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Eugene Polley – Creator of the Earliest TV Remote Control Passes Away

In a modern digital age of ever-growing and ever-changing tech, we’ll soon be controlling our television viewing with motion control gadgets like Microsoft Kinect and voice assistant software like Samsung’s S Voice. It’s easy to take for granted the devices that paved the way these futuristic concepts. And today we are reminded of the humble remote control, whose inventor Eugene Polley passed away earlier this week at the age of 96.

Eugene Polley was born on November 29th, 1915 in Chicago, Illinois and he spent much of his early life in and around the city – But we’ll fast forward to 1935, and following education at The City Colleges of Chicago and Armour Institute of Technology he was hired as a humble stock boy by Zenith Electronics (which is now parented by the more familiarly known LG). After making it out of the stock room he put his real talent to use working with both Zenith and later on World War II radars for the U.S Department of Defence.

It was after 20 years of employment with Zenith that Polley came up with the concept for the imaginatively named “Flash-Matic” – a practically science-fictional gadget which resembled a cross between a handheld torch and a hair dryer that would allow the few black and white television owners of 1955 to change the station or volume from their set without actually having to leave their seat – something unheard of back in those days. This would be achieved by the earliest form of remote control, consisting of a handheld box featuring a light and a dial which would wirelessly transmit a light to four sensors on the TV – each performing a channel change or function. The technology was advanced for its time but often faulted, with light from other sources easily confusing the sensor – and sadly there was no Red Button!

Despite being the first of its kind, the Flash-Matic idea was overlooked somewhat while fellow Zenith engineer Robert Alder became more famously known as the inventor behind the television remote control which was adopted by all telly makers as the standard method of channel hopping. Polley has however been celebrated with a number of prestigious awards, most recently in 2009 he received the IEEE Consumer Electronics Award of this contributions to wireless remote control technology.

He could also be the man held accountable for the increase in the American waistline, since he removed the need for the light but frequent exercise that was once required to get up and walk while making a channel selection!

Eugene Polley’s legacy will live on under our very backsides in the creases of our sofa,  as 57 years later the likes of Microsoft are further developing the concept of remote control for the modern age and beyond – making us more physically interactive with our entertainment with amazing gadgets such as the Kinect.

Eugene Polley
November 29th 1925 – May 20th 2012.

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