Pushing Buttons: The History of the Remote Control for TV

Old school ad for the first type of remote control, "the Flash-Matic tuning"

We can only imagine that the world before the remote was invented must have been a real dark place. Peeling ourselves off the couch every time we wanted to turn up the volume or change channels? It’s downright barbaric.

Needless to say, the introduction of the first remote for TV was a game changer for entertainment lovers everywhere. Join us for a quick trip down memory lane to see how the remote control has evolved since it first came on the scene nearly 70 years ago.

Remote control technology came on the scene way before TV remote controls. Brainy European scientists and inventors, including Oliver Lodge, Guglielmo Marconi and William Preece, plus the venerable Nikola Tesla, are to thank for our intense clicker habits. These dudes were among the first to come up with crazy new ideas for controlling technology wirelessly.

Tesla, for example, filed a patent in 1898 for his technology to control moving vehicles without wires. He showed off how he could use it to control a boat at Madison Square Garden. His invention nearly made some major waves, but the U.S. Navy, his intended client, didn’t think the technology was sturdy enough for war.

The remote control concept endured, however. And eventually made its way to lots of other places, including TVs.

The first remotes designed to control televisions appeared in the living room in 1950s. In 1950, Zenith Radio Corporation released the first TV remote, Lazy Bones (best name ever, right?). It allowed viewers to control their TV from the couch … as long as the wire from the remote could reach the couch. Alternate name suggestion: Trip Wire. Whomp whomp.

Speaking of great names, the Blab Off, introduced in 1952, was a wired remote that could turn sound on and off to help tune out the commercials. We’re exploring the possibility of connecting one to Great Uncle Lou at our next family gathering.

Wireless remotes soon followed. There was the Flashomatic in 1954. It shined a beam of light toward a sensor on the TV. The ad fails to mention that the sensors respond to all kinds of light sources, not just the beam from the remote. Best suited for cloudy locations to avoid spontaneous channel changes.   

Then came the Zenith Space Command in 1956. Instead of light beams, it was mechanical and used ultrasonic sound frequencies to change channels - emitting a “click” sound when a button on the remote was pushed. Fun Fact: That’s where the term clicker hails from. The main issue with this remote control was that other sounds, like a dog barking or a branch scratching the window could activate it. Best suited for quiet spaces. The living room? Not so much.

Wireless remotes were a game changer. So much laziness. So great. Remotes became commonplace for so many different devices that they introduced a pain point many of us still struggle with today: remote overload.

Steve Wozniak (of Apple fame) to the rescue. In the 1980s, he started a company that introduced the first version of the modern universal remote control designed to control multiple devices. The CORE (Controller of Remote Equipment) could “learn” various remote signals in order to control several different devices. It was also the first remote that connected to a computer to get software updates. Ultimately the CORE bombed because it was too complex for the average person to use. (Hmm… maybe not that different from today’s traditional universal remotes after all.)

Two years after the CORE universal remote control was introduced, Memorex came along with its take on the calculator ... we mean universal remote... the CP8.

If you’re anything like us, you have a stack of remotes cluttering up your living room and maybe you've never considered a universal remote because ...see above. We kindly suggest you reconsider. Caavo’s universal remote is simple enough for the whole family. It puts all our content in one place and allows us to control everything connected to our TV with one voice-controlled remote. Ask. Relax. Enjoy.


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