Timeline of Television: From the 1800s to Current Time

March 22, 2022

Today, you can find a television in every home. But a century ago, nobody had ever heard about the word “television.” Moreover, in 1947, only a few thousand Americans had televisions. How did such a pioneering technology turn from a niche invention to a piece of attraction of every living room?
In the post, we will shed light on the complete history of television. So, let’s jump into it!

Mechanical Televisions – 1800s and Early 1900s

You read right – mechanical televisions. They appeared in the early 1800s. They mechanically scan images and then display those images onto a screen. In comparison to electronic televisions, these televisions were bottom-of-barrel.
Mechanical television was invented independently by John Logie Baird and Charles Francis Jenkins in the early 1920s. The first mechanical television used a rotating disk with holes arranged in a spiral pattern. Later, two inventors, Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, developed the first mechanical television that could send images through wires using a rotating metal disk.
In 1907, Boris Rosing and A.A. Campbell Swinton combined a cathode ray tube with a mechanical scanning system and developed a new television system.

The First Electronic Television – 1927

Philo Taylor Farnsworth – 21 years old inventor created the first electronic television. Till the age of 14, he lived without electricity at home. During high school, he started thinking of a system that captures moving objects in the form of images, transforms those images into code, and then transmits those images along radio waves to different devices. The first image that is transmitted by television was a simple line.

Time of TV History – From the 1950s to Till Now

From the 1950s, television turned from a niche technology to an amazing form of communication found in many living rooms across the United States. Many massive changes and improvements happened in the 20th century to make television into what it is now!

  • 1949: The number of TV stations had reached 98. The FCC adopted the Fairness Doctrine, which asks broadcasters to seek out and present all sides of an issue when covering the controversy.
  • 1951: CBS broadcasted the first color program. Only 12 customers throughout America could see the first color TV broadcast, while 12 million other TVs were blank for this telecast.
  • 1952: Famous comedian Bob Hope took his comedy from radio to TV. Moreover, by the end of 1952, TVs came in 20 million homes throughout the United States.
  • 1953: RCA made its color broadcasting system public, which was displayed on 12 million TVs.
  • 1954: NBC launched “The Tonight Show” with comedian Steve Allen.
  • 1955: CBS runs its Gunsmoke and the classic western TV show.
  • 1958: More than 500 cable TV systems were serving approx. Four hundred and fifty thousand subscribers in the United States. Moreover, CBS had taken out a two-page ad in TV Guide with the headline “Free television as we know it cannot survive alongside pay television.”
  • 1960: The four debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon broadcasted throughout the year in the United States. This had forever changed the way the presidential campaign.
  • 1963: Televisions had suppressed newspapers. In a poll of 1963, 36 percent of Americans found TV to be a more reliable source for information than papers.
  • 1964: For the first time, the FCC regulates cable. The FCC guided operators to black out programming from unfriendly markets and duplicated a local station’s programming.
  • 1964: 73 million viewers’ enjoyed The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
  • 1965: NBC called itself “The Full Color Network” and broadcasts 96% of its programs in color.
  • 1969: Millions of Americans watched Astronaut Neil Armstrong step on the moon for the first time live on network TV.
  • 1970: The FCC added the Financial Interest Syndication Rules that prohibit the three major networks from holding and managing the rebroadcast of private shows.
  • 1971: Advertisements transition from 60 seconds in average length to 30 seconds.
  • 1979: Some people predicted that the “beginning of the end for TV” 44% of Americans was unhappy with current programming, and 49% watched TV less than they did a few years earlier.
  • 1979: ESPN, a network devoted to sports, debuts on cable. ESPN became the largest and most successful basic cable channel.
  • 1980: Ted Turner launched Cable News Network (CNN) channel devoted to showcasing news 24 hours a day.
  • 1980: Music Television (MTV) made its debut in August of 1980.1986: ABC, CBS, and NBC have trouble selling commercial time for sports programs for the first time. Commercial rates for the 1986 NFL season dropped 15 percent.
  • 1989: Pay Per View begins to leave its impression on the television landscape, reaching about 20% of all wired households.
  • 1992: Infomercials explode with growth. The National Infomercial Marketing Association evaluates infomercials generate sales of $750 million, two times that of 1988.
  • 1993: 98% of American households owned at least one TV, with 64% owning two or more sets.
  • 1996: Digital satellite dishes – 18 inches in diameter – completely bang the market. It became the bestselling electronic item in history next to the VCR.
  • 2000: The Digital Video Disc (DVD) is introduced.
  • 2004: DVDs outsell VHS tapes for the first time.
  • 2005: Flat-screen TVs and HDTVs are introduced.
  • 2006: Flat-screen TVs and HDTVs become affordable for the first time. Sony releases its Blu-ray disc format, capable of holding up to 27GB despite being the same size as a DVD.
  • 2010: 3D televisions start hitting the market, spurred by popular 3D blockbusters.

Today, online TVs and other broadcasting technologies have completely changed the watching experience. Although most people are “cutting the cord,” it’s quite interesting to be seen if traditional TV can survive in the era of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other technologies.

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