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1940s–1960s

See the ornate sets that were all the rage in the early days of television

Forget must-see TV. From the 1940s to the 1960s, it was all about must-see TV sets

Today, we tend to want our television sets to be all but invisible. When interviewed, interior designers will often be asked how they handle the issue of the television. With exceptionally thin OLED screens, we disguise our sets by hanging them on the wall, with or without a frame.

But this is a recent development. For most of the twentieth century, a television set was something to draw attention to—or alternatively, to make part of the furniture by making it out of, er, furniture.

In 1946, only 0.5% of U.S. homes owned a television. By 1954, there was a television in more than half of all American homes. Eight years later, nine out of ten homes were blessed with a TV screen.

Although early mechanical television sets had been available in the 1920s, it was really with the end of World War II, and the use of the cathode ray tube, that owning a television began to be a normal part of household life.

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These pictures show some of the more ornate and extravagant forms taken by “the box” during the TV boom.

New console television sets are pictured in a store window, 1940s
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A bulky television set of the 1940s.
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Fifteen-inch television receiver with dual purpose transparent mirror, 1940s. This photograph shows the decorative effect of the mirror when the set is not in operation. Manufactured by Sightmaster Corporation.
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c. 1945
The latest in television, with an easy chair to match, on display at the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition, 1945
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
c. 1947
Television set made by Stromberg Carlson.
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c. 1950
A woman showing off the latest in television technology, c.1950. The television set has a large box mounted on top.
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c. 1950
View of a Stromberg Carlson television set, with books on top.
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c. 1950
The “Modernaire” television-AM-FM radio phonograph (3 speed) unit, 1950s. As the brochure said, “Contrast of the cordovan finish on mahogany with light texture of perforated masonite is set of by an accent of persimmon in the free form speaker opening.”
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c. 1953
Front view of a CBS television color receiver, 1953
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c. 1957
An Italian model, 1957
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c. 1965
Illustration of a Motorola model 16F1 entertainment console, featuring a television, a stereo receiver, and a record player, c. 1965
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
c. 1965
A Sylvania GT-12 fully transitorized 12 inch black and white television set that can be played on auto, boat, battery, or household power sources, 1965
Underwood Archives/Getty Images
c. 1969
1969: Sylvania Electric Products introduces its 1970 color television line with Instant Color pictures and new chairside remote pushbutton tuning. Featured here is the French Provincial style console.
Underwood Archives/Getty Images
c. 1969
Another Sylvania Electric Products 1970 color television—the Early American style console, 1969
Underwood Archives/Getty Images
c. 1971
September 1971: A domestic colour television set on a pedestal.
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