Watching TV

A Timeline of Television History

(Notable Canadian dates are in bold.)


1831: Michael Faraday in Britain and Joseph Henry in the United States experiment with electromagnetism, providing the basis for research into electrical communication.

1844: Samuel Morse publicly demonstrates the telegraph for the first time.

1862: Italian physicist, Abbe Giovanni Caselli, is the first to send fixed images over a long distance, using a system he calls the "pantelegraph".

1873: Two English telegraph engineers, May and Smith, experiment with selenium and light, giving inventors a way of transforming images into electrical signals.

1880: George Carey builds a rudimentary system using dozens of tiny light-sensitive selenium cells.

1884: In Germany, Paul Nipkow patents the first mechanical television scanning system, consisting of a disc with a spiral of holes. As the disc spins, the eye blurs all the points together to re-create the full picture.

1895: Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi develops radio telegraphy and transmits Morse code by wireless for the first time.

1897: Karl Ferdinand Braun, a German physicist, invents the first cathode-ray tube, the basis of all modern television cameras and receivers.

1901: Marconi transmits a Morse code signal across the Atlantic Ocean.

1906: Lee Deforest develops the "Audion", a vacuum tube capable of amplifying signals, and thus crucial to the electronic revolution. Also this year, Boris Rosing of Russia develops a system combining the cathode ray with a Nipkow disc, creating the world's first working television system.

1907: Boris Rosing transmits black-and-white silhouettes of simple shapes, using a mechanical mirror-drum apparatus as a camera and a cathode-ray tube as a receiver.

1908 et 1911: A.A. Campbell-Swinton, a Scottish electrical engineer, publishes proposals about an all-electronic television system that uses a cathode-ray tube for both receiver and camera.

1919: The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) is formed.

1923: Vladimir Zworykin patents the "Iconoscope", an electronic camera tube. By the end of 1923 he has also produced a picture display tube, the "Kinescope". Also this year, the A.C. Nielsen Company is founded. Nielsen's market research is soon being used by companies deciding where to advertise on radio.

1924: John Logie Baird is the first to transmit a moving silhouette image, using a mechanical system based on Paul Nipkow's model.

1925: John Logie Baird obtains the first actual television picture, and Vladimir Zworykin takes out the first patent for colour television, although electronic colour systems are not fully developed until 25 years later.

1926: John Logie Baird gives the first successful public demonstration of mechanical television at his laboratory in London. Also this year, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is formed by Westinghouse, General Electric and RCA.

1927: The British Broadcasting Corporation is founded, and the Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System — later CBS — is formed. Pictures of Herbert Hoover, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, are transmitted 200 miles from Washington D.C. to New York, in the world's first televised speech and first long-distance television transmission.

1928: Station W2XBS, RCA's first television station, is established in New York City, creating television's first star, Felix the Cat — the original model of which is featured in Watching TV. Later in the year, the world's first television drama, The Queen's Messenger, is broadcast, using mechanical scanning. Also this year, John Logie Baird transmits images of London to New York via shortwave.

1929: In London, John Logie Baird opens the world's first television studio, but is still able to produce only crude and jerky images. However, because Baird's television pictures carry so little visual information, it is possible to broadcast them from ordinary medium-wave radio transmitters.

1930: The first commercial is televised by Charles Jenkins, who is fined by the U.S. Federal Radio Commission. Also this year, the BBC begins regular television transmissions.

1931: Owned jointly by CKAC and La Presse, Canada's first television station, VE9EC, starts broadcasting in Montreal. Ted Rogers, Sr. receives a licence to broadcast experimental television from his Toronto radio station. Also this year, RCA begins experimental electronic transmissions from the Empire State Building.

1932: Parliament creates the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, superseded by the CBC in 1936.

1933: Western Television Limited's mechanical television system is toured and demonstrated at Eaton's stores in Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg.

1935: William Hoyt Peck of Peck Television of Canada uses a transmitter in Montreal during five weeks of experimental mechanical broadcasts. Germany opens the world's first three-day-a-week filmed television service. France begins broadcasting its first regular transmissions from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

1936: There are about 2,000 television sets in use around the world. The BBC starts the world's first public high-definition/electronic television service in London.

1938: Allen B. DuMont forms the DuMont television network to compete with RCA. Also this year, DuMont manufactures the first all-electronic television set for sale to the North American public. One of these early DuMont television sets is featured in Watching TV.

