Tuesday 10 December 2019

Eugene Polley, inventor of the remote control, dies aged 96

Eugene Polley, inventor of the remote control, dies aged 96. Photo: AP
Eugene Polley, inventor of the remote control, dies aged 96. Photo: AP

Hannah Furness

EUGENE Polley, the inventor of the television remote control and the man hailed as the founding father of the modern couch potato, has died aged 96.

Mr Polley, who created the innovative device in 1955, passed away from natural causes in his home of Chicago.

He is credited with changing the lifestyles of the Western world after inventing his “Flash-Matic” remote control.

His early version could turn televisions on and off using a beam of light, which made contact with four photo cells arranged in the corners of the screen.

It saved a new generation of families getting up from their sofas to walk across to their television sets to change the channel.

The original advertisement proclaimed “you have to see it to believe it” and described its method of working as a “flash of magic light”.

With no wires or cords, it enabled would-be customers to “shut off long, annoying commercials and, most importantly: “You can remain in your easy chair!”

Costing $149.95, the first advert said: “Here is a truly amazing new television development. Just think! Without budging from your easy chair you can turn your new Zenith Flash-Matic set on, off or change channels”.

The remarkable invention now allows almost every television owner in the developed world to remain on their sofas, saving energy, effort and even their carpets from wearing away under the repeated walk to and from the set.

The prototype was not without its teething problems with rumours its functionality was affected on sunny days as light changed the channel unexpectedly.

It was succeeded by the ultrasonic Zenith Space Command in 1960.

Mr Polley, who held 18 patents for his inventions, worked for Zenith Electronics, joining Zenith Radio in 1935.

During World War II, he dedicated himself to developing US military radar systems with the company, and later worked on newly-invented video disks and push-button car radios.

In 1997, he was presented with an Emmy Award alongside Space Command inventor Robert Adler for pioneering wireless remote control devices for consumer television.

Mr Polley was said to have been rightly proud of his invention, keeping the original remote control to show to visitors to his home in latter years.

John Taylor, spokesman for Zenith Electronics, said: "He was a proud owner of a flat-screen TV and modern remote. He always kept his original remote control with him."

He died in a Chicago hospital on Sunday from natural causes, aged 96. He is survived by his son, Eugene J Polley Jr, and grandson Aaron who lives in San Diego.


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