Museum Hours:

Saturday 10-6

Sunday 12-5

 

Early Television Stations

W3XWT / WTTG - Washington, DC

DuMont's experimental station in Washington was located at the Hotel Harrington, at that time the tallest building in the city. The station was constructed in a very short time, and began broadcasting on May 19, 1945. We have a DuMont 183 TV set that was used at the hotel.

We have had material donated from family of Gordon Williamson, who was one of the first employees of WTTG (October, 1946), and who began writing a book about his experiences. He completed 4 chapters, which can be read here.

Here are recollections from Bob Davis about W3XWT, courtesy of the National Capital Radio and Television Museum.

Here is an excerpt from the History and Photo Album of the Harrington Hotel:

On May 19, 1945, television history was made in Washington, D.C., and the Hotel Harrington was right there in the middle of where it all began. On that day, W3XWT, now known as WTTG-TV, Channel 5 (Fox Network), broadcast the very first television signal ever to the residents of our great city. The television studio, projectors, and transmitting equipment were all located on the upper floors of the Hotel Harrington, with the antenna mounted to the roof as the Harrington was the tallest commercial structure in the city at that time. One of our recent guests found and sent to us a video commemorating this significant event from our city's and hotel's history.

From Washington DC's First TV Station - W3XWT

This article, byBy Alice Brannigan, appeared in Popular Communications in March 1996: 

Television station WTTG, Channel 5, in Washington, D. C., celebrates its 51st birthday in May, which means it's a certified pioneer. According to Patricia Brennan's story about WTTG that appeared in The Washington Post's TV magazine, the station got off to a tenuous start.

During the last days of World War II, the station's transmitter and other components were driven from New Jersey to Washington by engineer Thomas G. Goldsmith Jr. and three associates. They managed to transfer all of the equipment to a room on the 12th floor of the Harrington Hotel, then employed unused elevator cables to feed power up to the equipment fro the hotel's basement.

On May 19, 1945, the FCC issued the construction permit. Only nine days later, an experimental license was issued because station W3XWT was ready to begin telecasting. This station was being put on the air under the auspices of Allen B. DuMont Laboratories of Passaic, N. J., where Goldsmith was the director of research.

DuMont Labs manufactured expensive upscale TV receivers. Because there were few TV stations in operation, DuMont was anxious to get more stations on the air in order to spur receiver sales. Goldsmith had previously put DuMont's New York station on the air (WABD, Channel 5), and Pittsburgh was scheduled after Washington was up and running.

DuMont's New York station had a few hours per week of local programming. That didn't help W3XWT, which hadn't gotten around to doing more than getting a signal on the air. The station ran a test pattern, and a repeating audio message asking viewers to call the station at the hotel. It took three months before they got any response, and that was in August when the war in the Pacific ended.

That day, crowds of celebrating people were surging through the streets. Goldsmith, therefore, decided to take his pen and write "War Is Over" across a blank video slide. That's when the Navy called the station. They had been monitoring the radio spectrum for clandestine activity, and became curious about the signals. This was the station's first "program," and its first viewer reaction! Certainly this must be the most inauspicious beginning ever to a 50-year career in television broadcasting.

In November 1946, the FCC licensed W3XWT as commercial station WTTG. The call letters incorporated Thomas T. Goldsmith's initials. Washington, New York and Pittsburgh eventually became the nucleus of the DuMont Network. DuMont later sold an interest in the network to Paramount Pictures. This proved counterproductive and resulted in programming cutbacks, forced the sale of the profitable Pittsburgh station, as well as creating FCC inquiries.

DuMont changed its name to Metropolitan Broadcasting in 1958, and by 1959 Paramount was bought out by John Kluge. The company then became known as Metromedia Inc. Fox Television purchased Metromedia in 1986.

This excellent information about W3XWT/WTTG was sent in by Brian Bohall, Leesburg, Va.

Washington Post, November 6, 1949