1939: Because of the outbreak of war, the BBC abruptly stops broadcasting in the middle of a Mickey Mouse cartoon on September 1, resuming at that same point when peace returns in 1945. The first major display of electronic television in Canada takes place at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Baseball is televised for the first time.

1940: Dr. Peter Goldmark of CBS introduces a 343-line colour television system for daily transmission, using a disc of three filters (red, green and blue), rotated in front of the camera tube.

1941: North America's current 525-line/30-pictures-a-second standard, known as the NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) standard, is adopted.

1946: NBC and CBS demonstrate rival colour systems. The world's first television broadcast via coaxial cable is transmitted from New York to Washington D.C.

1947: A permanent network linking four eastern U.S. stations is established by NBC. On June 3, Canadian General Electric engineers in Windsor receive the first official electronic television broadcast in Canada, transmitted from the new U.S. station WWDT in Detroit. This year also sees the development of the transistor, on which solid-state electronics are based.

1948: Television manufacturing begins in Canada. The television audience increases by 4,000 percent this year, due to a jump in the number of cities with television stations and to the fact that one million homes in the U.S. now have television sets. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission puts a freeze on new television channel allocations until the problem of station-to-station interference is resolved.

1949: The first Emmy Awards are presented, and the Canadian government establishes an interim policy for television, announcing loans for CBC television development. An RCA research team in the U.S. develops the Shadow Mask picture tube, permitting a fully electronic colour display.

1950: Cable TV begins in the U.S., and warnings begin to be issued on the impact of violent programming on children. European broadcasters fix a common picture standard of 625 lines. By the 1970s, virtually all nations in the world used 625-line service, except for the U.S., Japan, and some others which adopted the 525-line U.S. standard. Over 100 television stations are in operation in the U.S.

1951: The first colour television transmissions begin in the U.S. this year. Unfortunately, for technical reasons, the several million existing black-and-white receivers in America cannot pick up the colour programmes, even in black-and-white, and colour sets go blank during television's many hours of black-and-white broadcasting. The experiment is a failure and colour transmissions are stopped. Also this year, the U.S. sees its first coast-to-coast transmission in a broadcast of the Japanese Peace Conference in San Francisco.

1952: Cable TV systems begin in Canada. On September 6, CBC Television broadcasts from its Montreal station; on September 8, CBC broadcasts from the Toronto station. The first political ads appear on U.S. television networks, when Democrats buy a half-hour slot for Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson is bombarded with hate mail for interfering with a broadcast of I Love Lucy. Eisenhower, Stevenson's political opponent, buys only 20-second commercial spots, and wins the election.

1953: A microwave network connects CBC television stations in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. The first private television stations begin operation in Sudbury and London. Queen Elizabeth's coronation is also televised this year, and the CBC beats U.S. competitors to the punch by flying footage across the Atlantic. TV Guide is launched this year, and the U.S. begins colour transmission again, this time successfully. Japanese television goes on the air for the first time.

1954: Magazines now routinely offer the homemaker tips on arranging living-room furniture for optimal television-viewing pleasure.

1956: Ampex Corporation demonstrates videotape recording, initially used only by television stations. Henri de France develops the SECAM (sequential colour with memory) procedure. It is adopted in France, and the first SECAM colour transmission between Paris and London takes place in 1960. Also this year, several Louisiana congressmen promote a bill to ban all television programmes that portray blacks and whites together in a sympathetic light.

1957: The Soviet Union launches the world's first Earth satellite, Sputnik.

1958: The CBC's microwave network is extended from Victoria, B.C. to Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia, to become the longest television network in the world. Pope Pius XII declares Saint Clare of Assisi the patron saint of television. Her placement on the television set is said to guarantee good reception.

1959: CBC Radio-Canada Montreal producers go on strike. Bonanza debuts, starring Canadian actor Lorne Greene.

1960: The Nixon-Kennedy debates are televised, marking the first network use of the split screen. Kennedy performs better on television than Nixon, and it is believed that television helps Kennedy win the election. Sony develops the first all-transistor television receiver, making televisions lighter and more portable. Ninety percent of American homes now own television sets, and America becomes the world's first "television society". There are now about 100 million television sets in operation worldwide.

1961: The Canadian Television Network (CTV), a privately owned network, begins operations. This year also marks the beginning of the Dodd hearings in the U.S., examining the television industry's "rampant and opportunistic use of violence".

