Which Were the First Consumer Products to Have Remote Controls?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The first consumer products featuring remote controls were not television sets, if that was your first guess. The real answer will appear shortly, but it might be interesting to look at some devices which almost made the cut. One could make the argument electric doorbells were the first devices to be operated by remote controls, since the button and the bell may be some distance apart. Some private homes around the turn of the 20th century also had call buttons which would summon servants to various rooms. These systems, however, were generally customized for wealthy homeowners, not the general public.

Remote control car key.
Remote control car key.

Almost from their inception, remote controls were primarily used for military applications, such as rudimentary guided missiles or remote detonations. Some remote controls could have also been used to set off explosions for roadway construction or demolition work. Model airplanes using remote controls were available as early as 1931, although the cost of such devices was prohibitive for consumers during the Great Depression.

The first consumer products to include remote controls were garage door openers.
The first consumer products to include remote controls were garage door openers.

Military use of remote controls continued throughout World War II, but post-war consumer applications for the technology were not immediately apparent. Finally, a practical use for remote controls using radio transmitters and receivers was implemented in the late 1940s. The first consumer products to use remote controls were...garage door openers. Unfortunately, the strength of the transmitter's signal was often enough to cause other garage doors to open as well.

Remote control televisions were first commercially produced during the 1950s.
Remote control televisions were first commercially produced during the 1950s.

The consumer products most associated with remote controls during the 1950s were indeed television sets. Although there were a few attempts at wired remote controls during the late 1940s, Zenith produced the first commercially available television remote controls in 1950. The product was appropriately called "Lazy Bones," and allowed viewers to change channels, adjust the volume and turn off the set from the comfort of their own recliners or couches. Wireless remote controls which used beams of light and photoelectric sensors appeared several years later, although the sensors were prone to react to any light source and the remote controls looked like toy space guns.

From these humble beginnings sprang an entire industry dedicated to finding new uses for remote controls, from entertainment centers to car ignition systems. Many car owners would feel lost without remote controls for their alarm systems. Some houses are now completely wired to centralized remote controls which are responsible for lighting, environment, security and entertainment.

Remote control cars have become popular toys for kids and adults.
Remote control cars have become popular toys for kids and adults.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

Ruggercat68

I remember when garage door openers first came out. Whenever my neighbor pulled into his driveway, all of the garage doors with remote controls would open at the same time. It took a long time before manufacturers started offering unique frequencies for each customer.

Buster29

The first TV remote control I remember worked by sound, not electronics. It really was a "clicker". When you pressed the button, the remote would emit a really loud clicking noise. Something attached to the television would react to that noise and turn the dial up one channel. In those days, most people only had three or four channels to choose from, anyway. If you wanted to go back to the original channel, you had to click your way through the entire dial first.

One of my cousins figured out that any loud, sharp noise would change the channel, so he would crack a leather belt in front of the set and get the same effect.

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