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Early Television Museum

Early Color Television

The first color system was developed by John Logie Baird in 1928. It used mechanical techniques. In the early 1940s, CBS pioneered a system which transmitted an image in each of the three primary colors sequentially. A wheel with segments of red, green, and blue rotated in front of the camera, while a similar wheel rotated in front of the television screen, synchronized to the one at the camera. The system was simple and produced excellent pictures, though it had many drawbacks, including low resolution, flicker, and most signifcant, it wasn't compatible with existing black and white broadcasting.

In 1950 the FCC tested the CBS system, along with a compatible system by RCA. At that time, the RCA system produced poor picture quality, and CBS was successful in getting the FCC to adopt their system. Here is a paper delivered by the Chairman of the FCC describing the thinking that led to the adoption of the CBS system.

For a few months in 1951, test broadcasts were done using the CBS system. Some manufacturers, such as Admiral, made adaptors for the CBS standard. See. Here is a 1950 film taken off the screen of a CBS receiver.

Manufacturers were relutant to make sets for the CBS system, and very few sets were made. RCA, meanwhile, continued to improve their system. In late 1953, the FCC adopted the RCA compatible system, commonly referred to as the NTSC system. The first color television sets for this system were sold in 1954. They used a 15 inch screen. Later that year, 19 inch sets were made, and by 1955 all sets were made with  a 21 inch picture tube. Several manufacturers made 15 and 19 inch sets, most in very small quantities.

Here are magazine and newspaper articles and advertisements about the two competing color systems. The most comprehensive website on early color history is by Ed Reitan.

The first set was made by Westinghouse, and sold for $1295. RCA introduced the CT-100 a few weeks later, at a price of $1000. GE sold its 15 inch set for $1,000, Sylvania's cost $1,150. Emerson rented color sets for $200 for the first month and $75/month thereafter. By the summer of 1954 there was already a shakeout. A headline in the New York Times said "Set Buying Lags - Public Seen Awaiting Larger Screens, Lower Prices". Motorola and CBS promised a 19 inch screen at $995.

In 1955, Raytheon introduced a 21 inch set for $795 and CBS offered a trade-in of up to $400 for their black and white sets towards the purchase of a $895 21 inch color model.

By the end of 1957 only 150,000 color sets had been sold. Color sales were slow until the mid 1960s, when the reliability of sets improved, prices came down, and more color programming became available. Read these Time Magazine articles from 1956 and 1958. In the late 60s color sets became more reliable and cheaper, and more network TV shows were televised in color, so color sales accelerated. Another factor that helped color set sales was the popularity of the Disney show The Wonderful World of Color, which began in 1961. 1970 was the first year that color set sales exceeded black and white.

 

Early Color Set Gallery
Early Color Set Database

 

Early Color TV Systems

Turner field sequential color film system (1902) John Logie Baird electronic system (1943-45) Eidophor (1952)
John Logie Baird mechanical system (1928) Philco Color Projection System (1945) British experimental field sequential system (1953)
Bell Labs system (1929) RCA field sequential system (1945) British 405 line NTSC system (1954)
Leishman color system (1936) RCA 3 channel system (1947) CBS Chromacoder system (1954)
Lorenzen system (1940) Color Television, Inc. (CTI/Sleeper system) (1947) Early Russian Color TV (1954-56)
CBS field sequential system (1940-53) DeForest mechanical color  (1948) DuMont Vitascan (1955)
RCA dot sequential system (1941-49) Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Color System (1950) Thomson-CSF field sequential system (1963)
General Electric 2 Color System (1941) DuMont industrial color system (1950) Mexican 2 color system (1964)
Mexican field sequential system (1940s) General Electric (1950) Butterfield color system (1965)

 

 More on Early Color

A simple way to convert your black and white TV to color Hoffman Color School Restoration of early color sets
Apollo moon mission color camera Homemade color converters Russian color demo at the 1958 World's Fair
CBS system at CNAM Museum in Paris Hue control circuits in early color sets Sava Jacobson's recollections about early color
Chromatic Television Laboratories Jordan Marsh department store color demonstration Smith, Kline & French Medical color TV
Color picture tubes Modern Replicas of Early Color Sets Sony Chromatron
Pete Deksnis's CT-100 site Network Television Preview Theatre Ticket Technical data (Rider, Sams, etc.)
Experimental British color set Newspaper and magazine articles about early color Television pioneers
1945 Federal Transmitter for CBS Color Online films and videos Two tube vidicon color camera - 1975
Five working 15GP22 based sets Philco 1964 advertisement and patent Uniray, an advanced Apple CRT
Frequencies and Standards RCA color production quantities Zenith neon advertising sign
History of CBS Color, by Bob Cooper RCA CTC-4 based sets made for other manufacturers.  
History of the NBC Peacock A Reqium for Downtown Burbank  

These Sets Are In Our Collection

Click on the image for more information

Admiral Ambassador  

Admiral CA101 Adapter

  Capehart CXC-12

  CBS Color Personal Viewer

  CBS RX-40/41 Color Converter/Adapter

CBS RX-89

CBS RX-90

CBS 205

Col-R-Tel Converter

Colordaptor

Colortone Adapter

  Colortone Color Wheel Assembly

Crosley Color Wheel Assembly

Dage 650 Studio Monitor

Dalto Projection Set

DuMont Industrial Monitor

General Electric 15CL100

General Electric 4TM-15 Studio Monitor  

Gray Research 1101 Monitor

Hoffman Colorcaster

Home made Drum Receiver

Home Made 1955 Color Projection Set

Mirror Screw

Motorola 19CK1

Motorola 19CK2

Motorola 19CT1

Philco TV-123

RCA CT-100

RCA CTC-4 in custom cabinet

RCA CTC-4 Director 21

RCA CTC-4 Haviland 21

RCA CTC-5

RCA CTC-7

RCA Model 5

RCA Trinoscope

RCA 21-CT-55

Sentinel IU-816

Sylvania 21C609

Sparton 16A211

Westinghouse H840CK15