Television, Radio and More - The History of Great Inventions!

by Julia Hall


The 20th century saw the invention of three different devices that would change how we lived our lives. At first all three were economically prohibitive and unfeasible for the average American consumer. However, as mass production allowed prices to drop, the radio, television, and microwave would soon enter the average American home and change it forever.

The Radio


Radios function according to the laws of electromagnetic radiation. Radio waves are a particular segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, below visible light. Although there were many independent observations and advances in early wireless transmission, including from Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, credit for the radio as we know it today is generally given to the Italian scientist Guglielmo Marconi, who was the first to broadcast receivable radio waves over long distances in the late 19th century. Further advancements and refinements continued and by 1920 the first commercial radio stations and broadcasts were being heard across America. Radio ushered in a new form of news syndication, changed the face of American popular music, and created an entire new industry in advertising. The 1930s and 1940s are generally appreciated as the Golden Age of Radio, when most American homes had them and before TVs would usurp them as the center of the American living room.

The Television

Like the radio before it, the history of the television is indebted to many independent pioneers and discoveries. Since television broadcasting works on the same principles of radio broadcasting, just on different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, its history coincides with that of the radio. Early advances in broadcasting visual signals were made as early as the late 19th century. By 1927, Philo Farnsworth made the first electronic television with both a pickup and display device. Television advancements continued and in 1936, the Summer Olympics were broadcast in Berlin, Germany, one of the earliest mass public displays of the technology. The Worlds Fair in 1939 made it more visible to the American public, but the outbreak of World War II prevented its spread commercially. The explosion of the American economy and the growth of the middle class in America during the 1950s saw the first steps of the Television age in America. Like radio before it, television changed how we learned the news, entertained ourselves, and how advertisers engaged the public consumer. Today televisions operate digitally, not analog, as they were first invented. Yet the television is still just as much a part of the American home as it was decades ago.


The Microwave


Yet another application of electromagnetic waves, the microwave oven owes its invention to a serendipitous accident. Percy Spencer, an engineer working for Raytheon, was working in a laboratory that built magnetrons for radar devices. One day, as he walked by one of the magnetrons, he noticed that a small chocolate bar he had kept in his shirt pocket had completely melted. Investigating the matter further, he discovered that the microwave radiation emitted by the magnetron could excite and energize the molecules in food, heating it up. Although the first microwaves were the size of modern refrigerators, they soon scaled down to modern sizes. What was once only used by commercial kitchens soon become a commonplace appliance in many American homes. The microwave oven changed the face of cooking and food production. Walk through any grocery store and count the number of items intended to be cooked in a microwave and you’ll observe the legacy and importance of the microwave oven.

Additional Resources