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Inventors Remote Controls
By Mary Bellis

modern remote controlmodern remote control - infrared

It was in June of 1956, that the practical television remote controller first entered the American home. Remote control technology was developed for military use (the Germans used remote control motorboats during W.W.I.) and in the late 1940's the first non-military uses for remote controls appeared (i.e. automatic garage door openers.)

Zenith Radio Corporation, the company behind the development of the remote control, created the very first television remote control in 1950, called "Lazy Bone." Lazy Bone could turn a television on and off and change channels, however, it was not a wireless remote control. The Lazy Bone remote control was attached to the television by a bulky cable, which the consumer did not like (the cable caused tripping).

Zenith engineer, Eugene Polley created the "Flash-matic," the first wireless TV remote invented in 1955. The Flash-matic operated by means of four photocells, one in each corner of the TV screen. The viewer used a directional flashlight to activate the four control functions, which turned the picture and sound on and off and turned the channel tuner dial clockwise and counter-clockwise. However, the Flash-matic had problems working well on sunny days, when the sunlight could change channels randomly.

The improved "Zenith Space Command," remote control went into commercial production in 1956. Zenith engineer, Dr. Robert Adler who based his invention on ultrasonics, designed the Space Command. Ultrasonic remote controls remained the dominant design for the next twenty-five years, and as the name suggests they worked using ultrasound waves. The Space Command transmitter used no batteries; inside the transmitter were four lightweight aluminum rods that emitted high-frequency sounds when struck at one end. Each rod was a different length to create a different sound that controlled a receiver unit built into the television.

The first Space Command units were expansive due to the necessary use of six vacuum tubes in the receiver units that raised the price of a television by thirty percent. In the early 1960s, after the invention of the transistor, remote controls came down in price and size, as did all electronics. Zenith modified the Space Command remote control with the benefits of transistor technology (and still using ultrasonics) creating small hand-held and battery-operated remote controls. Over nine million ultrasonic remote controls were sold.

Infrared devices replaced ultrasonic remote controls in the early 1980s.

Return to The History of Television

Robert Adler
Robert Adler holds 180 patents for electronics devices, whose applications run from the esoteric to the everyday; he is best known as the a pioneer in the development of the remote control.

Meet Dr. Robert Adler
Among Robert Adler's earlier work is the gated-beam tube, which at the time of its introduction represented an entirely new concept in the field of vacuum tubes.

Robert Adler - TV Remote Control Pioneer
Adler was associate director of research at Zenith in the 1950s when the company’s founder-president, Commander E.F. McDonald Jr., challenged his engineers to develop a device to "tune out annoying commercials."

Need A Remote Control (compare prices)
Every Kind of Remote Control

Remote Controls For Television
The first TV remote control called "Lazy Bones," was developed in 1950 by Zenith Electronics Corporation (then known as Zenith Radio Corporation). This was not a wireless remote. A Lazy Bones was attached to the TV by a long wire.

Remote Control of Your Entire Home
A remote control that can also control lights, the temperature, drapes, the front door lock.

Related Innovations

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