Color Television History

A German patent contained the earliest proposal for a color television system.

Color television history goes back to 1904, when a German patent contained the earliest recorded proposal for a color television system. And in 1925, Vladimir K. Zworykin, a Russian inventor, filed a patent disclosure for an all-electronic color television system. Both of these systems were not successful, however, they were the first for color television.

Color Televisions and RCA

Between 1946 and 1950 the research staff of RCA Laboratories invented the world's first electronic, monochrome compatible, color television system.

 A successful color television system began commercial broadcasting, first authorized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on December 17, 1953, based on a system designed by RCA.

In 1940, prior to RCA, CBS researchers led by Peter Goldmark invented a mechanical color television system based on the 1928 designs of John Logie Baird. The FCC authorized CBS's color television technology as the national standard in October of 1950, despite the fact that the system was bulky, flickered, and was not compatible with earlier black-and-white sets. RCA sued to stop the public broadcasting of CBS-based systems. CBS had begun color broadcasting on five east coast stations in June of 1951. However, at that time 10.5 million black-and-white televisions (half RCA sets) had been sold to the public and very few color sets. Color television production was halted during the Korean war, with that and the lawsuits, and the sluggish sales, the CBS system failed.

Those factors provided RCA with the time to design a better color television, which they based on the 1947 patent application of Alfred Schroeder, for a shadow mask CRT. Their system passed FCC approval in late 1953 and sales of RCA color televisions began in 1954.

The Story of Color Television

Early color telecasts could be preserved only on the black-and-white kinescope process introduced in 1947.

But in September 1956, NBC began using color film to time-delay and preserve some of its live color telecasts. A company called Ampex made a color videotape recorder in 1958, which NBC used to tape An Evening With Fred Astaire, the oldest surviving network color videotape. And in 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the an NBC station in Washington, D.C. and gave a speech dicussing the new technology's merits. His speech was recorded in color, and a copy of this videotape was given to the Library of Congress.

NBC made the first coast-to-coast color broadcast when it telecast the Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, 1954. But it was the premier of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in September 1961, that created a turning point, persuading consumers to go out and purchase color televisions. 

Television broadcasting stations and networks in most parts of the world upgraded from black-and-white TVs to color transmission in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1979, even the last of these had converted to color and by the early 1980s, black-and-white sets were mostly small portable sets or those used as video monitor screens in lower-cost consumer equipment. By the late 1980s, even these areas switched to color sets.