audio industry pioneer Sidney Harman, who recently made headlines with his one-dollar acquisition of struggling Newsweek magazine, died Tuesday night in Washington at the age of 92.
Sidney Harman, 1918-2011
The cause was complications of acute myeloid leukemia, according to a statement by the family that appeared on The Daily Beast, a website he had merged with Newsweek soon after its acquisition.
Harman was born in Montreal on August 4, 1918, and grew up in New York City. He graduated from City College in 1939 with a degree in physics. He found an engineering job with David Bogen, a New York company that made loudspeakers. After Army service in 1944-45, he returned to the company and by the early 1950s was general manager.
At a time when sophisticated hi-fi radio required a tuner to capture signals, a pre-amplifier, a power amp and speakers, Harman and Bernard Kardon, Bogen’s chief engineer, quit their jobs in 1953, put up $5,000 each and founded Harman/Kardon. It produced the first integrated hi-fi receiver, the Festival D1000.
It was hugely successful, and by 1956 the company was worth $600,000. Kardon retired, and in 1958 Harman created the first hi-fi stereo receiver, the Festival TA230. In later years, the company made speakers, amplifiers, noise-reduction devices, video and navigation equipment, voice-activated telephones, climate controls, and home theater systems.
Harman sold his company to avoid conflicts of interest during his government service as President Jimmy Carter’s deputy secretary of commerce in 1977-78, and bought it back a few years later at a profit. Renamed Harman International Industries, he took it public in 1986, was chief executive until 2007, and retired as chairman in 2008. He joined the University of Southern California in 2008 as a polymath professor, lecturing on architecture, medicine, law, economics, and other subjects.
He donated $20 million for the Shakespeare Theater Company’s Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, and was a trustee of the Aspen Institute, the California Institute of Technology, Freedom House, the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the National Symphony Orchestra.