On January 26, 1926, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird demonstrated what is recognized as the world’s first working television system to a newspaper reporter and members of the Royal Institutions. As of 2012, the average American watches more than four hours of the stuff a day. In less than 90 years a lot has changed, and in that time, TV has become an institution - a way of life. The path along the way has included invention, government regulation, business decisions and program selection. And now, TV's history is facing a new twist: the impact of the Internet and all its get-it-when-you-want-it entertainment wonder. Here we'll tune in to TV's past and look at where it may be headed in the future.

The First TV

American inventor Philo Farnsworth designed and built the world's first working all-electronic television system and first demonstrated his system to the press on September 3, 1928. After rejecting an offer to sell his patents to RCA and join the company, Farnsworth moved to Philadelphia, joined the Philco Company, and demonstrated the system to the public at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute. He also became embroiled in litigation with RCA, which now claimed that Farnsworth’s patents were invalid because of earlier work by Vladimir Zworykin, who had been recruited in 1930 by RCA from Westinghouse. Farnsworth eventually won the various legal suits and was paid royalties by RCA.

The first TV by Philco
Source: Phillips Communications

The Federal Radio Commission (created in 1926 to regulate U.S. radio use and later replaced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1934) issued the first television station license to Charles F. Jenkins is 1928 to broadcast from an experimental station in Wheaton, Maryland. Hugo Gernsback, owner of New York City radio station WRNY, began a series of live television broadcasts on August 14, 1928. Over the next 13 years, experimentation with television continued until the FCC determined that television was ready for commercial licensing, and issued licenses to NBC and CBS-owned stations in New York on July 1, 1941. That same day, the first commercial television advertising appeared on NBC’s WNBT (now WNBC), when the station broadcast a test pattern modified to look like a clock, with the words "Bulova Watch Time" in the lower right quadrant, just prior to that afternoon's telecast of a Brooklyn Dodgers game live from Ebbets Field.

World War II brought a moratorium to development as the production of new TVs, radios and other civilian broadcasting equipment was suspended during the war. The end of the war and the general boom in the country jump-started the proliferation of television sets and, by 1947, there were about 44,000 television of them in people's homes (with probably 30,000 in the New York area).

The Emergence of TV Networks and Hit Shows

The post-war years also brought the beginnings of television networks; NBC had begun in 1944 and the Dumont Television Network followed in 1946 and CBS and ABC in 1948.

Television, however, would not have proliferated as it did were it not for the killer apps, "Milton Berle", "Howdy Doody" and "Hopalong Cassidy". Just as VisiCalc would later sell Apple IIs and Lotus 1-2-3 would sell IBM-PCs, "Uncle Miltie" and "Hoppy" sold TVs. In 1948, NBC brought "The Texaco Star Theater" to television, with Berle as one of four hosts, naming him sole host in fall 1948. The show became so popular, gathering 80 percent of the TV audience, that some movie theaters in New York closed when it aired on Tuesday nights. The morning after the show, workplaces would be filled with discussion of the Berle show the previous night. It was a great incentive for TV holdouts to go get a set. (Read more about the personal computer's history in How Spreadsheets Changed the World: A Short History of the PC Era.)

"Howdy Doody", a pioneer in children's television, ran on NBC from 1947 to 1960. Originally created as a voice by NBC radio announcer Bob Smith, the character became so popular that there was demand for a visual character. A red-headed puppet was created (with 48 freckles on his face, one for each of the then 48 states) and it was "Howdy Doody Time" for 14 years.

Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody, 1955
Source: mem45414

Of equal importance to the slightly older young set was "Hopalong Cassidy", the first Western network television series, which debuted on NBC on June 24, 1949. Cassidy was the fictional hero of a series, begun in 1904, of novels and short stories by author Charles Mulford. Beginning in 1935, 66 "Hopalong Cassidy" movies were made starring the actor William Boyd. When the movies began to be less successful than other films, Boyd gambled his future by putting all his assets on the block to purchase the character rights from Mulford , the film backlog from producer Harry Sherman, and the rights to the old films from the studios. He then sold NBC on the idea of a television series - all NBC had to do was to edit the movies down to broadcast time length. The series was tremendously successful, making Boyd a bigger star than he had ever been in the movies and paving the way for other movie cowboys, such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, to move to television.

Actor William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy
Source: Konabish

The success of these shows led the networks to begin a policy that continues to this day: If it works, copy it ... ad nauseum. And so, variety shows, kids' shows, and Westerns were duplicated for years. "Lucky Pup" (the vehicle for "Pinhead" and "Foodini"), "Time For Beany," "Kukla, Fran, & Ollie," "Snarky Parker" and "Rootie Kazootie" arrived for kids. Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Perry Como, and Arthur Godfrey all had variety shows, and Wikipedia lists 183 Westerns that sprung from the success of "Hopalong Cassidy", including "Gunsmoke," "Maverick," and "Have Gun, Will Travel."

A trading card based on the TV show "Gunsmoke"
Source: twm1340

A second part of the above policy might be: If these shows begin to lose viewership, never try that genre again. Perhaps that's why we don't have Westerns or variety shows on network TV to this day.

Now in Full Color

After years of seeing everything in black and white, color television was introduced to the U.S. in 1953. And