The Two-Way
11:43 am
Tue May 22, 2012

The Father Of The Couch Potato, Inventor Of Wireless Remote Dies At Age 96

Originally published on Tue May 22, 2012 4:35 pm

Before you sink into your couch, before you flip through channels tonight when you get home, take a minute to think about the guy who made being a couch potato possible:

Back in 1955, Eugene J. Polley invented the "Flash-Matic," or the world's first wireless TV remote control. Back then, you held it like a gun and it acted like a flashlight using visible light to trigger photo cells on the TV to change channels.

Polley, whose engineering career with Zenith spanned 47 years, died on Sunday. He was 96.

According to a press release from Zenith, Polley held 19 U.S. patents and also worked on the push-button radio and an early version of today's DVD.

But his biggest contribution to mankind was of course the remote. As Gizmodo points out, his invention not only made "channel surfing" a "thing," it also changed the way TV was made.

"After an NBC research term discovered that 25% of their audience changed channels as soon as the credits started rolling, the NBC 2000 unit (responsible for primetime branding of the network) invented the 'squeeze-and-tease,' the split screen credits that roll alongside the last few minutes of a program," Gizmodo writes. "Commercials were moved from their between-program slot to right in the middle of a show, to avoid losing viewers to the lag time of an advertisement transition."

Polley started his career at Zenith, which is now part of LG Electronics, working at a stock room. He eventually moved up to the engineering department where he spent most of his career. Born in Chicago, Polley is survived by his son and grandson.

Update at 6:34 p.m. ET. NPR David Schaper has filed an obituary for All Things Considered.

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