The End of the Golden Age and the Rise of Television

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"Marshall Hine's Family," 1962. Courtesy Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, Fort Worth, via The Portal to Texas History. 

TV: A member of the family 

The 1950s signaled a change in the Golden Age of radio, with the development and quick popularity of the home television set. The television had been in development since the late 1920s, throughout the rise and dominance of radio. RCA, one of the biggest companies behind the popularization of the radio, poured millions of dollars into developing the television. By 1939, RCA was televising the New York World’s Fair, speeches by President Roosevelt (FDR becoming the first president to appear on a television screen), and baseball games. Still, the technology was primitive. Segments were only about 15 minutes long and used just a single camera to film.

World War II, with its freeze on commercial television and general technology shortages, delayed the rise of the medium. Before 1947, only a few thousand American homes owned television sets. Just five years later, that number jumped to 12 million. By 1955, half of American homes had a TV set. 

A study conducted by CBS and Rutgers University during that time, which interviewed families with television sets, found that Americans enjoyed the new experiences television brought them. Families said they felt unified around their new TVs, that it helped parents and children socialize and connect in new ways and helped the family spend more time together. Some described their new TV sets as members of the family. Almost as quickly, the question was raised whether the time that families—particularly children—spent in front of the TV was really such a good thing.