10 Milestones in Television History

on September 20, 2013

10 Milestones in Television History

In just over half a century since the advent of commercial programming, television has become one of the most prominent means of entertainment and information in America. Its history goes back further than the 1950s, though, and the technology behind it has evolved a great deal over the years. Take a look back at these 10 milestones in television history.


In 1834, English inventor William George Horner invents a device to make moving pictures by placing equally spaced slits of paper along the inside of a spinning drum. It would be improved upon in 1860 by French inventor Pierre Desvignes, who renamed it the “Zoetrope.” It became the basis for motion pictures and arrived in the United States in 1867.

Nipkow Disk

In 1884, inventor Paul Nipkow creates an image-scanning device, essentially a mechanical version of the Zoetrope, which served as the basis through which most mechanical television sets through the 1920s projected moving images.

First motion picture in the U.S.

On April 23, 1896, Thomas Edison displays the first motion pictures in America at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall in New York City. In the following years, Edison continued his experiments with motion pictures.

Birth of “television”

Constantin Perskyi coins the term “television” to describe the new moving picture technology in a paper to the International Electricity Congress read at the 1900 Word Fair in Paris.

First long-distance transmission of image and voice

On April 9, 1927, Bell Laboratories and the Department of Commerce conducted a transmission of a live motion picture and voice simultaneously from Washington to New York. The 128 lines of image depicted then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover.

First television set sold

The first commercial television sets are sold in the United Kingdom in 1928. The Baird television set (named for John Logie Baird, pictured) was attached to a radio and projected an image roughly the size of a postage stamp.

Growing in size and scope

In 1928, RCA begins work on a large screen television, hoping to crack into the potential market of consumers buying television sets for their homes.

Birth of the “Big Three”

The National Broadcasting Company, better known as NBC, becomes the first coast-to-coast radio network. Once CBS followed suit, regional companies began experimenting with television broadcasting stations, with broadcasting licenses being granted to noteworthy radio broadcasters. ABC then grew out of NBC, and these “Big Three” went on to dominate commercial television for decades.

Coming to your living room

The DuMont Television Network launches what was billed as “the country’s first permanent commercial television network” on August 15, 1946. NBC quickly kept pace with “the world’s first regularly operating television network” in June 1947.

Arrival of cable television

Cable television is introduced in Pennsylvania in 1948, though it would not become widespread across the United States until the late 1950s. Color television would make its first appearance in America in 1953, though it would not become affordable and widely available until the mid-1960s.

Check out our list of the top ten moments that unfolded on TV here.

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