TV for the Ages: The Philco Predicta
Tube televisions are starting to look like relics of a bygone era, but they had a long run, from the very beginning of the TV age until just a few years ago. CRTs evolved from round, to rounded squares, to squarish, almost flat tubes—but cathode ray tube TVs (and projectors) remained the unchallenged display technology right through to the dawn of hi-def TV. I’m old enough to remember early TVs as big, boxy things, so when the Philco Predicta sets arrived in the 1958 model year, they were the first “modern” TVs. The big box was banished; instead, the Predicta’s picture-tube pod was exposed, swivel-mounted on a separate pedestal base.
In those days, the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was just starting to heat up, and the Predicta was designed with a futuristic sense of style. The space-age theme was promoted in ads boasting “TV today from the world of tomorrow.” As far-fetched as that probably seemed in 1958, we can now see echoes of the Predicta in Apple’s first generations of iMac computers in the early 2000s. Severin Jonassen and Catherine Winkle designed the Predicta line. Winkle was one of the few women who worked in the 1950s Philco design department.
Unfortunately, the Predicta’s poor image quality and unreliability doomed the line from the start. Additionally, the black-and-white Predicta line debuted when color television was the hot new technology, so no one was surprised when Predicta was discontinued in 1960, or when the company filed for bankruptcy in 1962. Its assets were purchased by the Ford Motor Company, and renamed Philco-Ford in 1966. A number of companies have made restored and replica Predictas, including CB Electronics in East Flat Rock, North Carolina (cbelec.com), which currently offers three replica Predicta models (with color tubes).