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A brief history of the evolution of TV: From the 1920s to the 2020s

Television has certainly come a long way since its beginnings. It’s almost impossible to imagine what TV will be like 100 years from now.

old crt tv on table disrupting internet
Image: Unsplash

For the younger generations, it may be hard to imagine a time when television wasn’t high-definition, shown in color, or even existing at all, but this was the reality just 100 years ago – at least the modern idea of TV didn’t exist yet.

In the 1860s, an Italian professor by the name of Giovanni Caselli created a device called the pantelegraph that could transport images across long distances.

At the time, this was a fantastic invention (keep in mind that the telegraph and the first telephone were both invented in the 19th century), but it was nothing compared to what came about throughout the 20th century.

smart tv on stand
Image: Unsplash

The 1920s: The First Working TV

In 1924, Scottish inventor John Baird invented the first TV made of things he found, such as cardboard and a bicycle lamp. Five years later, the Baird Televisor was sold commercially. It had a screen no larger than a postage stamp and created a low-resolution image using reflective lights.

The 1930s: The First Electric TVs

The Baird Televisor from 1929 was a mechanical television set and soon became obsolete after electric televisions (which were easier to mass produce) became available. In the 1930s, inventors combined television with another form of popular media at the time: the radio. The HMV (His Master’s Voice) was the first of its kind to combine the two.

The 1940s: Network Television

By the late 1940s, the price of TVs had dropped, so many more people than ever before were able to watch television for the first time. This decade also saw popular TV shows such as The Howdy Doody Show and Texaco Star Theater come about, as well as the popular networks ABC, CBS, and NBC— all of which still exist today.

The 1950s-1960: Remote Controls, Daytime TV and Sitcoms

The first TV remote was invented in 1950, but since TV had been popular without it for the last decade, not many people bought it. However, the 1950s did see the many TV watchers catching onto the daytime television trend of soap operas – mainly by women, also known as “housewives” at the time. The legendary TV sitcom I Love Lucy was also broadcast during this time, reaching over 67 million viewers. A decade later, the home entertainment center was introduced.

The 1970s: The Introduction of Color Television and Cable

Even though color TV was introduced in the ‘70s, the price of black and white TVs dropped so low that for the first time, many families had more than one TV in their homes. The country and the world became even more connected with news as coverage of current events, such as the Vietnam War, was broadcast on local and cable networks. This was also a time when more TV channels became available.

The 1980s-1990s: VHS Tapes and Music Television

vhs tape

By the 1980s, over 50% of U.S. residents had at least one television in their home along with cable. Though VHS tapes were invented in the ‘70s, they became extremely popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Movies that could only be seen in drive-ins and theaters were now available in the home. TV shows also got a new look during this time, most notably the popularity of MTV.

The 2000s-2010s: High Definition and 3D TV

The turn of the century saw the emergence of flat-screen TVs with high-definition pictures, replacing box TV sets. The late ‘90s and early 00s also saw people switching from cable to satellite television. In the 2010s, companies started testing out 3D TVs, while streaming services became more popular than both cable and satellite television.


Today, streaming services are slowly replacing cable and satellite. Many TVs now come standard with services such as Netflix and Hulu, though you can still access them through Roku and Amazon Firestick if your TV doesn’t have certain streaming services. Some streaming apps, such as Kodi, can be downloaded on all smart devices.

Television has certainly come a long way since its beginnings. It’s almost impossible to imagine what TV will be like 100 years from now.

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