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History Of Television

Television revolutionized American life, allowing a new form of visual entertainment that would gradually grow to reach the masses. The history of TV broadcasting begins earlier than many people might expect, and has only grown over the years.

From the beginning of the history of TVs, it has been clear that this form of electronic media would revolutionize the world, just as radio did before it. From the history of the first TVs to modern flat screens, with the invention of this new visual media, our world would never be the same. News, entertainment and more have all been revolutionized by the history of TVs.

Inventors from all over the world had been working on transmitting pictures or objects onto a screen since the 1830’s, but the first physical television didn’t evolve until the 1900’s. Five men became the most popular and prestigious inventors of what we know today as television, giving the history of TV a rich beginning.

The invention of mechanical television occurred roughly simultaneously in the United States and Britain, making the history of the first TVs something of a group effort. Some sources attribute the invention to the Scottish inventor John Logie Baird. He is remembered as being an inventor of mechanical television. Later, during W.W.II, Baird developed the first color picture tube. In the United States, Charles Francis Jenkins did for North America what John Logie Baird did for Britain in terms of the history of TVs. Jenkins invented a mechanical television system that he called radiovision and later claimed to have transmitted the earliest moving silhouette images on June 14, 1923.

In the overall history of TVs, the invention of the electronic television is perhaps more important than early experiments with mechanical television. The television required a cathode ray tube, which is a specialized vacuum tube in which images are produced when an electron beam strikes a phosphorescent surface.


Many Inventions Lead to Televisions

A German inventor named Paul Nipkow invented the first rotating disk that would allow pictures to transmit over wire in 1884. His discovery was the first electromechanical television scanning system in the world. This rotating disk would rotate at a fast pace, while light passed through the holes to create a picture on a screen.

John Baird became famous in the history of TV when he invented the first pictures in motion that were televised in Europe in 1924. He later transmitted the human face onto a screen, and during World War II invented the first color picture tube. While it would be some time before color TV became a staple in American and other households, his contribution to the history of TV was enormous.

Charles Jenkins invented a mechanical television that he called “radiovision,” which was said to have transmitted one of the first moving images in 1923. This American inventor went on to promote his theories in the technology of the television along with other inventors when they transmitted the first live pictures onto a screen. This pilgrim in the history of the TV is also famous for creating the first television station in North America.

Vladimir Zworykin invented the Cathode Ray tube, which he named the Kinescope and started a new era in the history of TV. Before the Kinescope, televisions in the 1920’s were mechanical. The Cathode Ray tube was not only needed for transmission; this device transformed the television into an electronic device.

An American farmer named Philo Farnsworth made a breakthrough in the history of TV at the age of 13, when he discovered a way to transmit images onto a screen by the use of 60 horizontal lines, which made the picture clearer. Farnsworth also invented over 165 devices, including the dissector tube, which became the groundwork for televisions we use today. You can find more information on these inventors here.


First Commercial Televisions

People were very curious and excited about televisions coming to the public. However, some feared the new technology, thinking that televisions could transmit personal conversations onto the TV. The 1928 Baird model mechanical television sets were introduced to the public at the “Olympia” Radio Exhibition in 1929. These mechanical TV sets projected orange-red blurry images on a screen about the size of a dollar coin.

The first televisions sold for about fifty-five dollars, which only people of wealth could afford. Electronic televisions were introduced to the United States at the 1939 World’s Fair. The first electronic television set was the 1938 DuMont Model 180 and cost around one hundred twenty-five dollars. You can find more information on the first commercial televisions here.


Television in the Modern Age

When the first television came on the market, you could only watch a play on a screen the size of a dollar coin. The actors also had to take turns in front of the camera, because the screen was only big enough to see one person at a time. When studying the history of TV, it is difficult to fathom the differences between the televisions in the 1930’s and televisions we have today.

Since the 1930’s, television technology has skyrocketed. Television went from black and white to color, and today, high definition technology is all the rage. Those who were around when the first TVs debuted were lucky to have one channel to watch. Today, we now have cable and satellite with the option of over 300 channels. Could the inventors of this mass form of entertainment have dreamed that people would someday turn into "couch potatoes," unable to tear themselves away from this wonder?

Televisions are also no longer big and bulky. You can now hang your TV on the wall, watch "television" on your computer, and due to advanced technology, download television shows, movies, and videos to portable devices. Once reserved for the wealthy, millions and millions of homes have multiple televisions in them, as well as portable devices to view the transmissions on the go.

If the inventors of the television were hoping to get rich, they would likely faint at the enormous salaries of actors in the 21st century. While the history of the TV actors is as rich as the history of the TV itself, could they have had any inkling of the tremendous fame and fortune their invention would help to foster? Consider the up-to-the-minute news we are able to get, due in large part to the inventors of yesteryear. For the first time in 2003, war was broadcast on live TV as it happened! While war is not something to celebrate, we can thank the brilliant minds of long ago for keeping us connected, not to mention entertained, 24 hours a day.


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Elvis Presley, an early television celebrity appearence.

The History of TV Broadcasting

While there were a number of early test broadcasts, and then brief weather and farm broadcasts, NBC or the National Broadcasting Corporation was the first television network. NBC was closely tied to their parent company, RCA, the Radio Corporation of America. NBC began its first regular broadcasts with the inaugural ceremonies of the 1939 World’s Fair. Broadcasting continued; however, these early years are still considered experimental, and many programs are not recorded.

July 1, 1941 marks a major date in the history of TVs. This is considered the first official day in the history of TV broadcasting. The Federal Communications Commission activated official call letters for two television networks, WNBT and WCBW, and the first commercial, non-experimental, television broadcasts began. This first day of official television broadcasts included a baseball game, a quiz show and news broadcasts.

