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.
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.
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.
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.