Flashback 1954: Westinghouse Unveils World’s First Color TV

Sixty-four years ago this week, Westinghouse unveiled the world’s first color TV in 60 stores throughout New York. The Westinghouse H840CK15 had a tiny 15-inch screen and sold for $1,295 — the equivalent of almost 12 grand in 2018 dollars!

The curious new TV did not fly off store shelves. Quite the opposite. Sales were non-existent and after a month on the market, Westinghouse had still sold only 30 of the 500 sets it built, prompting a price cut of almost $200. That didn’t help much — not surprising considering color broadcasts were few and far between, not to mention the set’s small screen, stratospheric price, and what the Early Television Foundation called “temperamental” behavior. Word has it that most of those original 500 sets were never sold.

New York City’s Liberty Music Shop ran ads heralding the arrival of color TV with glowing prose:

“Admittedly a luxury, the immediate availability of Westinghouse Color Television Receivers opens a whole new world of thrilling entertainment. Enjoy—NOW—the magic of Color Telecasts in glowing, natural tones. Westinghouse Color TV is simple to operate, and it’s easy to get faithful color reproduction from tints to deepest tones. . . with stable colors and superior definition.”
Much like introduction of high-definition TV in 1998, the advent of live color television was revelatory for an audience used to seeing grainy black-and-white images, although color TV didn’t become a reality for most Americans until well into the 1960s as color programming became more abundant and set prices dropped to affordable levels.

Within a few weeks of its launch, the Westinghouse H840CK15 was joined by RCA’s RCA CT-100. It also had a 15-inch screen but sold for $1,000 — less expensive for sure, but still astronomical in those days. RCA sold less than 5,000 CT-100s and reportedly lost money on every one. Sales would perk up a bit when RCA brought out the 21-inch CT-55 in December 1954 and priced it at $495.

Another milestone occurred this week in 2010 when Apple announced that it had sold its ten billionth song through the iTunes Store. “Guess Things Happen That Way” by Johnny Cash was purchased by Louis Sulcer, a 71-year-old grandfather of nine from Georgia who told NPR he was putting together a mix of Cash songs for his son. Sulcer received a call from Steve Jobs telling him he’d won a $10,000 iTunes Gift Card.

As This Day in Tech History’s Marcel Brown points out, it took Apple more than five years to sell its first 5 billion songs but only a year-and-a-half to sell its second 5 billion songs.