Archive for the ‘Americana’ Category

Nowadays it seems that there are more television commercials than show on television. If fact if you watch any of your favorite one hour programs, there are only 44 minutes of the show (which includes all the credits, etc.) and a whopping 16 minutes of commercials. That is more than 20% of the entire hour, mor ethen 25% of the length of the show.

But did you ever wonder when it all started. What is the history of the first television commercial? What was it and when was it shown?

The first television commercial was shown in the United States on July 1, 1941. It was a 10 second spot by the Bulova Watch company. It aired on the New York City affiliate WNBT (now WNBC) before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies and lasted 10 seconds.

The commercial was very simple – not much more than a print ad on film really. It showed a Bulova watch displayed on top of a map of the United States with a voiceover that said “America runs on Bulova time!”

The cost for this commercial – a whopping $9.00. (In today’s dollars, that comes to about $120.00.)

When most of us think of television and television history, we tend to think of when our families got their first television set – usually sometime in the 1950’s. That is the time when television became somewhat affordable for the masses. But in truth, the history of television began in 1875. Here is a brief chronology of the early events of television history.

  • 1875 – George R. Carey proposes the idea od a television system where each picture element is simultaneously tramsmitted.
  • 1880 – The idea of scanning an image is propsed by E.E. Sawyer and Maurice LeBlanc.
  • 1900 – The term television is first coined by Constantin Perskyi at the Paris Exposition.
  • 1921 – Charles Francis Jenkins forms Jenkin Laboratories in Washington to develop radio movies to be broadcast to the home.
  • May 19,1922 – Charles Jenkins achieves his first successful transmission in his laboratories.
  • October 3, 1922 – Charles Jenkins demonstrates television. It was different than modern television however. He sent still images by telephone wire from Washington to the Navy station in Anacostia and then transmitted them back to the post offfice in Washington via wireless transmission.
  • June 14, 1923 – Jenkins successfully transmits television in themodern sense.
  • December 29, 1923 – Zworykin applies for a patent on the idea of an all electronic television system.
  • June 13, 1925 – Jenkins performs a synchronized transmission of sound and pictures. Jenkins called this technology radiovision.

To learn more about the early milestones of television, visit A U.S. Television Chronology, 1875-1970.

The 1939 New York World’s Fair time capsule was created by Westinghouse as part of their exhibit. It measured 90 inches in height, weighed 800 pounds and had an interior diameter of 6.5 inches. It was constructed of a copper, chromium and silver alloy which Westinghouse named “Cupaloy”, which they claimed was harder than steel. It contained everyday items such as a spool of thread and doll, a Book of Record, a vial of staple food crop seeds, a microscope and a 15-minute RKO Pathe Pictures newsreel. Microfilm spools condensed the contents of a Sears Roebuck catalog, dictionary, almanac, and other texts.

Old movies and old tv commercials often have one thing in common. When we look at them from our jaded Hollywood slicked eye, they often look funny, primitive and old. And we wonder how people could have sat through an old black and white movie with no special effects or old tv commercials with no animations and a corny story line.

One thing for certain though, many old tv commercials are funny because they are dated and so simplistic. It is fun to watch old tv commercials – the classics – for our favorite products and compare them to modern tv commercials for the same products.

In fact, it can be downright fun to watch television commercials like this collection of classic tv commercials. It makes for a nice night of remembrance and quite a few laughs to pop the popcorn, pop in the classic tv commercials DVD and just relax and unwind with some of your favorite oldies. And it is great for the kids too – as they will get a kick out of all these funny tv commercials – and who knows – they may even get excited by something from your childhood memory instead of the latest slick video games for just a few moments.

The North American Indian (1907-1930), by Edward S. Curtis, was published in a limited edition and sold by subscription. This project was launced in 1907 and subscriptions to the series were sold for $3,000 each at that time (estimated to be about $21,000 in 2006 dollars.) By 1924, the price of a subscription rose to $4,20. Curtis planned on selling 500 subscriptions but by the time the project was liquidated in 1935, he was able to secure only 220 subscriptions.

The North American Indian series of 20 volumes is significant in many ways. From a historical perspective, it is a grand compilation of spectacular images of American Indians of various tribes living life and performing various ceremonies. Each volume contained 100 or so images and the entire collection had 2226 images in total covering a variety of Indian tribes, Apache, Sioux, Crow, Hopi, Shoshoneans and many others.

The other item of historical significance is that this is a very early example of an entrepreneur selling a product as a subscription series. This kind of selling is very common now – think book of the month club, wine of the month club, etc. – but back then it was very rare. So that also marks The North American Indian as a very interesting footnote in the realm of advertising history.