Background

The concept of early televisions first began around 1935.  These early TVs had motor that would generate the image displayed on the small screen.  Up until the beginning of WWII the development of an electronic television continued.  Some stations even attempted broadcasting, although it was mostly experimental.  At the start of the war production of the television stopped, in addition to most broadcasting.  Following the end of the war, production of the television soared.  Due to saving during the war, American families started to buy television to put in their homes.  Up until the mid-1950s, televisions were typically black and white.  In order to change the channel on these early TVs the viewer had to get up and turn a dial on the television.[1] It was not until this time that Zenith Electronics Corporation began experimenting with the idea of creating a television remote control.

In 1950, Zenith Electronics Corporation invented the first remote control.  Although it was nothing like what we have today it was a great start.  Called “Lazy Bones”, it was a wired remote control.  “Lazy Bones” was not available with every television set and caused added safety concern.  One of the biggest problems with “Lazy Bones” was the long cable that stretched from the TV set to the viewer. [2] Americans worried that they would trip over the wire and others were concerned with how it looked.  All of that would soon change.

In 1955, Eugene Polley, a Zenith engineer, invented the “FlashMatic,” which “looked like a cross between a pistol and a flashlight.”[3] The new remote worked by emitting a ray of light that triggered a sensor on the outside of the television unit.  Viewers loved the new design, and Zenith quickly made lots of money.  Zenith began to work on improving the remote and resolving the need for the ray of light.  Polley never received full credit for his design, and is often forgotten and not credited with the invention of the first remote control.  This is mainly because a new version appeared the following year.  For his invention Polley received $1,000.  This is upsetting to Polley because his invention was so popular that Zenith could not keep up with demand during the first year.  He believes that he is the true “Father of the Remote,” however the public feels differently.  When Eugene Polley retired in 1982, he held 18 patents.[4] The new remote control, invented by Robert Adler, was much more like the remote controls of today.


[1] Picariello, Gary. “The History of the Television Remote Control.” http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/59525/a_history_of_the_television_remote_pg2.html?cat=39 (accessed February 10, 2009).

[2] Phil Ament, “Remote Control History.” http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/remotectl.htm (accessed February 9, 2009).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ted Gregory, “TV Remote’s Father Doesn’t Click For All.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, February 5, 2006, http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20060205/news_1n5remote.html (accessed February 10, 2009).

First image from: Advertisement for original “lazy bones” remote. http://news.cnet.com/i/ne/p/2007/221lazybones1950_550×393.jpg (accessed March 14, 2009).

Second Image from: “Flashmatic” advertisement. http://www.britannica.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/flash.jpg (accessed March 15, 2009).

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