Someone INVENTED It: Remote Control

How many remotes do you have? Six? Twelve? Count the ones in your junk drawer and you may have more than that. The remote is another one of those things that has become such a part of our lives that we don’t think about it. Of course, the remote was largely unheard of until the 1960s, and even by the 1980s it was a luxury item. Today they’re sold at drugstores for under $10.

The first remote control, and the first remote-controlled device, were shown in 1898 believe it or not by uber-genius Nikola Tesla, the man who invented most of our electrical power grid, not to mention the speedometer. (He also tried to invent ways to transmit electrical power wirelessly but that didn’t work out very well for the cows he fried along the way.) Radio control was great, but it was far out of the range of normal folks. Infrared remotes came along in the 1970s, and flourished because they could be made more cheaply and didn’t require FCC certification. The first programmable universal remote came along in the 1980s thanks to Steve Wozniak, and easily-programmed ones were not far behind thanks to Paul Darbee. But it all started with Mr. Tesla and that wonderful brain of his.

Today’s remote is a complex computer all by itself, with onboard storage, 75 or more buttons, and even programmability. The ultimate remote, according to some, is a smartphone; and the humble $10 remote may someday disappear again if everyone moves over to using a phone to control the TV.

In the meantime, take look at that pile of remotes on the coffee table or between the couch cushions and say out loud, “Someone INVENTED it… and I know who!”