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Who Invented The First TV Remote Control and When Was It Invented?

Updated on January 22, 2017

Dear Old Dad

For years I thought it was my own father that invented remote control technology. He had three remote controls, all of them voice activated. Very high tech. He didn't even need to say the channel number. He would simply say " Put on Star Trek.", and, like magic, it would appear. He also had a potato chip command, and a lawn mowing command. Incredible technology!

Ok, so it wasn't exactly magic. Being the eldest of these remotes, it was usually me who hauled myself off the couch to change the channel or do whatever errand he required.

Life in the dark ages

I recently discovered that my own children had no idea that there was life before remote controls. Or cable tv, for that matter. Oh, the horror on their faces when I told them of the old days. Only a few tv channels, that you had to select manually, and they all went off the air at midnight! AAAH! I think they actually had nightmares that night.

I decided it was time to teach them ( and myself, for that matter) about the origins of some of the devices that we have come to take for granted in our lives.

The First TV Remote Control

In the late 1940s, Eugene McDonald jr., founder and president of Zenith Radio corporation, thought that television ( brand new technology in those days) would be much improved if viewers did not have to watch so many commercials. Apparently commercials were the bane of television viewing from the very beginning.

Mr. McDonald charged his team of engineers with developing a way to mute annoying ads. In a show of lateral thinking, they did him proud. In 1950 the Lazy Bones remote control was introduced to the public. Rather than simply muting the commercials, the new device could actually change the channel from the comfort of your sofa.

The Lazy Bones consisted of a handheld control attached to a cable. The cable was, in turn, connected to an electric motor on the tv. The motor could turn the tuner clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on which button you pushed. There was also a power button for turning the set on and off.

The revolutionary device was wildly popular at first. But consumers soon started to complain about the trip hazard posed by the cable. Mr. McDonald wasn't completely satisfied, either. Lazy Bones was indeed innovative, but it still did not mute commercials. Sure you could change the channel, but you would find the commercials on the next channel as well. Back to the drawing board.

Eugene Polley With His Zenith Flashmatic TV Remote Control.
Eugene Polley With His Zenith Flashmatic TV Remote Control.

The First Wireless TV Remote Control

In 1955, Eugene Polley, also working for Zenith, devised the Flashmatic. Polley placed photo cells in the corners of the television. These were activated with a very directional flashlight. These sensors controlled the power, rotated the tuner dial, and, at long last, turned the sound on and off. The first mute button!

About 30,000 Flashmatics sold in the first year. It was soon discovered, though, that direct sunlight and other light-emitting devices could inadvertantly activate these sensors.McDonald knew they were on the right track, so he called for an even better design.

Space Command Remote Control
Space Command Remote Control

The Real Deal

Zenith engineer, Dr. Robert Adler harnessed ultrasonics to create the first truly practical wireless remote. He has since been touted throughout the industry as the father of remote control technology, although Polley tends to disagree.

The Zenith Space Command remote control was introduced in 1956. A simple handheld unit, it was similar to the ones we know today. Inside were four small aluminum rods cut to different lengths which, when struck, would emit a specific sound frequency. The striking was accomplished by small hammers connected to springs, which were triggered by four control buttons. The buttons controlled the power, volume on and off, and channel up and down. It did have one drawback. It was occasionally known to respond to other metallic sounds, like jingling keys, or dog tags.

The sound made by the tiny hammers striking the rods gave birth to the nickname that would endure for generations. Perhaps you are one of the millions of people that refer to your remote as the "clicker".

This was an expensive feature, as it required a special receiver to be added to the tv. Adding as much as 30 percent to the price of a set, it still sold like crazy. It persevered in various forms for 25 years, until the early eighties, when infrared came on the scene.

As this technology proliferates, more and more uses are being brought forth.Today, you would be hard pressed to find a tv for which a remote control is not included as standard equipment. Even beyond the standard applications for tv, dvd players, etc., everyday appliances and devices have gone remote. Clickers that currently clutter my home include those for box fans, ceiling fans, space heaters, the list is a long one. There are water faucets that turn on when you approach, and even toilets that flush themselves when you leave. I saw a man on television that actually designed a remote control refrigerator that would throw a beer to him by remote control.

Spoiled Is As Spoiled Does

I have tried to reject remote control proliferation, as I believe it has spoiled us and it promotes laziness. If not for my constant urging, my childrens' primary source of exercize would come in the form of searching for their lost clickers.

I could go on for hours on the subject, but I need to find the remote starter for my car, so that I can be off to work!

Comments

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  • rmr profile imageAUTHOR

    rmr 

    7 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Hi writeronline, and thanks! That's the nature of HubPages, isn't it? You sit down to read a few hubs, lose track of time and find all sorts of things you didn't even know you were looking for! Thanks for taking the time to let me know you stopped by!

  • profile image

    writeronline 

    7 years ago

    Here I am, sitting diligently at my desk, supposedly developing brilliant Hub ideas of my own, when I fail (again) to resist the temptation to 'just have a quick troll around the site'...15 minutes on and I've spent them all learning stuff I didn't realise I wanted to know about, er, remote controls! Must be something about your writing that draws me in, rmr. No doubt I'll be dropping by again...

  • profile image

    Todd Cogswell 

    7 years ago

    This Story is B.S. My Great Grand father was the true inventor. He was in the Navy with this clown that stole the idea from him!

