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May 22, 2012

Eugene Polley, Co-Inventor of Television Remote Control

In 1955, along with a colleague at Zenith, Polley developed the technology known as "Flash-Matic," which became the first wireless remote control for television.

Eugene Polley, an inventor of the first wireless television remote control, died May 20, 2012, in Downers Grove, Illinois. He was 96.
According to news reports, he died of natural causes.

Polley, born in Chicago in 1915, joined the electronics manufacturer Zenith in 1935 and spent 47 years with the firm. In 1955, along with Zenith colleague Robert Adler, he patented technology that became the “Flash-Matic,” the world’s first wireless television remote control.

In all, Polley collected 18 patents during his career, nearly all related to television.

Upon Polley’s death, Zenith released the following salute:


The inventor of the first wireless remote control for television, Zenith’s Gene Polley, was called everything from the founding father of the couch potato to the czar of zapping to the beach boy of channel surfing.

Few would dispute the enormous impact of this invention, devised in an era of three or four VHF broadcast TV stations in most markets. Today, remote control is not a luxury but a necessity in navigating 500-plus digital cable or digital satellite channels, or controlling an HDTV, Blu-Ray Disc player, digital video recorder or home theater audio system - all at the touch of a button.

Zenith’s Gene Polley ushered in the era of channel surfing in the middle of the 20th Century during the Golden Age of Television. Mr. Polley invented the “Flash-Matic,” which represented the world’s first wireless TV remote. Introduced in 1955, Flash-Matic operated by means of four photo cells, one in each corner of the TV screen. The viewer used a highly directional flashlight to activate the four control functions, which turned the picture and sound on and off and changed channels by turning the tuner dial clockwise and counter-clockwise.

Commander Eugene F. McDonald Jr., Zenith’s late founder-president, believed TV viewers would not tolerate commercials. While developing and promoting the concept of commercial-free subscription television, McDonald yearned for a way for viewers to take back control from the advertisers. Mr. Polley’s Flash-Matic accomplishes that goal. McDonald ordered it into production and honored Mr. Polley with the President’s Award.

Building on Mr. Polley’s innovation, fellow Zenith engineer, the late Dr. Robert Adler, later developed the next-generation wireless TV remote based on ultrasonic technology, Space Command. By the early 1980s, the industry moved from ultrasonic to infrared, or IR, remote technology. The IR remote works by using a low-frequency light beam, so low that the human eye cannot see it, but which can be detected by a receiver in the TV. Zenith’s development of cable-compatible tuning and teletext technologies in the 1980s greatly enhanced the capabilities for infrared TV remotes.

Today, wireless remote pioneered by Mr. Polley, is a standard feature on virtually all consumer electronics products. The most sophisticated digital HDTV sets have remotes with as many as 50 buttons. Of course, in 2012, virtually all television sets, set-top boxes, video players/recorders and other home entertainment components sold in the United States are equipped with remote control.

SOURCE Zenith Electronics LLC

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