American History: Television Timeline

History of America and TV at the start of World War 2. Look at the start of televisions, reintroduced after the war and the entertainment.


Before the years of World War II there was a new broadcast medium invented that barely had time to gain the national recognition its inventors and producers had hoped for. This medium was known as television, and while the war brought to a halt its chances of finding a widespread fan base, the years after World War II proved to be a springboard for this new medium; it was met immediately with a popularity unsurpassed in the entertainment and broadcast industries.


In April of nineteen thirty-nine New York's World Fair was opened to the public in Flushing Meadows, Queens. It was here that television was for the very first time displayed to the masses. On opening day of the fair, April thirtieth, hundreds of Americans saw firsthand the new and exciting device that could show others in action from as far away as the other side of the continent.

Taking advantage of the immense crowds the fair could draw, many American companies took their very latest products, hoping to show off new devices or services that would bring them a great amount of money and advertisement. Among those companies was RCA.

RCA's contribution to this grown up version of show and tell? A display of the very first television sets for sale to the American public.

To those of this and the preceding generations, television is a very familiar product. But to those in the pavilions at the World's Fair in nineteen thirty-nine, seeing for the first time these boxes with moving pictures, it was extraordinary. To those of that generation of pre-World War II families, the ability to see firsthand this device that brought news and entertainment into the home was considered nothing less than miraculous. Their main source of information, such as newscasts and perhaps an hour's entertainment, was brought to them courtesy of the old stand-by: the radio.

Whereas before they could listen to events being announced through the tiny slips of the radio, they could now actually listen and watch, too, as the broadcaster or announcer sat in front of them on the small black and white screen from perhaps hundreds of miles away.

Along with RCA's display of the new sets for sale, it took this opportunity also to announce at the fair the country's first schedule of television programming---it was televising opening day. The afternoon brought live pictures of two of the fair's main centerpieces, called the Perisphere and the Trylon, both futuristic pieces offered to guests at the fair. Hundreds of New Yorkers were able to watch this telecast; RCA had set up dozens of sets in its home building, with another hundred or so sets spread throughout the New York metropolitan area. After this broadcast, those lucky enough to have a seat for the show were treated to a broadcast of a parade through center court of the fair. The parade had a distinguished guest in its midst, the city's mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, who is reported to have walked to the platform and looked directly into the camera's lens.

Also appearing live that same afternoon was the nation's president, Franklin D. Roosevelt; this was another first, as he was the first president to be so honored. After the parade President Roosevelt gave a televised speech that was an official welcoming to the World's Fair.


The end of World War II found Americans with more time on their hands than they had known for four long years. This was a time of booming economic growth, both nationally and on a personal level for many citizens. Television, the medium presented to the country soon before the beginnings of war, had not been forgotten, only put aside to make room for more serious and nationally-centered issues. Once victory had been claimed, the nation was once again ready for the entertainment promised in the late nineteen thirties by television manufacturers and producers of programming at national networks.

By the late nineteen forties, the medium of television had begun to make known its presence to the American viewing audience. With sets once again on sale to the public at fairly reasonable prices, it was only a matter of time before national networks began work on weekly scheduling of programs to be offered to those who enjoyed being entertained in the comfort of their homes.

There were four original networks for scheduled programming, including ABC, NBC, CBS, and the DuMont network, which eventually failed. The remaining three, however, soon offered up a wide variety of programs for its audiences.

The beginnings of the television era began on the eighth of June, nineteen forty-eight, when "˜Texaco Star Theater,' hosted by Milton Berle, first premiered to the nation. This program, starring "Uncle Miltie," as he became known, offered to Americans a chance to relax in their own living rooms while enjoying a wide variety of songs, comedic skits, and well-known guest stars from Hollywood. Soon following Berle's show, a certified hit, was "˜Your Show of Shows' with Imogene Coca and Sid Caesar. Both programs were instant hits with the American public, attracting millions of viewers who soon became dedicated fans. These fans brought a vast amount of money to each show's sponsors, stations, and networks; their loyalties played a vital role in advertising revenues.

Throughout the sixty-plus years of American television history, many programs, including comedies, dramas, documentaries, and variety shows, have come and gone, victims of either poor ratings or network difficulties. The popularity of the medium, though, continues to grow. Additions of cable networks, and the supplementation of the Fox Broadcasting Company to the big three networks, has increased the number of broadcast offerings to an almost uncountable number for American viewers.

From "˜Uncle Miltie' to the present, television is a medium that is here to stay, thanks to the loyalty of its enthusiasts.

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