1922 Color TV Concept

This week, Fun Friday takes you back to 1922, courtesy of our friends at Paleofuture. They’ve unearthed an issue of Science and Invention magazine showing a big-screen color TV concept from 1922. Take a look:

Yeah, it’s kind of ironic that the image of the TV itself is in black and white. But then, color printing was too expensive for magazines back then.

You can read their analysis here, but I’d like to point out that there’s a lot to unpack in this one image. Let’s take a look.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way.

Look at the image on the screen. I am pretty sure this is what passed for porn in 1922. Seriously. Two guys in a room watching a movie of women in (for the time) revealing dresses. Seems tame today but it wasn’t back then. So, obviously this isn’t a new problem: All this technology, we can use it for the betterment of the species and we’re watching porn. Nice.

The TV is big. Really big.

I’m pretty sure that literally everything in this drawing except the two guys and the chairs is part of the TV. All of the dials, that big thing that the older fellow’s leaning on, all of it. I’m pretty sure that box at upper left is supposed to be full of glowing vacuum tubes, which would have been pretty futuristic 100 years ago.

A dial, or a microphone?

Right under the head of the guy sitting down is something that could be a telephone dial. I don’t think it is. I think it’s a microphone. Here’s a Western Electric mike from those days:

Either way, the whole point is that this was designed as an interactive experience from day one. Those clever folks in 1922 were already thinking about Skype. They were pretty sure TV would be a two-way experience, something we got a taste of a mere 40 years later.

This is the first lady of the United States making a video phone call in 1964 at the World’s Fair. It was possible back then — land lines only, of course — but it wasn’t cheap. Video phone service never took off until our cell phones let us do it for free.

One last thing… the horn

That big circle under the screen would have been very recognizable to readers in 1922. Back then most music players were about the size of a large dresser and worked without electricity. Here’s a fairly compact one:

This record player played shellac records — vinyl hadn’t been invented yet — and the sound came out that big metal horn. I’m pretty sure that’s what the illustrator was showing in the drawing.

So it’s not surprising…

Color TV wasn’t invented for about 30 years after this painting appeared in a magazine. There was a lot of work to do on the technology as well as the design. By the way though, 1966 is often quoted as the first year that color television reached widespread acceptance, and no surprise here: it was also the first year the Miss America pageant was broadcast in color. I guess the people from 1922 got something right.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.