TV Remote Inventor Eugene Polley Dies At 96

Eugene Polley started his career with Zenith Radio Corp. in 1935. His 47-year engineering career spanned the pioneering days of radio, black-and-white television and color TV. His inventions, primarily in the field of television, earned 18 U.S. patents. According to Zenith, Polley's best known invention, the "Flash-Matic" remote control, was the world's first wireless TV remote, introduced in 1955.
By
TVNewsCheck,

Eugene J. Polley, best known as the inventor of the first wireless remote control for television, died of natural causes on May 20 in Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, Downers Grove, Ill. He was 96.

Polley started his career with Zenith Radio Corp. (now Zenith Electronics LLC, a subsidiary of LG Electronics) in 1935. His 47-year engineering career spanned the pioneering days of radio, black-and-white television and color TV.

Story continues after the ad

His inventions, primarily in the field of television, earned 18 U.S. patents. According to Zenith, Polley's best known invention, the "Flash-Matic" remote control, was the world's first wireless TV remote, introduced in 1955. It used a flashlight-like device to activate photo cells on the television set to change channels.

Polley worked his way up from the stockroom to the parts department, where he produced Zenith's first catalog, and then on to his long career in the engineering department.

During World War II, as part of Zenith's commitment to the war effort, Polley worked on radar advances for the U.S. Department of Defense. Polley also worked on the push-button radio for automobiles and on the development of the video disk, predecessor of today's DVD.

Over the years, Polley held key technology positions at Zenith, including as product engineer, mechanical engineer, head of video recording group, advanced mechanical design group and assistant division chief for the mechanical engineering group.

Brand Connections

Polley was the 2009 recipient of the Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award from the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers. Polley and fellow Zenith engineer Robert Adler were honored in 1997 with an Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for "Pioneering Development of Wireless Remote Controls for Consumer Television." Polley's innovation has been featured in numerous articles and television programs.

The inventor of the first wireless remote control for television, Eugene J. Polley was born in Chicago on Nov. 29, 1915. He attended the City Colleges of Chicago and Armour Institute. Polley, was called everything from the founding father of the couch potato to the czar of zapping to the beach boy of channel surfing.

Few would dispute the enormous impact of this invention, devised in an era of three or four VHF broadcast TV stations in most markets. Today, remote control is not a luxury but a necessity in navigating 500-plus digital cable or digital satellite channels, or controlling an HDTV, Blu-Ray Disc player, digital video recorder or home theater audio system — all at the touch of a button.

Polley ushered in the era of channel surfing in the middle of the 20th Century during the Golden Age of Television. Polley invented the "Flash-Matic," which represented the world's first wireless TV remote. Introduced in 1955, Flash-Matic operated by means of four photo cells, one in each corner of the TV screen. The viewer used a highly directional flashlight to activate the four control functions, which turned the picture and sound on and off and changed channels by turning the tuner dial clockwise and counter-clockwise.

Commander Eugene F. McDonald Jr., Zenith's late founder-president, believed TV viewers would not tolerate commercials. While developing and promoting the concept of commercial-free subscription television, McDonald yearned for a way for viewers to take back control from the advertisers. Polley's Flash-Matic accomplishes that goal. McDonald ordered it into production and honored Polley with the President's Award.

Building on Polley's innovation, fellow Zenith engineer, the late Dr. Robert Adler, later developed the next-generation wireless TV remote based on ultrasonic technology, Space Command. By the early 1980s, the industry moved from ultrasonic to infrared, or IR, remote technology. The IR remote works by using a low-frequency light beam, so low that the human eye cannot see it, but which can be detected by a receiver in the TV. Zenith's development of cable-compatible tuning and teletext technologies in the 1980s greatly enhanced the capabilities for infrared TV remotes.

Today, wireless remote pioneered by Polley, is a standard feature on virtually all consumer electronics products. The most sophisticated digital HDTV sets have remotes with as many as 50 buttons. Of course, in 2012, virtually all television sets, set-top boxes, video players/recorders and other home entertainment components sold in the United States are equipped with remote control.

He is survived by his son, Eugene J. Polley Jr., and grandson, Aaron, of San Diego, Calif. He was preceded in death by his wife, Blanche, and daughter, Joan Polley.

Visitation will be held May 22, 5-8 p.m., Brust Funeral Home, Lombard, Ill. A funeral mass will be held May 23 at 10 a.m., Sacred Heart Church, Lombard, followed by internment at Assumption Cemetery in Wheaton.

Tags

Comments (1) -

RustbeltAlumnus2 Nickname posted over 4 years ago
Sorry, the Flash-Matic was an early version of the remote, perhaps the first commercially available, but not the earliest patent. In 1898, a remote control suitable for television was described by Nikola Tesla in U.S. Patent 613809. Moreover, the Flash-Matic in 1955 was susceptible to interference from sunlight on sunny days. Robert Adler's 1956 version for Zenith was more reliable, though fairly expensive. Remotes only got cheap when IR technology came along in the 1980s.
Marketshare Blog Playout Blog

Twitter

TVNewsCheck

Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for сентября 29, 2016
  • 1.
    1.6/6
  • 2.
    1.2/4
  • 3.
    1.2/4
  • 4.
    0.9/3
  • 5.
    0.6/2
  • 6.
    0.3/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

This advertisement will close automatically in  second(s). You will see this ad no more than once a day. Skip ad