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.

  •  - Read this basic primer on how radio broadcasts are possible.
  • – This page is an introduction to radio waves, a part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • – Learn about the first music and voice broadcast that took place in the early 20th century.
  • – This is a list of important advances and breakthroughs in radio.
  • – This site has a chronology of American radio, from its origins through the Golden Age of Radio.
  • – This website examines the economic aspects of the radio.
  • – Learn about the intersection of technology, public policy and free speech with this page on the Radio Act of 1927.
  • – Discover the decade when the first commercial radio stations first began broadcasting.

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.


  • – This page offers a tutorial on the physics of television broadcasting.
  • – Learn about the operation of a television.
  • – This site explains how phosphors work and how they allow for color television.
  • – This is a brief biography on Philo Farnsworth, who invented the modern television.
  • – This site examines the impact that the television had on society.
  • – This document investigates the economic industry that television created.
  • – This is a condensed history of television, from its origins through today.
  • – This document explores the unique relationship between television and American culture.
  • – This website goes through the development of the modern sitcom.

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.

  • – This is an introduction to the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • – This website explores how the microwave oven works.
  • – This page explains the workings of the magnetron, one of the key components of microwaves.
  • – This site investigates who was responsible for the invention of the microwave oven.
  • – This is a condensed history of the microwave oven and its impact.
  • – Learn about the scientific principles responsible for the microwave oven.
  • – This page gives information on nutrition and cooking with the microwave oven.
  • – This page has more technical information on the inner workings of the microwave.
  • – This site offers basic information on the preparation of food with the microwave oven.
  • – Learn basic safety tips to follow when using microwaves in the kitchen.

Additional Resources

  • – NASA offers a brief lesson on radio waves and the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • – Learn how the growth of the internet parallels the rise of radio broadcasting.
  • – This is a page dedicated to the Golden Age of Radio, before television was commonplace and radio was king.
  • – This is a brief timeline of significant events in radio and American politics.
  • – This document examines the role that television plays in modern politics.
  • – This website gives information on one of the earliest television stars and his contribution to the variety show format.
  • – This website is a collection of classic television commercials spanning several decades.
  • – Learn about modern research on the link between television viewing and childhood obesity rates.
  • – A scholarship contest for college students to win $1000 towards their tuition.