Museum Hours:

Saturday 10-6

Sunday 12-5

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 reluctant 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.


Advertising literature Ed Reitan's Color Television History
Color Broadcasting Eckhard Etzold's Website
Early Color Set Database Pete Deksnis's CT-100 site
Early Color Set Gallery  


Early Color TV Systems

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


 More on Early Color

CBS system at CNAM Museum in Paris Online films and videos
Chromatic Television Laboratories Philco 1964 advertisement and patent
Color filters - an inexpensive way to get color TV RCA color production quantities
Color picture tubes RCA CTC-4 based sets made for other manufacturers.
Color set advertisments A Requium for Downtown Burbank
Experimental British color set Restoration of early color sets
Five working 15GP22 based sets Russian color demo at the 1958 World's Fair
Frequencies and Standards Sava Jacobson's recollections about early color
History of CBS Color, by Bob Cooper Smith, Kline & French Medical color TV
History of the NBC Peacock Sony Chromatron
Hoffman Color School Technical information on early color sets
Homemade color converters Television pioneers
Hue control circuits in early color sets Thomas Edison predicted color TV
Jordan Marsh department store color demonstration Uniray, an advanced Apple CRT
Modern Replicas of Early Color Sets Westinghouse color dicrhoic mirror
Network Television Preview Theatre Ticket Zenith neon advertising sign
Newspaper and magazine articles about early color  

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 "Slave"

CBS 205

Col-R-Tel Converter


Colortone Adapter

  Colortone Color Wheel Assembly

Crosley Color Wheel Assembly

Dage 650 Studio Monitor

Dalto Projection Set

DuMont Industrial Monitor

DuMont prototype

Emerson C-502

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 Model 5

RCA Trinoscope

RCA 21-CT-55

Sentinel IU-816

Sparton 16A211

Sylvania 21C609

Westinghouse H840CK15