Postwar American Television
(1959 - 21 inch)
(click on picture for high resolution image)
This Zenith set uses the Space Command 400, the first practical remote
control. In 1955 Zenith introduced the Flash-Matic a remote which
flashed beams of light at photocells on each corner of the television
cabinet. This remote could adjust the volume too. But unfortunately, the
photocells reacted to sunlight, and if the sun shone on the TV, the
tuner could start rotating. Clearly some advances were needed. Engineers
experimented with radio signal remotes next, but found them so effective
they could change the channel on a neighbor's television.
A Zenith engineer, Robert Adler, came up with a solution that used ultra-sonic technology (which humans cannot hear) rather than light to communicate between the remote and the set. Pressing a button on the remote depressed one of four aluminum rods. Each rod emitted different sounds, and the television would interpret each of these as channel-up or down; sound up or down; and power on or off. A button could be squeezed to depress a rod towards a spring, which enabled it to rise again. Each rod was called a "vibrator element" which varied in length so emitting different noises. A miniature hammer struck home to create a sound, rather like a tuning fork. The patent also explained the electrical circuits needed by the television to interpret the sounds correctly. Adler's invention had two advantages over modern remotes: it needed no batteries and did not have to be pointed at the television.
Zenith patented Adler's invention in 1956 and marketed it the same year as the Space Command 400, a futuristic name that brought the technology of James Bond into the living room. The cost of incorporating the technology added US$100 or about 30% to the cost of televisions, and of course the remote only worked with Zenith television sets.
This set was donated to the museum by Alan D'Aurora.