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Fascinating vintage TV set ads from the 1950s


Television was introduced to Americans in 1939 and gained a foothold after World War II. In the 1950s, a boom in TV set sales and programming made TV America a preferred source of entertainment.

In 1950, only 20 percent of American homes had a TV set. Ten years later, nearly 90 percent of homes had a TV—and some even had color TVs.

To meet this growing demand, the number of TV stations, channels and programs increased. The 1950s was truly the golden age of television.

To attract buyers, manufacturers and advertising agencies created many interesting advertisements that tried to persuade people to buy TV sets. Some of these great TV commercials are collected in this article.


Early electronic television sets were large and heavy, with analog circuits made from vacuum tubes. As an example, the RCA CT-100 color TV set used 36 vacuum tubes.

After the invention of the first working transistor at Bell Labs, Sony founder Masaru Ibuka predicted in 1952 that the transition to electronic circuits made of transistors would lead to smaller and more portable television sets.

The first fully transistorized, portable solid-state television set was the 8-inch Sony TV8-301, developed in 1959 and released in 1960.

However, the first fully transistorized color TV set, the HMV Colormaster Model 2700, was released by the British Radio Corporation in 1967.

This led to a shift in television viewership from a communal viewing experience to a solitary viewing experience. By 1960, Sony had sold over 4 million portable television sets worldwide.


By 1949 Americans who lived within range of the growing number of television stations in the country could watch, for example, The Texaco Star Theater (1948), starring Milton Berle, or the children's program, Howdy Doody (1947).

They could also choose between two 15-minute news broadcasts on CBS TV News (1948) with Douglas Edwards and NBC's Camel News Caravan (1948) with John Cameron Swayze (which was awarded a burning by a tobacco company sponsor). Cigarettes were required, when he was always visible (on camera).

Many early shows such as Amos 'n' Andy (1951) or The Jack Benny Show (1950–65) were borrowed from the older, more established Big Brother of early television: network radio.

Most formats of the new programs were also borrowed from news broadcasts, situation comedies, variety shows and drama radio.

NBC and CBS took the money needed to establish this new medium from their radio profits. However, television networks would soon be making substantial profits of their own, and network radio would all but disappear as a carrier of hourly news broadcasts.

Thoughts, visuals, on what to do with the television that were added to the radio sometimes seemed to be in short supply. On news programs, in particular, the temptation was to fill the screen with "talking heads", with newscasters simply reading the news, as they might have for radio.

For shots of news events, networks initially relied on newsreel companies whose work had previously been shown at film studios.


By the mid-1950s, television programming was in a transitional state. In the early part of the decade, most television programming was broadcast live from New York City and tended to be based on that city's theatrical traditions.

However, within a few years, most of the signature genres of entertainment TV—situational comedies, westerns, soap operas, adventures, quiz shows, and police and medical dramas—were introduced and spread throughout network schedules.

Much of this change was linked to the fact that the center of the television production industry was moving to the Los Angeles area, and programming was changing accordingly: the live theatrical style was giving way to shows recorded on film in Hollywood traditions.


Sylvester Weaver, president of NBC television, produced "Fantastic", a notable example being Peter Pan (1955), starring Mary Martin, which attracted 60 million viewers.

Weaver also developed the Today magazine-format program, which began in 1952 with Dave Garroway as host (until 1961) and The Tonight Show, which began in 1953 (until 1957) hosted by Steve Allen.

The third network, ABC, made its first profit with youth-oriented shows such as Disneyland, which debuted in 1954 (and has since aired under various names), and The Mickey Mouse Club.

The programming that dominated the two major networks in the mid-1950s borrowed heavily from another medium: theatre.

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