By 1948, some one million American homes had televisions. The true history of TV broadcasting as a major phenomenon begins in the 1950’s. Many shows from the 50’s continue to air as reruns today, making this one of the most important periods in the history of TVs.


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The Munsters, an early television show.

Early TV shows

One cannot discuss the history of TVs or the history of TV broadcasting without discussing some of the first TV shows. Quiz shows, comedies, variety shows and westerns were all popular shows in the history of TV broadcasting. Color TV became available in 1954, bringing vivid color to previously black and white screens.

While shows like Bonanza, Leave it to Beaver and I Love Lucy all come to mind when we think of television in the 1950’s, the world was also changed by the availability of ongoing news coverage, shows like You Are There, and more. Variety shows allowed people to see the entertainers they had enjoyed on the radio. Soap operas, originally conceived for the radio, offered drama and product endorsements. Sitcoms of the 1950’s provided and created a fantasy world with perfect families that influence us even today.

By the 1950’s, the average American home had a television and the family spent much of their free time watching available programming. Much of the available programming was geared toward the whole family, and television networks aired programming from morning through prime-time.

Eyewitness news brought reality crashing into the Father Knows Best homes of the 1950’s. It was soon followed by coverage of the realities of war and more in the following decade. In the 1960’s, America saw the Vietnam War on television, saw the assassination of J.F.K, and more. Cable television, expansion of networks and a growing range of programming all changed the history of TV broadcasting.


Early TV Advertising

Leo Burnett, one of the most famous advertising executives in the ad world, once said “I have learned that it is far easier to write a speech about good advertising than it is to write a good ad.” When print ads and word-of-mouth were the only form of advertising known to the world, the ad industry was merely in its growing stage. But ever since the first television commercial aired in the United States of America at 14:29 on the 1st of July in 1941, the history of television advertising and the history of U.S. television advertising began. The evolution of the medium of TV advertising from that eventful day to the million dollar advertisements of today, featuring the most sought after celebrities and the most inventive of concepts, has been quite remarkable. It has now turned into one of the most competitive fields in a consumerist society.


The Firsts

The first TV ad in the history of television advertising was broadcast on NBC’s WNBT for the Bulova® Watch Company before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. The ad featured a Bulova® watch displayed over the map of the United States, while their slogan “American runs on Bulova® time” resonated via a voiceover. The Bulova® Watch Company chalked out 9 dollars for a 20 second spot and went down forever as the first TV ad in the history of both the world and U.S. television advertising. A 30-second TV spot today during the annual Super Bowl costs 2.6 million dollars!

The first TV commercial shown in Britain was for Gibbs S R Toothpaste, which lasted 60 seconds, and was broadcast on September 22, 1955. The voiceover for the ad repeated the slogan “It’s tingling fresh. It’s fresh as ice. It’s Gibbs S R Toothpaste!” This commercial earned its place as a first in the history of TV advertising completely by chance. In a lottery drawn with 23 other commercials to determine who would go first, Gibbs S R Toothpaste was the one that came up the winner.


Key Moments in Ad History

The 1950s started a strong flurry of ads promoting various brands of cigarettes, including one of the most successful ad campaigns of all times—Leo Burnett’s “The Marlboro® Man.” The legendary American actor John Wayne appeared in a cigarette commercial in 1952 for Camel® Cigarettes. Even certain animated characters like “The Flintstones” were used by the tobacco industry to promote cigarettes. When cigarettes ads were banned from TV in 1971, the television industry suffered a loss of 220 million dollars per year in ad revenue.

Soon, the advertising industry began to realize that consumers paid a lot of importance to the innovativeness and creativity involved in advertisements. No longer did advertisements merely rely on jingles and obvious product placements. One of the longest standing advertisements series was that of the Energizer® battery. The first ad, which appeared in the 1980s, caught people by surprise as they were merely shown a group of battery operated bunnies playing the drum until all except one, the one which runs on the Energizer battery, stops. Instead of advertising the product in an in-the-face manner, Energizer amused the viewers in a surprising manner earning instant success.

In 1963, the Coca Cola® ads received an undisguised competition from their chief competitor Pepsi®. Pepsi, with their “The Pepsi® Generation” slogan kicked off a series of ads chiefly targeting Coca-Cola® and emphasizing the superiority of Pepsi® over Coca-Cola®. Coca-Cola® hit back with similar ads of their own and this onscreen combat led to a series of advertisements that have gone down in the history of TV advertising and history of U.S. TV advertising as the “Cola Wars.”


Significant Ad Campaigns

Some of the greatest ad campaigns ever made were Volkswagen®’s “Think Small” in 1959, Nike®’s “Just do it” created by Wieden and Kennedy in 1988, Miller Lite® Beer’s “Tastes Great, Less Filling,” Apple® Computer’s “1984” directed by Ridley Scott that attained eternal fame after being aired only once, U.S Army’s “Be all that you can be” in 1981, Burger King®’s “Have it your way” in 1973, Wendy®’s “Where’s the Beef?” in 1984, and American Express®’s “Do you know me?” in 1975, to name a few. These ads and several memorable others like these, despite being no longer on TV, are definitely ones that have gone down in the history of TV advertising, as well as the history of U.S. TV advertising as some of the most memorable ones ever.

From that eventful day in 1941, television advertising has come a long way featuring the best in direction, production, and writing today. Television advertising is no longer merely for products or services; even TV shows and presidential candidates are advertised on TV. It has become a field where thinking outside the box and delivering a message most effectively within a span of fifteen or thirty seconds are the key aspects of success. The ad industry, especially the U.S. ad industry, has grown to be one of the largest in the world today. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to echo writer Marshall McLuhan’s statement, in the context of television ads, that “Advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century”—something that applies to the twenty-first century as well.

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