Every home’s most prized possession

Published 8:29 am Friday, June 26, 2015

Now I have really done it! I have messed up big time.

I have either lost, misplaced or thrown away something precious to my family.  No, not some  important papers, not my car keys, or the password for my computer.  No! Something more serious than any of these things.

I have lost the remote to our TV.

Now don’t laugh. This is serious business.  How can we ever use this TV again?

Well after some anguish and a few kind words from my family I began thinking about the remote and what I can do with a useless TV. Suddenly, lightning strikes and I remember back before we had a remote for the TV.

It was the days when you had to get up out of your chair and go over to the set and turn the knobs to find the channels. That really wasn’t such a chore since there were only three major channels to watch unless you had a set of bedsprings on your roof called an antenna. With that on the roof and with a motor that turned it around you might get two or three more channels.

We usually turned on the TV and whatever channel it was set on was what we watched.  There was no channel surfing. There were few program choices. No cable!

So when did someone discover a remote so that you didn’t have to get up and turn the knobs?

The first remote intended to control a television was developed by Zenith Radio Corporation in 1950. The remote was connected to the television by a wire.

A wireless remote control was developed in 1955 by Eugene Polley. It worked by shining a beam of light onto a photoelectric cell. In 1956, Robert Adler developed a wireless remote. It was mechanical and used ultrasound to change the channel and volume.

The remote allowed audiences, for the first time, to interact with their TV without using the buttons on the it. They no longer watched programs just because they did not want to get up to change the channel. They could also channel-surf during commercials, or turn the sound off.

The first remotes were expansive due to the necessary use of six vacuum tubes in the receiver units that raised the price of a television by 30 percent. In the early 1960s, after the invention of the transistor, remote controls came down in price and in size.

By the early 2000s, the number of consumer electronic devices in most homes greatly increased, along with the number of remotes to control those devices. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, an average American home has four remotes.

Now if someone would just invent a way to keep track of all those remotes so then can be easily found when misplaced.

Many thought that the remote caused Americans to become overweight since they did not have to move while watching TV unless they went to the kitchen for a snack. Maybe I’ll lose a little weight since now I have to get up and go to the TV to channel surf on my way to the kitchen.

“Oh remote, where art thou?”


Jo-Ann Boepple works at the Edwardsburg Area History Museum.