1962: The Telstar television satellite is launched by the U.S., and starts relaying transatlantic television shortly after its launch. The first programme shows scenes of Paris. A survey indicates that 90 percent of American households have television sets; 13 percent have more than one.

1963: On November 22, regular television programming is suspended following news of the Kennedy assassination. On November 24, live on television, Jack Ruby murders Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy's suspected assassin. Kennedy's funeral is televised the following day. 96 per cent of all American television sets are on for an average 31 hours out of 72 during this period — watching, many say, simply to share in the crisis.

1964: The Beatles appear for the first time on Ed Sullivan Show Procter and Gamble, the largest American advertiser, refuses to advertise on any show that gives "offense, either directly or by inference, to any organized minority group, lodge or other organizations, institutions, residents of any State or section of the country or a commercial organization."

1965: The Vietnam War becomes the first war to be televised, coinciding with CBS's first colour transmissions and the first Asia-America satellite link. Protesters against the war adopt the television-age slogan, The whole world is watching. Also this year, Sony introduces Betamax, a small home videorecorder.

1966: Colour television signals are transmitted by Canadian stations for the first time.

1967: Sony introduces the first lightweight, portable and cheap video recorder, known as the "portapak". The portapak is almost as easy to operate as a tape-recorder and leads to an explosion in "do-it-yourself" television, revolutionizing the medium. Also this year, the FCC orders that cigarette ads on television, on radio and in print carry warnings about the health dangers of smoking.

1968: Sony develops the Trinitron tube, revolutionizing the picture quality of colour television. World television ownership nears 200 million, with 78 million sets in the U.S. alone. The U.S. television industry now has annual revenues of about $2 billion and derives heavy support from tobacco advertisers.

1969: On July 20, 1969, the first television transmission from the moon is viewed by 600 million viewers around the world. Sesame Street debuts on American Public Television, and begins to revolutionize adult attitudes about what children are capable of learning.

1971: Canada's Anik I, the first domestic geo-synchronous communications satellite, is launched, capable of relaying 12 television programmes simultaneously. India has a single television station in New Delhi, able to reach only 20 miles outside the city. South Africa has no television at all.

1972: The Munich Olympics are broadcast live, drawing an estimated 450 million viewers worldwide. When Israeli athletes are kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists during the games, coverage of the games cuts back and forth between shots of the terrorists and footage of Olympic events. The American-conceived Intelsat system is launched this year, becoming a network and controlling body for the world's communications satellite system.

1973: Ninety-six countries now have regular television service. Watergate unfolds on the air in the U.S. and ends the following year with Nixon's resignation. U.S. producers sell nearly $200 million dollars worth of programmes overseas, more than the rest of the world combined.

1975: A study indicates that the average American child during this decade will have spent 10,800 hours in school by the time he or she is 18, but will have seen an average 20,000 hours of television. Studies also estimate that, by the time he is 75, the average American male will have spent nine entire years of his life watching television; the average British male will have spent eight years watching.

1976: The Olympics, broadcast from Montreal, draw an estimated 1 billion viewers worldwide.

1977: South Africans see television for the first time on May 10, as test transmissions begin from the state-backed South Africa Broadcast Co. The Pretoria government has yielded to public pressure after years of banning television as being morally corrupting. Half the broadcasts are in English; half in Afrikaans.

1978: Ninety-eight percent of American households have television sets, up from nine percent in 1950. Seventy-eight percent have colour televisions, up from 3.1 percent in 1964.

1979: There are now 300 million television sets in operation worldwide. Flat-screen pocket televisions, with liquid crystal display screens, are patented by the Japanese firm Matsushita. The pocket television is no bigger than a paperback book.

1980: India launches its national television network. Also during the 1980s, in the U.S. and Germany, laws and policies are enacted to preserve a person's right to television in the event of financial setback. Later in the year, the U.S. Cable News Network (CNN) goes on the air in the U.S.

1991: During the Gulf War, CNN coverage of the conflict is so extensive and wide-ranging that it is commonly remarked — only half in jest — that Saddam Hussein is watching CNN for his military intelligence, instead of relying on his own information-gathering methods.

1993: A TV Guide poll finds that one in four Americans would not give up television even for a million dollars.

1996: There are over a billion television sets in operation around the world.

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