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These Retro TVs Will Take You Back to a Simpler Time

The TV has clearly gone through some truly amazing evolutionary changes in the past century. From the primitive tech that used to power our oversized, laminated, veneered, and stained wooden idiot boxes in the 40s, 50s, and 60s to the introduction of flashy technologies like Plasma, LCD, and OLED displays, the television of the past compared to the TVs of our modern era hardly even resemble each other. Can you imagine what future tech has in store for us?

Since we produce a lot of our content covering classic television shows, it seems only natural for us to take a look back at the evolution and development of the TV.

Facts Verse Presents: These Retro TVs Will Take Yuu Back To Simpler Times

The Birth Of Television And Consumer Anxiety

While there is considerable debate about it’s origins, the very first “mechanical” television-like facsimile machine capable of transmitting moving images was invented by Alexander Bain sometime between 1843 and 1846. Several other engineers continued working on improving Bain’s design over the course of the next decade or so, including working models and systems developed by English physicist Frederick Bakewell and Italian priest Giovanni Caselli. You heard that right, a catholic priest helped give us television!

The mechanical television showed potential, but it was far too limited, and the technology needed to produce it’s images was much to large and expensive to make it a viable consumer product. Even so, you can’t discuss the history of television without at least mentioning the contributions of these long-since-dead fellas. Other notable players in the early development of television includef Leon Theremin, the inventor of the musical instrument that shares his namesake, and Slovenian nobleman and inventor Anton Codelli.

For brevity’s sake, let’s go ahead and fast forward a bit to the invention of the first all-electronic television system featuring an electronic-image pickup device. That tech was first invented in 1927 by Philo Taylor Farnsworth.

The television was initially written off as a ‘rich man’s toy’. Throughout the 30s and the 40s, it was commonly believed that it was ‘declasse’ or uncouth to have a TV or even watch one. By the end of the 1940s, about two percent of American families owned one – and the ones that did, were usually actively trying to hide the thing. As you’ll soon see, this would become a recurring theme in the history of the television set.

After World War II, however, we saw a big marketing push to bring these devices into our homes. That’s around the time that the big radio networks were making the move to TV. If that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t all be familiar with those old photos of those big, furniture-like units that were the conspicuous centerpieces of living rooms everywhere in the “I Love Lucy” days.

With a few noteworthy exceptions, like the wonky TV stove, the big idea was that the TV was meant to live in, well, the living room. So, the designers of television sets came up with various styles of units that were meant to look just like furniture. The TV’s of that bygone era had to mesh with the interior design sentiments of the time. Not only that, but they also had to appease the anxiety that marketers insisted that women would have about having machines in the home.

There was this common, pervasive fear that was regularly expressed in the high-end architectural journals of the time, that these new-fangled televisions were going to be the bane of interior design. “Interiors” magazine even ran an entire issue devoted to the TV with the dire warning ‘beware the eye’.

Modern viewers might assume that people were over-the-moon thrilled about the idea of the television. After all, it was like having a tiny, little personal movie theater smack-dab in the middle of your home, right? But, no. People were nervous about placing these picture-tube monstrosities into their sacred living rooms. They were convinced that they were going to clash horrifically with their love seats and dinner tables.

Hide It!

This anxiety over the perceived way that TVs were going toconflict with the rest of interior décor led to the need to disguise or conceal the TV set. This, in turn, led to rather creative and fancy solutions such as the George Nelson Storagewall – a piece of furniture that allowed consumers to ‘tuck away’ the machines of everyday life.

That concept of hiding the television set and other unsightly machine appliances became an important design trend in the higher-end mid-century approach to dealing with media. Either you hid the thing by literally tucking it away behind a closed door, cabinet, or movable wall, or you did everything in your power to camouflage it.

“No that’s not a TV, that’s just my….uh…bookshelf!”

The fear that the TV would somehow take over the living room led to middle-class women tucking them behind bookshelves and paintings. Apparently, some folks even put them inside of fireplaces, which up until then was the primary focal point of the room.

