Back in the mid 1950s we approached technology like everything else. We liked it big and space age. So it's no surprise that the first wireless TV remote control looked like a ray gun, and in a way it was a ray gun.
The Zenith Flash-Matic from 1955 worked by using a beam of light directed from the remote towards the TV. The light connected to one of four photocells located in each corner of the TV screen to control the action. In the case of these early remotes it would be one of four things — turning the power on or off, the sound up or down (as the ad noted, for avoiding thosepesky commercials!) or moving the channel dial clockwise or counter-clockwise.
It's evidence that even in the 1950s people were couch potatoes. It's also evidence we were high maintenance about our electronics even then — previous remotes had been developed but had that pesky wire cord that kept it from taking off commercially.
The inventor of the wireless TV remote, Eugene Polley just passed away at the age of 97. He lived to see his invention move from the "ray gun" to universal remotes and giant flat screen TVs. Polley's contribution to pioneering the development of the TV industry was recognized with an Emmy in 1997, which he shared with fellow Zenith colleague and engineer Robert Adler.
While an Emmy for pioneering television is an honor, others view Polley's contribution to electronics as something greater. It was the first time commercial technology was untethered from the mechanical.
Richard Doherty, CEO of technology assessment and market research company Envisioneering told the Huffington Post:
"Without his idea you might not have gotten to the Internet. It allowed you to go beyond the physical dial. It set the pace for dozens for follow-on inventions that go beyond the physical."
So as we take a look back in time to what looks unwieldy, funky, it's kind of nice to think the future of electronics might have been different if it hadn't been built on the solid old Flash-Matic and the achievements of the late Eugene Polley and his pioneering colleagues.