From Ohio History Central

In the 1950s, the new medium of television reached millions of Americans for the first time. Some television programs provided entertainment, while others presented current news. Advertisers used television to introduce audiences to their products. Some people realized the educational opportunities that television offered as well.

Television dramatically changed the lives of Ohioans. Perhaps most importantly, television allowed Ohioans to see important events within and outside of the United States of America. Viewers could see for themselves their government in action. Thousands of Americans watched the Army-McCarthy Hearings of 1954, fearful that the communists had infiltrated the United States Army. During the late 1950s and 1960s, many white Northerners witnessed the racism that existed in the South, as the various marches and other protests of the Civil Rights Movement were broadcast directly into viewers' homes. Americans witnessed the death and destruction that accompanied the Vietnam War during the 1960s and early 1970s, and Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Moon in 1969. Television also helped unite Americans together by providing common reference points and by establishing a common culture. Television also helped to end the more isolated lifestyle of people living in rural areas, providing these viewers with a broader world view.

Many scholars credit Dayton, Ohio, native Charles Francis Jenkins for inventing the first television set in the United States. British inventor John Logie Baird managed to broadcast images on a television a few months before Jenkins managed to complete the same task. Jenkins utilized what became known as mechanical television or radiovision. He used radio receivers that had a special attachment, which allowed the receivers to broadcast moving pictures on a six-inch square mirror. Jenkins made the first public display of his radiovision on June 23, 1925, although he claimed that he transmitted the first moving pictures via radiovision on June 24, 1923. Most scholars believe that Jenkins' earlier broadcast was a lie on Jenkins's part.

On July 2, 1928, Jenkins formed the first television station in the United States and began broadcasting this same day. The station was known as W3XK and was located in Wheaton, Maryland. Jenkins' first program consisted of a ten-minute segment of a revolving windmill. In December 1928, Jenkins formed the Jenkins Television Corporation in New Jersey to manufacture Radiovisors, Jenkins' radiovision receivers, and to market and form television stations across the United States. In 1932, De Forest Radio purchased Jenkins Television Corporation and a few months later sold the Jenkins component of the company to RCA, which immediately ended production of the Radiovisors and ceased transmitting programs to mechanical televisions.

The principal reasons for RCA's decision to cease broadcasting and to end production were the expensive cost of Radiovisors, the sets routinely cost between eighty-five and 135 dollars per set, and the poor picture quality of mechanical televisions. The pictures commonly were too dark for viewers to see any more than silhouettes. These silhouettes became known as shadowgraphs. Also, by the early 1930s, dramatic improvements had been made in broadcasting images through what was known as electronic scanning television systems.

While televisions existed in the United States of America by the mid-1920s, they did not become commonplace until the 1950s and 1960s. The two principal reasons for this were the exorbitant costs of early sets and the small number of television broadcast stations. By the early 1950s, additional broadcast sites existed, and television costs had decreased. Americans became enthralled with this new entertainment media. By the early 1960s, color television sets were commonplace. Over the next fifty years, television sets became even more advanced, including having much larger screens to view the broadcasts. The costs of televisions also dramatically decreased, allowing most Americans to have access to this media.

Ohio was never quite the same after the arrival of television. Television offered new social and educational opportunities to people of all ages. It also gave advertisers new ways to reach people and helped give rise to a consumer culture in America.

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