Technology Talk


Do you know Eugene Polley?

eugene polley

Very few people could tell you who Eugene Polley was. However, just about everyone knows of, and has used what he invented. Eugene Polley, an employee for Zenith, is the inventor of the very first wireless remote control. Polley, born in November of 1915, passed away in the earlier half of May, 2012, at the age of 96. His invention has spared tired parents, the elderly, the sick and even small children from having to jump up on down for channel changing, for years.

Polley’s invention looked more like a flashlight than a modern day remote. It had a handle, like a hair dryer. On the grip of the handle was a red trigger that was used to release a stream of light. It worked by using light cells on the set, allowing the stream of light to remotely operate the television. It was green and gold.


Before Polley’s invention became mainstream, people used common, everyday items to change channels without getting up. These items could have been a broomstick, a mop handle, a yard stick, or even the active child that needed to burn some energy. There wasn’t a huge selection to choose from, with early TVs only capable of carrying three channels, but it was enough of a selection for people to need to change channels from time to time. Concepts like channel surfing weren’t even possible in science fiction films, much less a family’s living room, and the biggest event of the night could be as simple as watching a presidential address- which was on all three channels, at the same time.

His first wireless remote control came out in 1955, using light to operate and control the television. This remote could change channels and turn the TV on and off. It could only operate one TV at a time. The concept of a universal remote wasn’t even necessary.


His invention opened a door that other inventors walked through and the evolution of the remote control began. There were remotes that came after his that were also wireless, but that worked differently. Earlier models of the remote included remotes that worked by emitting a certain frequency, and remotes that worked electronically, and later models that worked on teletext.

These remotes were all the predecessors to modern inventions that would have looked positively alien to users of the first inventions.


The 1970s brought infrared to the table for remotes, which were still slightly clunky and awkward to grip for any length of time. Then, in the 1980’s, Phillips sold a remote with a cable TV converter, which worked on infrared. It sold for $190. By 2006, manufacturers were not only producing remotes for televisions, VCRs and DVD players, but even computers had remote control.

Over the decades, remotes have gotten smaller, more portable, and more comfortable. Consumers now have their choice of a separate remote for everything digital in their homes, or a single universal remote that controls everything digital without them even having to get up.

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