William C. Hittinger had an accomplished career in engineering electronics that spanned six decades. As Executive Vice President of Research and Engineering of RCA, he oversaw the company's ambitious VideoDisc project during the 1970s and 1980s.
Hittinger was a Bethlehem native and spent most of his early life around Lehigh. He attended Bethlehem High School, played for Lehigh's football team during the 1941 and 1942 seasons, and was also on the varsity baseball team in 1942. He was a talented student and was accepted into the engineering honors society Tau Beta Pi. He was in Lehigh's ROTC during WWII and served in the army following graduation, rising to the rank of Captain. In 1944, he graduated with a B.S. in metallurgical engineering.
A Career in Electronics
The Western Electric Company hired Hittinger in 1946 as a materials engineer. He began focusing on semiconductor research when he became a Production Manager for the National Union Radio Corporation a few years later. In 1959, he was hired by Bell Telephone Labs to direct the semiconductor device lab and quickly worked his way into higher management positions. Hittinger became Executive Director of the Semiconductor Device and Electron Tube Division of Bell Labs in 1962, and then left in 1966 to become president of a new offshoot company named Bellcomm, Inc, which performed systems engineering operations for NASA's manned spaceflight programs. In 1968, he became President of General Instrument Corporation, the electronics manufacturer giant that was acquired by Motorola in 2000.
Move to RCA
RCA hired Hittinger in 1970 to fill the Vice President and General Manager position of their Solid State Division. Two years later, he became the Executive Vice President in charge of consumer electronics and was elected to the RCA Board of Directors in 1974. His appointment to Executive Vice President of Research and Engineering came in 1976, a position he held until 1986. As VP of R&E, Hittinger was responsible for all labs and RCA patent operations in their Princeton, New Jersey headquarters, as well as their international business and marketing development. From 1982 to 1986, Hittinger served on President Ronald Reagan's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.
In addition to his position on RCA's board, Hittinger was appointed to several other boards as a result of his success, including the American Fletcher Corporation, Bethlehem Steel, and the Epitaxx Corporation. He had received countless accolades, most notably his Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers fellowship, a National Academy of Engineering membership, and an Honorary Doctorate in 1974 from his alma mater. An active member of Lehigh's Board of Trustees for twenty-two years, including six as Chairman, it culminated with his role as interim President for the 1997-98 school year.
He was a member of Lehigh's Sports Hall of Fame and played a major role in raising money for the school's first fully-endowed wrestling and Dean's scholarships.
He is survived by his wife Elizabeth and four children, three of whom attended Lehigh.