Zenith Flash-Matic, the First Wireless TV Remote

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Channel surfing was born more than six decades ago. The first TV remote control, called the “Lazy Bones,” was developed in 1950 by Zenith (then known as Zenith Radio Corporation and now a wholly owned subsidiary of LG Electronics USA).

The Lazy Bones used a cable that ran from the TV set to the viewer. A motor in the TV set operated the tuner through the remote control. By pushing buttons on the remote control, viewers rotated the tuner clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on whether they wanted to change the channel to a higher or lower number. The remote control included buttons that turned the TV on and off.

The Flash-Matic by Zenith.

The toy-like Flash-Matic by Zenith was the industry’s first wireless TV remote, and ran off of two C batteries.

Although customers liked having remote control of their television, they complained that people tripped over the unsightly cable that meandered across the living room floor.

Zenith engineer Eugene J. Polley invented the “Flash-Matic,” which represented the industry’s first wireless TV remote. Introduced in 1955, Flash-Matic operated by means of four photo cells, one in each corner of the TV screen.

This diagram from the user guide for a 1955 Zenith shows the points of contact for the light beam. The upper left corner controls the counterclockwise channel selector, the upper right controls the clockwise channel selector, the lower right is the picture on/off, and the lower right turns the sound on and off.

The front cover of the official operators guide for the original 1955 Zenith, which shipped with the Flash-Matic.

“Simply aim the beam of light from the Flash-Gun into the ‘slot’ or window on the television escutcheon containing the control to be operated.”

The operator’s guide tells how you can change channels clockwise or counter clockwise by aiming the Flash-Matic light gun at the photo receptors.

The viewer used a highly directional flashlight to activate the four control functions, which turned the picture and sound on and off and changed channels by turning the tuner dial clockwise and counter-clockwise.

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