  • profile image

    hannah pate 

    8 years ago

    the remote control is soooooooooooooooo awsome!now i dont have to get up and walk all the way to the tv.

  • profile image

    poo 

    8 years ago

    bah bah black sheep

  • rmr profile imageAUTHOR

    rmr 

    8 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Good catch, Bob. Thanks!

  • profile image

    Bob 

    8 years ago

    You have and extra "Have" in the line "everyday appliances and devices have have gone remote." Otherwise cool article.

  • roastedpinebark profile image

    roastedpinebark 

    9 years ago from Iowa

    Wow, i didnt know all that info about remote controls and i loved the joke at the end : )

  • rmr profile imageAUTHOR

    rmr 

    9 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Thanks for coming by, rockinjoe. And thanks for the nice comment. It was interesting to research.

  • rockinjoe profile image

    Joseph Addams 

    9 years ago from Standing right behind you!

    This is just the coolest hub. My grandparents had this old Zenith b&w in their home for years, It had a gold tone metal case and a a pocket on the side to store the remote (which never made sense to me)

    Thanks for the education.

  • tonymac04 profile image

    Tony McGregor 

    10 years ago from South Africa

    Great Hub - I have always said that the inventor of the mute button on the remote should be nominated for a Nobel, but I had no idea who it was. All hail Eugene McDonaldfor your great invention!

    Thanks

    Tony

  • profile image

    seamus 

    10 years ago

    i love me remotes

  • profile image

    keith 

    10 years ago

    hey we have a remote for everything dese we have the life

  • Juliet Christie profile image

    Juliet Christie Murray 

    10 years ago from Sandy Bay Jamaica

    Good to know the history of the remote control is a very useful gadget especially when you watch boring programmes and you are realy tired

  • rmr profile imageAUTHOR

    rmr 

    10 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Thanks Brainstormer. Sometimes I have a weird thought, and it becomes a hub. Writing on a whim. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Brainstormer profile image

    Brainstormer 

    10 years ago from Australia

    Great and informative read. I love this aspect of HubPages where you suddenly come across the history of something that impacts our daily lives. Ohh is that how it all came about.

    Thank you for the Hub.

  • Karen Ellis profile image

    Karen Ellis 

    10 years ago from Central Oregon

    As strange as it might seem this conversation came up a couple of days ago between my husband and I. I wondered if he the enventor was still living. I thought some huge company may have done away with him for including the mute button on the remote so we didn't have to listen to commercials.

  • desert blondie profile image

    desert blondie 

    10 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen

    I don't know who invented them...thought they were great until my hubby started losing his hearing! Does that just happen to all geezers? Anyway...those remotes are lethal in the grip of the increasingly aging! LOL So, does it feel good to have someone besides your wife reading your writing? Hope so! Best to you!

  • tjmum profile image

    tjmum 

    10 years ago from Isle of Wight

    Oh dear. I think in the UK we must be FAR behind. We didn't get remotes with wires until late 70's, and yes, I remember tripping over them and pulling them out the TV. Now there are remotes everywhere and I am forever losing them, or running out of batteries. We also used to turn the TV off at the wall, the electricity socket, which too few people do these days, relying on standby. I can't wait till my boys grow old enough for me to regale them with tales of days with only 3 channels on the TV and no computers or videos or DVDs or CDs....... How ever did we survive?!

  • compu-smart profile image

    Compu-Smart 

    10 years ago from London UK

    Very Informativen and entertaining hub! and lol @ Zsuzsy Bee and Jason Stanleys comment "my uncle's remote with the (cable running across)" lmao..They always say they were the good old days! lol!

    Ps..Im touching mine now!! i bet you are all touuching your's now!:P

  • Jason Stanley profile image

    Jason Stanley 

    10 years ago

    I clearly remember my uncle's remote with the cable running across his living room floor in the mid 50s. His wife hated it because she thought it messed up the house, he loved it because it was really cool. Seems the battle over the remote may have changed it's spots, but has always been with us.

  • rmr profile imageAUTHOR

    rmr 

    10 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Thanks, everyone, for stopping by. I know exactly what you mean,Doghouse. I hated watching the news when I was a kid. I always thought the muppets held far more cultural value!

    Zuzsy, I believe they do have a device for muting your x. They call it an ipod! When you put it on, all noisome nuisances melt into the background. I take mine to work every day!

  • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

    Zsuzsy Bee 

    10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

    We have a remote for the TV, Car, Dvd Player, Coffee maker, light switches,...etc. but can we build one that will shut-up my X ????

    Great hub again regards Zsuzsy

  • In The Doghouse profile image

    In The Doghouse 

    10 years ago from California

    rmr,

    Such a great Hub. I remember as a small child my grandfather had a remote that he could mute the comercials with. We hated it, as a kid we looked forward to the commercials as a divergence from his nasty news shows! lol Today we have a basket full of remotes for all the electronical hoopla we enjoy as we watch TV, and personally I don't even know how to turn the darned thing on... by choice, I guess. Thanks for a look at the beginning of the remote control era we live in!

  • Forex Trader profile image

    Forex Trader 

    10 years ago

    Great story.

  • profile image

    Graceful Guardian 

    10 years ago

    That was a great hub.LOL ,I have 4 all different ages all still in use.

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