How America Clicked with the TV Remote

Nobody is ever going to list the TV remote as one of the most important inventions of all time. Maybe not even of the second half of the 20th century. But if the remote had never been invented, life would be meaningfully different. Think about it: if we all still had to get up from our couches and trudge across the room to change the station, there'd be no such thing as channel surfing. (Then again, we'd be thinner from the calories we burned.) Dealing with more than a handful of stations would be impossibly unwieldy, too -- no remote control, no 500-channel universe.

In short, the TV remote matters -- and it's it worth pausing to remember some of the most significant models to appear since 1950, plus a not-so-significant curiosity or two.

Lazy, indeed

In 1950, Zenith introduced America to the whole mindbending idea of controlling a TV from across the room. It did so with a remote with an inspired name: Lazy Bones. (Too bad it didn't catch on as a generic term for the entire category.) Lazy Bones only let you change the station. And it's not clear in this ad, but it was a wired remote. Even that was a mighty appealing concept -and wired remotes lasted at least into the 1980s. (My first VCR had one.)

Shoot your TV

Five years later, Zenith rendered Lazy Bones obsolete with Flash-Matic, its first wireless remote. It resembled a Buck Rogers ray-gun, and people using it in ads looked alarmingly like they were zapping their TV sets. But it was pretty much just a flashlight: you performed different functions by aiming it at different corners of the screen. One of its innovations: you could use it to mute the audio, which Zenith promoted as being a great antidote to pesky commercials.

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