The History of Color TV

There was a time in history when TV sets did not have color. People were still entertained by watching black-and-white television shows, but producers and directors weren’t able to showcase their concepts or ideas properly since they couldn’t showcase the colors they use in the studio to the television screen. Thankfully, color TV would eventually be invented, and this invention forever changed the television industry. To know more about who invented the game-changer in the TV scene, here is a brief history of color TV.


Unbeknownst to many, color TV is already being experimented right at the same moment as the black-and-white television was invented. One of the first proposals that were presented for color TV was developed by Maurice Le Blanc in 1880. However, the proposal did not contain any concrete details about how the machine will work, although there were documents that were pertaining to the line and frame scanning capabilities of the television.

The second known proposal was developed by Jan Szczepanik, a Polish inventor that is also known for inventing the wireless telegraph. In the said inventor’s proposal that was written in 1897, the machine would have a selenium photoelectric cell located at the transmitter, an electromagnet that controls the oscillating mirror on the TV, and a moving prism at the receiver to produce colors. Unfortunately, the television conceptualized by Szczepanik lacked a specific part that will read or analyze the moving prism’s colors and transfer it directly to the screen.

The first person claiming to have invented color television was Armenian inventor HovannesAdamian, who applied for a patent for his color television on March 31, 1908, in Germany. Today, Adamian is considered as one of the founders of color TV.

A Scottish inventor named John Logie Baird improved upon Adamian’s patent by utilizing several scanning discs that will be able to analyze colors at the transmitting and receiving ends of the machine. Along with the scanning discs, the machine also has three spirals of apertures that each contains one of the three primary colors, and three light sources to amplify the brightness of the screen.

To showcase what Baird’s television was capable of on July 3, 1928, he and his team recorded footage of a girl that is seen wearing three hats with different colors. The girl in the footage was Noele Gordon, a young actress who would eventually star in the iconic television soap opera in Britain titled Crossroads from 1964 to 1983.

Electronically-scanned Color Television

The Radio Corporation of America or RCA was the company that invented the first electronically-scanned color television system as a result of trying to enhance the picture quality of color TV. RCA’s color TV was first presented at their plant in Camden, New Jersey, on February 5, 1940, in front of several members of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Although it was a successful presentation, the RCA color TV was deemed unmarketable because it costs three times as much as a standard black-and-white television.

An electro-mechanical system for the color TV was invented in 1939 by a Hungarian engineer named Peter Carl Goldmark, who was working for CBS during that time. Goldmark’s color TV was equipped with an Iconoscope sensor that is able to analyze colors produced by mechanical discs that house three filters that has the color red, blue, and green. This iteration of the color TV was then presented to the FCC on August 29, 1940 (a few months after RCA demonstrated their color TV), and it was subsequently shown to the media on September 4, 1940.

When Goldmark’s color TV was approved by the FCC, CBS began conducting color field tests on August 28, 1940, and they also tried experimenting on live cameras on November 12. CBS then aired daily color field tests starting on June 1, 1941, but since most people owned black-and-white television sets at that time, the field tests were not applied to the public.

FCC Color Television

After World War II, the Federal Communications Commissions were bombarded with hundreds of applications for companies to create their TV stations. Because there was only a limited space when it comes to stations, the FCC started looking for ways to extend the space for color TV broadcasts.

The FCC called upon several TV stations to present their own color systems in 1948, and these demonstrations were conducted and reviewed by the Joint Technical Advisory Committee or JTAC. Among those included in the demonstrations was CBS, who introduced an improved version of their color TV that uses a single 6 MHz channel with 405 lines of resolution. Because of the advancement of the CBS color TV system, they were able to beat other companies in the demonstrations, with some of those companies including the Color Television Inc. (CTI) andPhilco.

RCA was invited to demonstrate a rumored dot-sequential system TV that they are developing, but they refused to show their creation during the demonstrations. Before JTAC was able to present CBS as the winner of the demonstrations, RCA finally revealed its color TV system on August 25, 1940. Although RCA was able to show their system first, the JTAC decided to push through with recommending CBS to be the main company allowed to broadcast in color.

The CBS color broadcasts started on June 25, 1951, although there were only a few viewers who were able to tune in to the channel because most television sets did not have a special adapter that will allow them to view the color broadcasts. Even though CBS were able to find a manufacturer to produce TV adapters for them, the company was forced to discontinue their color television system on October 20, 1951, due to the depletion of funds and lack of profits.

NTSC Color Television

Before CBS began its color broadcasts, the National Television System Committee (NTSC) was reformed around the early 1950s to develop their own color TV system that is compatible with black-and-white television sets. The NTSC then partnered with RCA, who provided the hardware, to create the system that was then publicly shown at the WNBT station in July 1951.

After CBS confirmed in 1953 that it is no longer pursuing to develop and manufacture its color system, the NTSC was able to manufacture receivers for color broadcasts, as the National Production Authority lifted its ban that prohibits television companies besides CBS to manufacture or produce color systems.

Although color TV was owned by more than 10 million people by the 1950s, the machine was not yet fully realized since networks would still need to provide a special adapter for the televisions to broadcasts their channels. Thanks to the advancement of technology, color TVs were able to broadcast almost all colored channels or stations by the 1960s, which resulted in the boom of color TV in the 1970s.