Nothing Between You and the TV But Space!

Zenith Space CommandWe can all thank Robert Adler for the ability to be complete couch potatoes while watching TV.  Born December 4, 1913, Robert Adler held 180 patents for electronic devices but he is best known for having invented the first useable wireless television remote control.

The first remote control known as “Lazy Bones” was developed in the 1950’s by Zenith.  This remote used a cable that ran from the TV to the user. An idea for a wireless remote control was devised by fellow Zenith engineer Eugene Polley. This remote control used light beams to control the television. The problem was that when the television was in direct sunlight it would often turn on by itself.

Instead of using light, Robert Adler, associate director of research at Zenith at the time, had an idea to use inaudible sound waves to control the power, volumes and stations on the television. His first remote control used four aluminum rods that emitted high -frequency sounds when struck at one end. The four rods each about 2 and 1/2 inches were cut to lengths that generated four different frequencies. Each rod was for a different television control: one for channel up, one for channel down, one for sound on and off and one for power.

Zenith Space CommandThe new remote which was about the size of a paperback book and called “Zenith Space Command.” It hit the markets in 1956. The addition of the ability to use the remote control increased the cost of a television set approximately $100. The cost was so high because six additional vacuum tubes had to be inserted into the television to process the signals. Despite the increased cost, the remote was a success. In many living rooms, the remote was known as “the Clicker.”

Zenith marketed the new remote with the tagline “Nothing between you and the TV but space!” The technology developed by Robert Adler was used in remote controls until the early 1980’s when infrared remotes were introduced.  During those years, more than nine million televisions using the remote were sold.