08/31/07 - television

In today's excerpt - the new medium of television:

"It had been in the offing for a generation. Then suddenly in 1948, Americans in the nation's largest cities began buying their first televisions. ... The first person in a neighborhood to get a television paid a price: friends and neighbors dropped by. 'Families that purchased a town's initial television sets had delicate social problems', one contemporary recalled, 'coping with friends and relatives who devised ingenious ways to visit during prime evening hours.' ...

"Throughout the country, consumers far from TV transmitters struggled to obtain a good signal. Mounting an antenna helped improve reception. Status-conscious nonowners could have antennas installed; neighbors would not know they did not actually have a TV to go with the antenna.

"Some resisted the age of television. A North Carolina white man tried holding out, despite the entreaties of his two daughters. When he realized that poor African Americans were purchasing TVs, he relented ... he would be damned if Negroes would have TVs while his family did not. Still, pockets of intransigence flourished well into the early 1960s. Households headed by ministers and rabbis were much less likely to have televisions as were older, childless couples. Many college professors and intellectuals refused to buy TVs—and bragged about their resistance. To them, it signified their superiority, their capacity for self-fulfillment. They did not need a heavy appliance to entertain them. Evenings were for reading and contemplation. Columbia University historian Allan Nevins was surprised to learn that his colleague Richard Morris had purchased a television in 1951, 'one of the first I have seen in the home of a real intellectual' Nevins wrote. 'Most reading and reflective people abominate them.' The 'television snobbism' at Princeton University was so great, history professor Eric Goldman remarked seven years later, that a distinguished colleague had to sneak into Goldman's house to watch TV. ...

"No technological innovation before or since—not newspapers, the telephone, radio, cable television, personal computers or even indoor plumbing—achieved such overwhelming popularity in so short a span. By the end of the 1950s, only a dozen years after the television boom began, just under 90 percent of all American homes had one or more TVs."


James L. Baughman


Same Time Same Station: Creating American Television, 1948-1961


Johns Hopkins University Press


Copyright 2007 by The Johns Hopkins University Press


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