After more than a decade, Mister Boomer recently bought a new television. The shock and awe of what is available today versus even a decade ago — when the TV depth was wider than the screen itself — got Mister B thinking about TVs in our boomer days.

Fifty years ago TVs were a complex series of tubes and transistors. There were more than 90 manufacturers of TVs in the U.S. in the 1950s and ’60s, all to serve the growing Baby Boom population, while today there are none.

The explosion of TV’s popularity directly correlated with the Baby Boom. Immediately after the War companies geared up to make TVs. By the 1950s, more than 90 companies made TVs in the U.S. By 1964 more than 90 percent of U.S. households had a TV. Just ten years earlier, only 55 percent of the country owned a television.

Mister Boomer clearly recalls all the TVs his family had, from the time he was old enough to watch cartoons. It was much later that he read the name on the family TV — Muntz. As far as Mister B can tell, this was the first TV his family owned when he was born, and it lasted for more than a decade. It sat in the living room, the first TV with built-in retractable antennae. The tiny black & white picture tube was housed in a cherry or mahogany-finished wood cabinet.

Muntz began selling TVs in 1947. Earl “Madman” Muntz was a self-taught businessman, entrepreneur, inventor and electrical engineer. By dissecting other brands of TVs, he devised a way to cut the number of components within the workings. The result was a TV that was less expensive to produce than his competitors. Mister Muntz, always the innovator, shipped his TVs factory-direct to the consumer, so the cost savings could be passed along. Perhaps that is the reason Mister Boomer’s family owned a Muntz in his very early years.

Mister B was surprised to see that the Muntz model in this commercial coincides with his memory of the family’s Muntz.

By the time Mister B was a pre-teen, the Muntz was replaced by a Sylvania. It was somewhere around the late 1950s or early 60s, so it made sense that the cabinet to this TV was finished in mid-century blonde wood, which matched Mister B’s mom’s end tables to a tee. The TV was ultra modern, and had the controls in an indentation on the top right of the wooden cabinet.

Through various incarnations from 1910 to 1923, early versions of Sylvania concentrated on making and refilling light bulbs. In 1924 the company — then called Sylvania Products Company — began a quest to build a radio tube. They were so successful that it became their primary business. Only RCA manufactured more radio tubes. The company partnered with Philco to ship radios with tubes installed throughout the 1930s.

1941 saw the company shift production to the War effort. By 1944, a Radio and Television division had been formed as factories that had been making tubes for the Army and radar scopes for the Navy transferred their knowledge to the civilian world. The first Sylvania TVs were sold out of Sears, Roebuck & Co., in 1949. In 1963 the company began producing its first color TVs for public consumption (Mister B’s family stuck with black & white). The company merged with GT&E and became GTE Sylvania in the early 1970s. In the early 1980s the company sold the rights to the Sylvania brand and ceased TV production in the U.S. as that entity. Sylvania TVs are currently produced by Netherlands’ NV Philips.

The third TV Mister Boomer remembers was an Admiral. Also a black & white set, this one sat on a wooden rectangle that was painted gray and black, with clear plastic roller wheels attached on the bottom to move the TV into viewing position. There was no reason for the wheels in the Boomer living room, as the TV always sat against the only wall available, opposite the couch and window. This TV probably entered the Boomer household in the late 1960s. This is the set the family watched when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. It was also of note for Mister B because as his parents got a hand-me-down color console TV from his then-married Brother Boomer, the TV was relegated to the basement, where it stayed until Mister B moved out on his own. It was, therefore, the first TV he ever “owned.” He sold the TV in the early 1980s (it still worked, tubes and all!), buying his first color portable at that time.

Admiral TVs are still made — under the auspices of AOC International — but they are not manufactured in the U.S.

The last American-made TVs rolled off a production line in 1995, but now new companies — with new technologies — are on the scene, looking to produce the next generation of American-made TVs. Mister Boomer is just now trying to get used to HD, so what do you say we hold off developing those OLED TVs a while longer, OK?

What memories of your family’s TVs come to mind for you, boomers?

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  1. We had a Zenith, dark wood, purchased in the early ’50s. Followed up in the late 50s with a Westinghouse with a metal cabinet that looked like blond wood. Matched the blond wood finish on the end tables and coffee table. Had that for about 10 years when it was replaced by the color TV. My folks put off purchasing that TV as since our house was broken into contemporaneous with the purchase of TV #1, and one of my grandparents died ca the purchase of Mr. Westinghouse, they were reluctant to purchase #3. In the early 70s they purchased a portable for about $100.00.

    The TVs of the 50s were expensive even by today’s standards. The Zenith was $400.00. The Westinghouse purchased in 1957, was $200.00, when my father made about $2.00 per hour. These TVs broke down regularly and at the very least required a constant supply of tubes. The TV repairman was a frequent visitor to the jay residence. By contrast, our present living room TV was purchased in 1988 and was in the shop once, only for the repair person to tell me there was nothing wrong with the TV, but that the cable service line to the house needed replacing! Once the line was replaced, the ‘lines’ on channels 2 and 3 disappeared!

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