RIP Eugene Polley, Inventor of the TV Remote
We remember remote-control inventor Eugene Polley, who’s affected your life more than any other man … except maybe your dad.
By Doug Barry
You’ve probably never heard of Eugene Polley, who died today at age 96. But he bestowed upon us the greatest gift one can give: laziness. See, in 1955 he invented the Flash-Matic, a handheld device that shot a beam of light at a Zenith television and, thanks to some engineering magic, controlled it. Back then, whoever held the curiously shaped device — a man, obvs — would aim it at photo cells in different corners of the TV; each corner controlled a different function, from turning the picture on and off to changing the channel. The remote promised that it was “Absolutely safe to humans!” which sounds a lot like something that isn’t safe to humans would advertise itself as being. But luckily for us, it lived up to its billing … unless you consider sitting on the couch for 9 hours at a time unsafe.
Polley earned a total of 18 patents over the course of his 47-year career; he also helped develop a push button radio for cars and the video disk, which was the forerunner of today’s DVD player. So remember him fondly the next time you’re mindlessly working over your remote control, searching in vain for something halfway decent to watch amongst your hundreds and hundreds of TV channels.