Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Did you use a Foster-Trent remote control to watch Gabe Kaplan?

[Documentary Narrator Voice]
Soon after television began gaining popularity in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, man sought ways to control this technological wonder from the comfort of his own recliner. Zenith created the Lazy Bones remote in 1950, but this device was connected to the television by a wire. The first true wireless remote control, the Flashmatic, came and went in 1955, a victim of inferior design. But the key breakthrough came just a year later in the form of the Zenith Space Command, a remote control that employed ultrasound to control the television. The device clicked and struck a bar with each use, bringing the synonym clicker into the English language. As in, "Momma, do you reckon you know where the clicker done got to?"1

This illustrated advertisement for a television remote control — complete with two "clicks" and a disconcerting bolt of lightning — is featured on the back cover of 1975's Trail Blazers' Almanac and Pioneer Guide Book.2

(This exact almanac is thoroughly examined and skewered in a 2008 Studies in Crap post by Alan Scherstuhl. I cannot possibly top what Scherstuhl achieved in his analysis of this piece of 1970s ephemera. But he doesn't comment on the $3.29 TV remote control, so I guess I'll continue with this post, as a public service.)

The remote control is being offered by Foster-Trent of Larchmont, New York. Some of the company's other offerings, in the same advertisement, include a pair of magnifying eyeglasses3 for $4.77, a "Super Awl" for $2.89, and a package of 24 formfit denture cushions for $1.29.

But, clearly, the most sought-after item was the TV remote, which allowed Dad to remain safely in his Barcalounger and click the volume up or down as he watched "The Six Million Dollar Man" and breakout star Gabe Kaplan on "Welcome Back, Kotter."4

Best of all, there was No Shock Hazard!

1. Information for this section was gleaned from the Television Remote Controls subsection of this Wikipedia page.
2. You wouldn't think that trail blazers and pioneers — there's a Daniel Boone-type figure and an American Indian on the cover — would be the target audience for a TV remote control advertisement, but there you have it.
3. "Not sold in New York. Not prescription, not for astigmatism, eye diseases."
4. Or, if Dad was a bit on the geeky side, he might have been watching David McCallum in "The Invisible Man" or the short-lived Mel Brooks sitcom "When Things Were Rotten." What he was definitely NOT watching, however, was the Monday night CBS lineup that included "Rhoda," "Phyllis" and "Maude." Hell no.

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