1950-1959 Advertising

This section features television-set print advertising for the 1950-1959 period.

USA Ads:  1950    1951    1952    1953    1954    1955    1956    1957    1958    1959

UK Ads:    1950  1951  1952  1953  1954  1955  1956  1957  1958  1959

German Ads: 1950s German Television Advertising

TV Screen Magnifying Lens

USA COLOR TELEVISION:  The Story of 5 Firsts ! [peacock courtesy of Ed Reitan]

Depending on how you want to frame your question, when someone asks: "Who sold the first FCC-Approved Commercial Color Television?", you might have to give FIVE answers!

  1. CBS-Columbia, in 1951
  2. 1954 Admiral, released for sale on December 30, 1953
  3. Westinghouse model H-840CK15, released in March 1954
  4. RCA model CT-100, released shortly after the Westinghouse in early 1954
  5. Zenith prototype sold to WGN-TV in Chicago in 1953 (date unknown)


FIRST:  1951 The New York Times - June 25, 1951

1951 CBS 12CC2 Color TV.JPG (34968 bytes) (35K) CBS-Columbia, Model 12CC2.  Size: 40-1/2" High x 33" Wide x 21-3/4" Deep

1951 June 25 CBS Color Set NYT Ad.JPG (247902 bytes) (248K)           1951 June 25 CBS Color Set NYT Ad TEXT.JPG (114252 bytes) (115K) Enlarged Text
(Courtesy Steve Dichter)

This full page ad announced the availability of the new "CBS-Columbia" Color Television Receiver, manufactured by Air King.  This set was partially electronic, with a mechanical color spinning wheel mounted in front of a B&W CRT.  Price:  $499.95.   Availability:  Late Summer, 1951.  Sales:  Extremely limited.  The first CBS-Columbia color broadcast was on June 25, 1951 (only a few dozen sets were operating that first night).  This system was abandoned in favor of the RCA 'all-electronic' color system.  The FCC reversed its CBS approval decision on December 17, 1953, after the Korean conflict came to a close.   Twenty-three million B&W sets were in the hands of consumers, and each would have required the installation of a converter (to receive color broadcasts in B&W), if the CBS system was adopted.   The RCA system was 100% compatible and did not require any adapters or converters, (or moving parts).

First Commercial Color Broadcast -- was by CBS, on June 25, 1951 at 4:35PM EST, over station WCBS, New York, for the Ed Sullivan show.  This one-hour gala color premier could only be received by about two dozen sets like the one shown above.  The final color broadcast using this mechanical spinning wheel system was on October 20, 1951, with the North Carolina-Maryland football game.  There were other color shows listed in the TV Guide for that week, but they were never broadcast.  The reason given for the demise of the CBS system was the request by the US Defense Department to stop manufacturing the sets to save critical materials for the impending Korean conflict.

Training Materials for the CBS Mechanical Color System

1951 Sept TV Tech.JPG (43508 bytes)  (43K)
Volume One (January 1951) and Volume Two (September 1951) Training Manuals for the CBS mechanical color television system.  8-1/2" x 11", about 50 pages each. 

Click here to see inside this manual.


SECOND:  December 30th, 1953 launch of Admiral color television

"Watching TV" by Castleman, pg. 85  (79K bytes)

(79K) -- Those long-time visitors to this website know that the question about the first Admiral color television set, and when it was launched --- has been something I have been trying to document since the site was first launched in 2001.  My thanks to Steve Dichter for tracking down this page of information in the book titled: Watching TV - Four Decades of American Television, by Harry Castleman and Walter J. Podrazik, which precisely identifies the December 30th, 1953, as the launch of "The first compatible color TV sets, built by Admiral, PRICE: $1,175".

