THIS YEAR MARKS television's 50th year. At the 1939 World's Fair, RCA launched public transmission with a speech by President Roosevelt projected onto the mirrored lid of its TRK-12.
Although conceived of in Germany in 1884, television has always seemed uniquely American, especially after our own Philo T. Farnsworth invented the electronic picture tube that made viewing in the home possible. Three years before the World's Fair, 150 New York families had enjoyed an experimental telecast of "Felix the Cat."
By 1946, 175,000 Americans were watching Milton Berle on inventively styled sets--geometrically embellished, two-toned wooden consoles, futuristically finned or torpedo-shaped Bakelite table tops and chunky Predictas with swivel picture tubes on top. Tiny screens were augmented by magnifiers.
Five years later, Lucille Ball entertained one-fourth of the country on boxy receivers with bigger screens produced in the United States by 140 companies.
By 1963, when annual sales surpassed $1 billion, nearly every American family owned a set. The avant-garde took battery models to the beach and watched Gleason. To lower costs, manufacturers introduced automated assembly equipment and opened plants abroad. Today, annual sales top $6.6 billion.
Fancifully decorative old American TVs are sold, swapped and restored by a few collectors. William Kaplan (see italics below) has the legendary 1939 RCA TRK-12 "World's Fair" console and several projection models. Robert Goodman has late-'40s Art Deco table-top models. Jerry's Vintage Radio and Harvey's Antiques have swivel-tube Predictas. Gary Miller's pre-1950s models include RCA's first entertainment center. Charles Murray has 100 heirlooms plus early color sets.
Vintage TVs are sold by William Kaplan in Torrance; Robert Goodman in Canoga Park (818) 883-0525; G.W. Miller in Orange; Jerry's Vintage Radio in Canyon Country; Harvey's Antiques in Hollywood, and Charles Murray in Northridge (213) 472-3930. Panorama Electronics in Panorama City and Sun Electronics in Venice also carry vintage TVs.