Eugene Polley (1915-2012)

Eugene Polley, the man responsible for the wireless television remote control, passed away on Saturday (May 20th) at the age of 96. Polley was working as an engineer for Zenith in 1955 when he developed the Flash-Matic remote control, shaped like a ray gun (or perhaps something you’d find at the end of a garden hose) and painted green. Viewers could fire a beam of light at the corner of their television set to change the channel and adjust volume. Previous remotes were connected to sets by a wire. There was a problem, though. Light from other sources could hit a set and change the channel. Later remotes, like the one designed by the late Robert Adler (also for Zenith), were ultrasonic. Adler’s Space Command remote control made a clicking sound, leading to the now rarely used name “clicker” for remote controls. Today’s remotes use infrared technology and are far, far more powerful but also require a battery, which the Flash-Matic and Space Command remote controls did not.

In 1997, Polley and Adler (who died in 2007) were jointly given an Emmy Award for their work with television remote controls. Obituaries can be found at BBC News, PC Magazine and Variety.

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