General Instrument
Founded1939; 83 years ago (1939) in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, United States
Defunct1997; 25 years ago (1997)
Key people

General Instrument (GI) was an American electronics manufacturer based in Horsham, Pennsylvania, specializing in semiconductors and cable television equipment. They formed in New York City in 1923 as an electronics manufacturer. During the 1950s, the company began a series of acquisitions under the direction of Moses Shapiro. Among the more notable purchases was General Transistor in 1960, which led to GI becoming a major producer of transistors, and later, integrated circuits (ICs). By the late 1960s, the company was mostly depending on sales into the television industry, which was further bolstered by the 1967 purchase of Jerrold Electronics.

The company changed markets continually. Through the 1970s they focussed mostly on the off-track betting market through their purchase of American Totalisator, but this market faced significant competition in the late 1970s. At this time, GI became well known for their IC's including the CP1600 used in the Mattel Intellivision game console, the AY-3-8910 series of sound chips that were used in a huge variety of designs, and the PIC microcontrollers which remain in production As of 2022. They also became increasingly active in the cable television field, emerging as the primary supplier into this market by the late 1980s. They sold off their IC division to form Microchip Technology in 1987, leaving them almost entirely dependant on the television market.

GI became a major leader in the development of high definition television. As this market began to saturate, the company split into three parts in 1997; CommScope took the cable infrastructure products, NextLevel the consumer television side, and General Semiconductor the power electronics products. NextLevel took over the GI name the next year. This new GI was purchased by Motorola in 2000, which was in turn purchased by Google who spun out the television side to ARRIS. ARRIS was then purchased by CommScope in 2018, once again bringing together all of GI's original television divisions. General Semiconductor continues to operate separately.


The company initially formed in New York City in 1923 as an electronics manufacturer.[1]

Shapiro retired in 1975 and was replaced by Frank Hickey, who focused the company on its two most profitable markets, cable television and gaming. The gaming market was primarily through their purchase of American Totalisator, who ran racetrack systems. GI expanded this into off-track betting and by 1979 they supplied 90% of all the off-track systems in North America. Through the 1980s these successes were overshadowed by the massive expansion of cable television, which quickly took over from the betting systems just as that market was facing new entrants that were pushing down profits.[1]

Through the mid-1980s the company suffered a series of reversals and further acquisitions in the cable and satellite television markets failed to stop the losses. Their entry into the high definition television market stabilized things for a time, but the market once again began to saturate by the mid-1990s. In 1997 the company split into three parts, General Semiconductor (power electronics), CommScope (cable infrastructure) and NextLevel Systems (cable and satellite systems). NextLevel took over the GI name in February 1998.[1]

The "new" GI was purchased by Motorola in January 2000 for $17 billion and became the new Broadband Communication Sector (BCS)[2] along with an acquisition of Zenith Network Systems a few months later.

NextLevel Systems, the former GI cable and satellite TV division, took over the General Instrument name in February 1998. The new (post-split) GI Corporation was acquired by Motorola in January 2000 for $17 billion and became the new Broadband Communication Sector (BCS)[2] along with an acquisition of Zenith Network Systems a few months later. After being called Connected Home Solutions, it was renamed Home and Networks Mobility in 2007. When Motorola split on January 4, 2011, this division became part of Motorola Mobility. On December 19, 2012, ARRIS announced that it would acquire Motorola Mobility's Home unit (the former General Instrument company) from Google for $2.35 billion in cash and stock.[3][4] The acquisition was completed on April 17, 2013.[5] On November 8, 2018, CommScope announced that it would acquire ARRIS in a cash deal valued at $7.4 billion including the repayment of debt. This acquisition brings back together two of the former General Instrument companies from the 1997 split.[6]

Moses Shapiro, father of former Monsanto head Robert B. Shapiro, was Chairman from 1969 to 1975. Frank G. Hickey served as chief executive officer from 1975 to 1990, as did Donald Rumsfeld from 1990 to 1993.[7]

VideoCipher Division

Videocipher II satellite descrambler
Videocipher II satellite descrambler

General Instrument produced receivers for old C and Ku band satellites. They also produced Videocipher units as well as digital equipment. 4DTV was a system for picking up free and encrypted analog and digital satellite subscription channels. It also included an interactive guide. The product line included:

American Totalisator Corporation/AmTote

American Totalisator was a division of General Instrument Corp. It manufactured tote boards for the horse racing industry. It is now owned by horse-track operator Magna Entertainment Corporation.

