Historic Television

Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

Test patternGrowing up television was vastly different than today, something I remind my two girls of it seems constantly. Today there are hundreds of channels on 24 hours a day. You can record TV, stop and rewind it and watch it "On Demand". All this programming shown in stunning clarity and color on massive thin screens. This is all a far cry from the three channels on the old black and white 19" TV with the rabbit ear antennae my family and I would gather round.

I also remember my dad telling us how much TV had changed from when he was young. Yes, it seems I have in some ways become my father.

Antique Zenith television from 1949

I remember him speaking of the small round screens that produced pictures with no where near the clarity of our modern living room television. As he spoke I was fascinated by the thought of huddling around a tiny round screen. I could imagine myself squinting in the dusky room at the dull glow from the picture tube, trying to see the action unfolding in front of my eyes through the snowy static. When he stopped speaking I would snap back from my reverie and think, wow the old days really must've sucked.

A benefit of inspecting houses is that sometimes you stumble upon little bits of history. Stuff that at times holds more than a trace of personal nostalgia. So was the case just recently.

My client and I were in the attic of this older house she was looking to purchase. She likes older homes and antiques. Oddly the attic was full of belongings in what was otherwise a completely empty house. While I was trying to inspect around the heaps of boxes and other long abandoned belongings, she was browsing the stacks of stuff. After a few moments, she called to me from across the attic, her voice tinged with excited amazement.

Receipt for television bought in 1949

I came over to where she was standing, she asked, "Is this a television?"

Looking at the stained wood cabinet with the large glass orb set squarely in the center, I realized, yes, yes it was a TV. A very old one. I noticed the brand name under the screen, Zenith.

No doubt this was a very old television, but the best was yet to come. On top of the TV were papers. One of these was the original receipt from 1949. According to Zenith's web site they produced their first television in 1948. More stunning was the price of $389.95 plus tax and installation. This is roughly equivalent to $3600 today.

Sometimes the things I find in houses are just plain interesting.


Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Serving the Connecticut Counties of Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, New Haven, Southern Litchfield and Western New London.


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  1. C. Lloyd McKenzie 12/09/2012 02:08 AM
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Fred Hernden, CMI
Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area - Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque area Master Inspector

I remember that after the 11:00 news, the channels (all 4 of them) would sign off for the night. Play the National Anthem, then you'd get a test pattern for the rest of the evening. My how things have changed!

Dec 08, 2012 11:11 PM #13
Dick Greenberg
New Paradigm Partners LLC - Fort Collins, CO
Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate

Hi James - How cool to find one of those. I'm old enough to remember those first tv's and the family gathering around as the evening broadcast began at 7 PM. Having one of the first tv's was a huge deal - hard to imagine how it would develop into an integrated part of our life.

Dec 08, 2012 11:28 PM #14
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

Interesting subject to reflect on. I remember going from a black and white tv to a color one...I mean that was incredible in and of itself...Then next big phase to come was screen sizes and when pricing relaxed, having a tv in your own room instead of having to watch with the family was considered a leap and a bound...good post and thank you

Dec 08, 2012 11:51 PM #15
Rob Ernst
Certified Structure Inspector - Reno, NV
Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor

The receipt really makes for a good find. It's pretty neat to see the advancements that have been made.

Dec 09, 2012 12:39 AM #16
Les & Sarah Oswald
Realty One Group - Eastvale, CA
Broker, Realtor and Investor

Hi James, I remember those days as well. We had to go down to the local grocery store all the time with the TV tubes that had gone bad and put them into their tube tester. We could buy TV tubes at the grocery store for the ones that had gone bad. Times have really changed!

Dec 09, 2012 12:51 AM #17
C. Lloyd McKenzie
Albuquerque, NM
Living Albuquerque

Good Morning James,

This is definitely a great piece of American History. It is an amazing testament to technology.  Today Zenith TV's are no more. WOW! That is an awesome find.  I wonder how many of those TV's are around.

Dec 09, 2012 02:03 AM #18
Gary Frimann, CRS, GRI
Eagle Ridge Realty / Signature Homes & Estates - Gilroy, CA
REALTOR and Broker

I just posted on C. Lloyds repost...  This is a great find!  Buy the TV and sell it to a Hollywood prop house-- I'm sure they'd pay top dollar for it!  

