Origins of ordinary things: TV remote control

Imagine having to stand up and press buttons on the TV each time you want to turn down the volume, go to another channel or make any basic change while watching TV.

Imagine having to stand up and press buttons on the TV each time you want to turn down the volume, go to another channel or make any basic change while watching TV. It sounds pretty annoying, doesn’t it? Well, that is what people had to put up with before the remote control was invented.

Now controlling the TV is easy, thanks to Zenith Electronics an American corporation that invented the first TV remote control in 1950. The remote control was called Lazy Bones and it was connected to the TV by a cable. Lazy Bones could turn the TV on and off and also change channels. This is according to the article “The Invention of Wireless TV Remote Control” by Idea Finder, an online platform that disseminates information about original ideas.


Although people were pleased about the idea of remote-controlling their televisions, they did not like the fact that the cable connecting the television to the remote was big and often caused accidents.


In 1955, Eugene Polley an engineer at Zenith Electronics developed the first wireless TV remote control which was operated by four photocells. Because the remote was operated by photocells, sunlight would sometimes change channels randomly. This is discussed in the article “History of the Television Remote Control” by ThoughtCo, an online knowledge dissemination platform.


A year later, Robert Adler an Australian-born American developed a wireless remote control called the Zenith Space Command for the Zenith Electronics Corporation. The remote used ultrasound to change the channel, volume and to switch the TV on and off. This is according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

The Zenith Space Command was the first commercially successful remote control. According to ThoughtCo, over nine million units were sold. Adler’s invention remained popular until 1980 when infrared devices which current remote controls are made of, were introduced.

Although TV remote controls are the most popular kind, they are not the first to be invented. According to the article “What is the history of the remote control?” by Nathan Chandler a researcher and technology innovation writer, the first remote was unveiled in 1898. It was invented by Serbian-American Nikola Tesla. His invention would later be used during World War I and II to direct military weapons at rival armies from a distance.

Some writers say that in coming up with different ways by which remote controls could be used, the developers were trying to find alternative uses after the Second World War had ended.

TV remote controls, much like other types of remote controls provide a lot of convenience for users, especially those who are incapacitated. And yet because they can be operated while sitting down, the remote controls have been said to contribute to laziness and obesity. They have also been a subject of family spats whereby people fight over which channel to watch.

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