Underseas Lab (Harris ASW)

Underseas Lab, a division of General Instrument Corp., located in Westwood, Massachusetts. It invented and manufactured multibeam sonars used in ocean floor mapping. It was acquired by Channel Technologies and is now owned by L-3 Communications.


Jerrold was GI's original cable TV brand, active from 1948 into the early 1990s. Around 1993, GI dropped the Jerrold name from their product lines. The Jerrold brand was prominent on both addressable and non-addressable cable TV converter boxes that were used on non-cable ready sets and cable-ready sets with premium pay services. "Jerrold" is the middle name of the company's founder, Milton Jerrold Shapp, who became Pennsylvania's 40th governor in 1971. Shapp's given name was Milton Shapiro.

GI Microelectronics

General Instrument wordmark introduced c. 1980
GI Microelectronics monogram used in the 1970s
GI Microelectronics monogram used in the 1980s (both as seen etched and silkscreened on chips and printed circuit boards)

GI Microelectronics was a manufacturer of LSI circuits and a pioneer in MOS technology and Electrically Alterable ROM (EAROM), with both off-the-shelf and custom circuits. GI spun the division off as Microchip Technology in 1987.[8]

In 1980, their product catalog included:

Other products included the famous AY-3-8910/11/12/14 series of sound chips, the AY-3-85xx, 86xx, 87xx series of game chips[9] and a single-chip speech synthesizer, the SP0256 Narrator. A version of the SP0256 appeared in Mattel's Intellivoice. The popular SP0256-AL2 variant came with a set of allophones built in.

In 1965, Frank Wanlass moved to General Instrument Microelectronics Division in New York. Wanlass and other GI engineers promoted four-phase logic throughout the industry.[10] J. L. Seely, manager of MOS Operations at General Instrument Microelectronics Division, also wrote about four-phase logic in late 1967.[11]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "General Instrument Corporation History". International Directory of Company Histories. St. James Press. 1995.
  2. ^ a b "Motorola acquires GI". CNET. Jan 2000. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  3. ^ ARRIS Group, Inc. (December 19, 2012). "ARRIS To Acquire Motorola Home Business For $2.35 Billion In Cash And Stock" (Press release). Thomson Reuters.
  4. ^ Tess Stynes (December 20, 2012). "Google Sells Cable-Box Unit for $2.35 Billion". The Wall Street Journal. p. B2. Retrieved 2020-08-21.
  5. ^ "ARRIS Acquires Motorola Home: Creates Premier Video Delivery and Broadband Technology Company Powerful Combination Transforms Industry, Accelerates Innovation" (Press release). April 17, 2013.
  6. ^ "CommScope To Acquire Arris International In About $7.4 Bln Deal, Incl. Debt". 2018-11-08. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  7. ^ "GI chooses Rumsfeld as CEO". Multichannel News. October 1990.
  8. ^ "General Instrument Microelectronics Renamed Microchip Technology Incorporated as Wholly Owned Subsidiary". 14 December 1987. Archived from the original on 13 December 2004. Retrieved 8 January 2009.
  9. ^ "PONG in a chip". Retrieved 26 August 2011.
  10. ^ Ross Knox Bassett. "To the Digital Age: Research Labs, Start-up Companies, and the Rise of MOS Technology". 2007. p. 130.
  11. ^ J. L. Seely (March 1967). "Advances in the state-of-the-art of MOS device technology". Solid State Technology. 10: 55–62.