It is easy to take for granted the absolute necessity of a wireless remote control – flipping through over 500 cable and satellite channels, operating the DVD/Blu-ray player and benefiting from the magic that is TiVO. Yet, someone had to invent the first wireless remote. Eugene Polley did just that in 1955 while working for Zenith, a company whose president loathed commercials. Just a humble engineer, Mr. Polley was given the company’s President Award for his invention which would be included with Zenith TVs from that time forward.
The Zenith company explains Mr. Polley’s invention was called the “Flash-Matic” the world’s first wireless TV remote, and operated by means of four photo cells, one in each corner of the TV screen. 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.
By the early 1980s, the television industry transitioned from ultrasonic to infrared, or IR, remote technology. The IR remote works by using a low-frequency light beam, so low that the human eye cannot see it, but which can be detected by a receiver in the TV.
I remember learning about wired remote controls, devices that were physically attached to the television set. And while the upside of a connected channel changer would be not losing the remote under couch cushions or leaving it in the fridge during a late-night raid, during the space-age of the 50s, wireless was like living in the future! I cannot imagine each of my home theater electronics with a tethered remote; walking across my living room would be like navigating through a net. I, for one, am grateful to Mr. Polley for his initial success and the continued improvements he made throughout his 47 year career. Thankfully today we have universal remotes to coordinate our surfing, volume changing and recording needs.