1954 Admiral Color TV Shown in Littlefuse Ad -- (43K bytes)  (43K) - Littlefuse Advertisement showing the "First Admiral Color TV set" (Courtesy Robert W. Stephens)

1954 Admiral Model C1617A Tech Info  (300K bytes) (300K) -- Admiral Model C1617A -- 15" Screen -- Tech Info  (Courtesy Pete Deksnis)

Bruce Buchanan's 1954 Admiral  (25K bytes) (25K) -- Bruce Buchanan's 1954 Admiral Color Television (only known verified set to exist)



THIRD:  1954  The New York Times

1954 Westinghouse Color NYT Ad.JPG (170680 bytes) (171K)     1954 H840CK15 Westinghouse Color TV.JPG (13368 bytes) (13K) Steve McVoy Collection  1954 Westinghouse Color NYT Ad TEXT.JPG (164406 bytes) (165K) Enlarged Text
(Ad Courtesy of Steve Dichter)

Rob Stephens' 1954 Westinghouse - REAR  (35K bytes) (35K)    Rob Stephens' 1954 Westinghouse - CHASSIS  (40K bytes) (40K)    Rob Stephens' 1954 Westinghouse - CHASSIS  (40K bytes) (40K)    Rob Stephens' 1954 Westinghouse - CHASSIS  (45K bytes) (45K)
Interior Cabinet and Chassis Views (
Robert W. Stephens collection)

This full page ad from the April 1954 (exact date unknown) issue of The New York Times, tells about the new Westinghouse color TV, with a 15 inch picture tube, selling for an astounding $1295.  This set beat the RCA CT-100 (below) to market by a matter of weeks.  Sales were very limited -- in fact, after one-month of advertising and promotion in 60 New York City stores, just one set was sold!  It can be assumed that sales in other major cities were just as dismal.  Final production number was 500 units.  True sales were a fraction of that.


FOURTH:  1954  The New York Times

1954 CT-100 Ad.JPG (187474 bytes) (188K)      1954 RCA CT-100.JPG (19635 bytes) (19K)  Steve McVoy Collection  1954 CT-100 Ad-TEXT.JPG (271657 bytes) (272K) Enlarged Text
(Ad Courtesy of Steve Dichter)

This full page ad announced the new RCA CT-100, an all-electronic, fully compatible color television set.  Price:  $1,000.  Had a 12-1/2 inch viewable screen size.  Sales: 75,000 predicted -- less than 5,000 sets actual.

**  Most collectors and historians consider this to be America's first color TV. **

In December of 1954, RCA introduced their 21" color TV. Several other manufacturers had already begun to offer 19" sets for sale.   Consequently, RCA was pressured to buy back the few CT-100's purchased earlier that year and replace them with the new and improved 21" sets.  Dealers cut the remaining CT-100's in stock to $495.00 in order to try and sell them.  The warehouses were full of unsold CT-100 sets.  RCA donated many of these recalled and unsold sets to colleges, universities and trade schools. Others were sold at HEAVY discounts to RCA employees.   Although the number recorded in history books is 5,000 units sold, the common belief (amongst collectors) is that the actual number sold to the public was considerably less.



FIFTH:  1953  Zenith Annual Report

According to Zenith in their Annual Report for the year ending December 31, 1953, they take credit for the first sale of an NTSC color television. Here's what the report says:

"Zenith made the first commercial sale of a compatible color television manufactured under the NTSC standards as approved by the FCC. This Zenith set was purchased by the Chicago Tribune's station, WGN-TV, in 1953.  Production of similar sets will be limited, as explained in the President's message to stockholders."

"One of the primary reasons for building new color sets was Zenith's belief that they would be useful to help our distributor and sales organizations keep in step with the latest developments. They will also be of great value in the company’s program of training service personnel. This problem is national in scope and Zenith experts are preparing to handle it on a national basis.”

“Because it has been one of the pioneers in color TV, Zenith is in an especially advantageous position with regard to new developments. When a color receiver can be made with good picture size, simplified circuits, and popular prices, Zenith will be making that receiver. For the interim, no effort is being spared in the search for logical solutions to these problems.”

Quoting a discussion thread on the AudioKarma.org site, Mike Drown says:  "The set sold to WGN-TV was apparently one of the field-test prototypes, examples of which were present at all of the FCC tests of the NTSC system. A few of these sets have survived, one of which I own. Color broadcasts were being discretely transmitted for about three hours a week in Chicago throughout 1953, so Zenith could test their equipment and receivers in the field. I’ve been told that Zenith President McDonald wanted to beat RCA with the first NTSC color TV sold, and I guess technically he did, although it wasn’t a regular production model.  Zenith didn’t market a color set until 1959.

I would like to thank Wayne Bretl for sending the Annual Report to me."



Read about Experimental 600-line British Color Television by Baird in 1941


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