Universal Adoption Changed Everything

By 1960, nearly 90 percent of US homes had a TV, and people were already spending an average of five days watching one. That shift was substantially faster than any prior tech adoption. Throughout that decade and well into the next one, clever marketing for the television had a significant impact on it’s almost universal adoption throughout the western world.

In the late 40s and early 50s, the TV had closely resembled the radio cabinets of the day. By the mid-50s, their footprint had become increasingly larger. It was around this time that you began seeing ads that advocated for TVs being used as something akin to a console table. You could plop a vase of flowers or a bowl of fruit on those bad boys and call it a day. The natural progression of this trend, as we already touched on, was to continue to conceal these devices or pretend that they were something they were not.

Some early TV sets could even hold a large lamp! Once again, “No that’s not a TV, that’s my…coffee table!”. Whenever company came over, the screen, went “bye bye”. God forbid the Jones’s found out that your file cabinet was actually one of those devilish picture tubes! But on that note, check out this hidden pop-up unit! Isn’t it just darling!

Before we get to the TVs of the late 60s and 70s, check out this ad for the Zenith Space Command remote control. While adopters of the device might have thought of it at the time as being something super futuristic straight out of the world of Lost In Space, the TV itself could have fit in easily in the Victorian era!

Then you had all those sets that incorporated elaborate faux fixtures like knobs, handles, and keyholes? Like, what were they trying to pretend to be hiding inside of their TVs? It makes you wonder how many kids tugged on those knobs and handles in vain, hoping to finally see what mysterious item was tucked away behind the fake doors? I know, when I was a kid, I yanked on Mamaws old Phillo a few times before I realized that the grown-ups who designed the thing were just compensating for something.

But anywho, let’s get back on track. By the ‘swingin’ 60s and ‘groovy’ 70s, the television became a way for people to get away from the family. The TV was no longer just an object of admiration for happy, healthy, wholesome families to sit down and enjoy together, only to feverishly throw a tablecloth over when they were done watching Leaving it to Beaver.

No, as the times changed and television content began to be more risque and provocative, so did the marketing and design aesthetics for the actual sets. Ads commonly depicted ‘liberated’ women and men holding, small personal devices while running off to the woods or scuba diving with their televisions.

As the price for the TV dropped, the placement of sets also changed. People could afford to put another TV in their bedroom, man cave, or she-shed (not that that phrase had been invented yet, but you get the picture).

The 80s, 90s, and 21st Century

In the 1980s and 1990s, the TV adopted this more modern, seemingly higher-tech black box aesthetic. Before this time, people might have been trying to hide them, but all of a sudden, they were these kinds of futuristic techno black box things that we wanted to put everywhere we had free space. TVs were popping up in all sorts of places that they hadn’t before such as bathrooms and kitchens.

Then suddenly everyone was slapping all of these fancy, new devices to their sets. You had VCRs, Betamax, Laser Disc players, cable boxes, and video game consoles. And with all of that new tech, you also had a tangled mess of wires going every which way.

So, almost as if nothing had changed, the TV suddenly got shoved back into big furniture-like cabinets again. It’s funny how things go full circle like that. That is, however, until right about 1997 when the first flat screen came along. And the rest is, as they say history!

Today, the TV doesn’t seem to match anything in your house – that is unless you’re aesthetic is ultra-futuristic postmodern or something. TVs just look like thin sheets of glass accented with a thin penciling of plastic. Perhaps, the biggest design innovation in recent years is using your TV as a faux picture frame or as an extension of your wallpaper. So, yeah, once again, we’re actively trying to hide the things! Nothing’s changed.

Anyway, we’re just about out of time for this video, but before you go, drop us a line or two in the comments. Which one of the classic TV sets from yesteryear seen in this video do you remember? And do you recall how everyone used to try desperately to conceal their TVs by pretending that it was a piece of furniture?

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