Color TVs reach retailers, September 28, 1951

-September 28, 2016

CBS-Columbia color television models were the first color TVs to reach retailers on September 28, 1951, but were pulled back just weeks later.

CBS had expanded its color broadcasting schedule gradually to 12 hours per week while also expanding to 11 affiliates as far west as Chicago. But the network’s commercial success was hindered by the lack of color receivers necessary to watch the programs, the refusal of TV makers to create adapters for existing black-and-white sets, and the unwillingness of advertisers to sponsor broadcasts seen by almost no one.

So in April 1951, CBS bought a television manufacturer and in September of that year, production began on the CBS-Columbia color television model.

Only 200 sets had been shipped and only 100 sold when CBS discontinued its color television system on October 20, 1951. The company did so at request of the National Production Authority, which did not want color TVs shipped for the duration of the Korean War.

CBS bought back all of the color sets it could to avoid customer lawsuits.

RCA, which had been working on its own color systems, charged that the National Production Authority’s request had come "out of a situation artificially created by one company to solve its own perplexing problems" because CBS had been unsuccessful in its color venture.

RCA’s attempts until that point had been fraught with technical problems. However, by 1959 RCA was the only remaining major manufacturer of color sets.

RCA at the time was the parent company of NBC. The peacock network had a major advantage over CBS and ABC, and made the first coast-to-coast color broadcast when it telecast the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day 1954.

This 1954 ad for the CBS-Columbia Full Fidelity Color TV Receiver shows its inner workings. Source: Television History: The First 75 Years

CBS and ABC became reluctant to broadcast in color, as it benefited their competitor, but by the 1966-1967 broadcasting season, all three networks were airing full color prime time schedules.

For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on September 28, 2012 and edited on September 28, 2016.

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