Dec 09, 2012 02:24 AM #19
Robert Butler
Aspect Inspection - Montreal West Island, QC
Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection

A very cool find indeed. We've gone from that to small screens on our pocket phones. In some way gathering around the old tubes was more social than today. My parents remarked about visiting a sister, every one was in the same room but each absorbed in their own 'device'.

Dec 09, 2012 02:44 AM #20
Doug Rogers
Bayou Properties - Alexandria, LA
Your Alexandria Louisiana Agent

This find has ventured will past interesting. Cool, awesome, and wow territory is more like it.

Dec 09, 2012 07:18 AM #21
Joel Weihe
Realty World Alliance - Wichita, KS
Helping you to use your VA home loan benefits

We see that a lot these days Robert and it's sad.

Us realtors too run into cool things sometimes when we're out showing homes but i've never seen anything like that.

I find that ammusing how our parents marveled at the technology in our days and how we do now.

Dec 09, 2012 09:10 AM #22
Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M
James - That's pretty cool! I remember Mom bringing tubes to the grocery store to figure out what was wrong with the tv.
Dec 09, 2012 01:58 PM #23
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Tonia, Amazing indeed.

Scott, Yep, 1%. It's now 6.35%. I also though the $65 was awful steep for installation. 

Lenn, I remember the TV repairman coming to the house. That was usually the fix, replace a tube. 

Clint, You're welcome. This was too cool to keep to myself.

Michael, This was way before my time too. 

Edward, Actually it was as I said about $3600. I checked on line from two different sources, which concurred on the amount. This persons yearly salary according to these calculators was probably about $10,000. 

Fernando, Yes! I remember the national anthem always end the days broadcast. 

Michael, No idea if it works. Has to be worth a bundle with the receipt. 

Wayne & Jean, I bet they would. 

Wallace, Our new neighbors were the first people I remember having a color TV. It was where we all would hang out :)

Dec 09, 2012 08:51 PM #24
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Carol, I remember the big three and Fox coming on the scene. 

Jay, Yes, many older tvs did the fade to dot. Something I forgot about.

Fred, Things sure have, now its constant programming, but lot of repetition.

Dick, A lot has changed in 60 years.

Richie, Yep, remember all that too. 

Rob, It really makes you stop and reflect.

Sarah & Les, I vaguely remember tube testers. I do remember the TV repairman.

C. Lloyd, Yes, that's right, Zenith is no more. 

Gary, I bet antiques lovers would pay handsomely for it.

Dec 09, 2012 09:20 PM #25
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Robert, That does seem to be the way these days. 

Doug, Agreed.

Joel, Somethings will never change :)

Christine, I don't remember that, but definitely the TV repairman. 

Dec 09, 2012 09:23 PM #26
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Jim,  That is awesome. I was telling my son how my remote was my sister. Gone are the days of the test signal at the end of broadcasting time.

We have an old TV/stereo combo that you would get a shock from every so often. Safe piece of equipment that was ; )

Dec 10, 2012 12:21 AM #27
Olga Simoncelli
Veritas Prime, LLC dba Veritas Prime Real Estate - New Fairfield, CT
CONSULTANT, Real Estate Services & Risk Management

Sounds like you found a museum piece. Interesting that your buyer had a hard time recognizing the "item"; she must be young...

Dec 10, 2012 02:41 AM #28
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

Jim -- great memories from your post - with the tube testers, and repairman that came out.  Funny that no one mentioned the "pre-color" coloration program, which was a colored piece of plastic that fit over the screen.  Part of the installation, at least for the early color screens, was for the installer to run his "de-gausser" over the screen, to make sure the colors would show up properly, after the television was placed in its final position.

Dec 11, 2012 02:50 AM #29
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Don, A shock, wow. Did you draw straws to see who would change the channel :)

Olga, Not so young, I think she just want confirmation. 

Steven, I hads not heard of that old TV coloring system. I would imagine it didn't work well. 

Dec 12, 2012 08:26 PM #30
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector


Yes, dollar for dollar electronics was costly in the old days. Our first TV was late 1950's. 

Dec 30, 2012 11:15 AM #31
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Steve, I don't ever remember not having a TV. 

Dec 30, 2012 09:47 PM #32
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