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Zenith TV Sets - First Televisions With a Remote Control

Zenith TV sets are made by the Zenith Electronics Corporation, based in Glenview, Illinois. The Zenith corporation is a leader in electronics manufacturing, and it is best known for its innovation in televisions and for pioneering the wireless remote control.



Zenith's first practical wireless remote control used aluminum rods to generate ultrasound signals received by the TV set.

In 1915, two ham radio enthusiasts, Ralph Mathwes and Karl Hassel opened a small ham radio equipment manufacture operation in Chicago, and by 1918 started selling radio parts under the Z-Nith brand name. The Z-Nith name was taken from Hassel's radio call letters 92ZN, and led to the inception of the Zenith trademark.

In 1921 financier Eugene McDonald joined the Hassel and Mathews team, and became the company's president. Zenith incorporated in 1923 as the Zenith radio Corporation, and throughout the 1920's made a substantial mark on the developing radio industry. It introduced the world's first portable radio in 1924, the first radio to operate on household electrical current in 1926, and the first radio to incorporate automatic push-button tuning in 1927.

Zenith started diversifying its development efforts with prototype Zenith TV receivers in the 1930s. In 1939 it also started experimental TV broadcasts.

After the US entered World War II in 1941, Zenith switched its production to help the military effort. During the war it manufactured electronic testing and communications equipment for the army. Following the war, Zenith leveraged its wartime research into audio equipment, to become the world leader in hearing aid manufacturing.

Following the war, Zenith strengthened its focus on the television industry. In 1947 Zenith the world's first subscription television system, an early form of what is known today as pay-per-view, and in 1948 introduced its first line of black and white Zenith televisions.

The world's first TV remote control was developed by Zenith in 1950. It was called the Lazy Bones and was attached to the TV set with a long wire. Inside the TV, a motor operated by the remote control, moved the tuning dial. This remote control also included TV on and off buttons.

In 1955 Zenith introduced the Flashmatic, the world's first wireless remote control. The Flashmatic operated by flashing a bright directional light at photo detectors on the TV. The Flashmatic system had severe limitations because it was susceptible to interference from outside light, especially from the sun.

The limitations of the Flashmatic led Zenith to develop the Space Command remote control under the leadership of Dr. Robert Adler. The Space Command used ultrasonic, high frequency sounds, generated by physically striking aluminum tubes (approx 2. inches long) with a small hammer, which were then detected by the TV. The Space Command included controls for channel up and down, sound on and off, and TV on and off, and became the first practical wireless remote control.

The first consumer line of color Zenith TVs was introduced in 1961. And throughout the 60s and 70s Zenith introduced numerous innovations to the color TV market, such as the Chromacolor picture tube in 1969, which doubled the picture brightness of color TV, and the first 25 inch TV screen in 1972.

In the 1970s, like all American consumer electronics manufacturers, Zenith started facing stiff competition from companies based in the Far East. Zenith met the challenge by diversifying its business. In 1979 Zenith purchased the Heath Company, a manufacturer of hobby electronic kits that also entered the personal computer market. Building on Heath's PC operations, Zenith expanded its computer business into a billion dollar operation by the time it sold it in 1989. Zenith also started manufacturing cable television products in the late 70s, and became a leading supplier of set-top boxes. It sold its cable products division in 2000.

In 1982, Zenith made its last radios and changed its name from Zenith Radio Corporation to Zenith Electronics Corporation. Even though it no longer made radios, Zenith continued research and development efforts in TV related audio systems.

Zenith continued to introduce television innovations during the 1980s and 1990s, including a patented flat TV tube technology, TV sets with Bose sound in 1986 and Dolby Surround Sound in 1986, and the first televisions with built-in closed caption systems in 1991.

Despite its efforts in diversification and innovation, facing tough competition from Japan, Zenith got into financial trouble in the 1980s. In 1995, LG Electronics Inc., a South Korean consumer electronics company, provided Zenith with a cash infusion in exchange for a majority share of the company. In 1999 LG Electronics purchased the remaining share of Zenith, and Zenith became a subsidiary of LGE.

Zenith was a key player in developing the HDTV standard and today is a major manufacturer of HDTV televisions of various display technologies.



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