Late Night: When we still made stuff – Geek Edition
A lot has been written about how the post-WWII boom in housing, military and automobile manufacturing brought us the prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s, but I thought I would go into some of what was also going on in the technology field of the times as well.
After WWII consumer electronics began to really take off. Or more specifically, home entertainment. Television, or TV, was of course the biggie, with a very large number of companies making television sets, a list of those doing so beginning in 1949 is here. But most were still very expensive, averaging around $200.00 or more depending on the screen size. Nearly 2 grand ($2000.00) today. So it’s no surprise that in 1951 only 23% of the homes had a TV, but by 1956 70% did, and by 1962 90% did. This rise in 10 years can be attributed to people like Earl “Madman” Muntz, a self-taught engineer and shrewd businessman who figured out how to get the parts’ count down in the sets to the bare minimum and thereby being able to sell his sets for often under 100 bucks, putting them in the financial reach of the average city worker.
The big manufacturers quickly followed suit, offering less expensive tabletop and “portable” sets, eliminating the big power transformers and using fewer tubes. While all this was going on, the war of color TV between CBS and RCA was raging full speed. Nearly as soon as monochrome television became practical, the ability to send and receive in color was being developed. The CBS system used a line sequential method, and RCA a dot sequential method. The CBS method, though, used more bandwidth but would give a better picture and was not completely compatible with the B&W TV of the time. The RCA systems promised to be, even though RCA had yet to produce a marketable product.
The RCA method eventually won out and was adopted by the FCC and the NTSC (National Television System Committee) – on both of which RCA had considerable influence. The first sets produced by RCA cost around $1000.00 (nearly 9 grand today). The cost of color TVs did eventually fall to around $500.00 by 1959, (4 grand in today’s money). Still a hefty sum. But one could buy them on time from nearly every dealer, like a used car since that is nearly what they cost. But people were buying them more and more. The pictures were getting brighter and sharper, and you could actually watch them in a lit room. But they were not without their problems. [cont’d.]