Search This Blog

Monday, October 5, 2015

TV phone seen at World's Fair in 1964 is recalled by AT&T's company historian in IEEE Spectrum magazine

Western Electric ad for crossing TV telephone IEEE Spectrum Aug. 2015

PHOTO: A 1960's print ad promoting "crossing a telephone with a TV set" by the Western Electric company, which was part of the old AT&T telephone monopoly, is recalled by Sheldon Hochheiser, the corporate historian of AT&T, in a professional electrical engineering magazine article. (See Sheldon Hochheiser, "Before Facetime or Skype, there was the Picturephone," IEEE Spectrum, Aug. 2015, p. 64 posted Jul. 31, 2015)

Cell phone and internet video telephone calls are common today, but the idea of a video phone call was greeted with skepticism in the 1960's when I first saw a demonstration of it at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. (See "Videophone, AT&T Picturephone: 1964" accessed Oct. 5, 2015 that says, "The more advanced Picturephone Mod I's early promotion included public evaluation displays at Disneyland and the 1964 New York World's Fair." Also see David Massey's non-commercial website created to help keep the memories of the Bell System alive: "Western Electric Picturephone (Video Phone)," accessed Oct. 5, 2015 says, "The first Picturephone test system, built in 1956, was crude - it transmitted an image only once every two seconds. But by 1964 a complete experimental system, the "Mod 1," had been developed. To test it, the public was invited to place calls between special exhibits at Disneyland and the New York World's Fair. In both locations. . .")

The picture phone was ahead of its time and it provides a quintessential example of research and development dollars spent on a product idea that did not yield any profits until decades later. This type of R&D spending is done today by every Silicon Valley venture capitalist who wants to fund the next "Unicorn" or "Deccacorn" startup company (companies are that are worth more than a billion dollars or 10 billion dollars in market valuation before they even have the revenue needed to support these valuations). Of course, the trick to being a successful venture capitalist, which is easier said than done, is to invest in only the product inventions that will yield a reasonable return on your investment, within your chosen timeframe. This is why venture capital investing is high-risk, but it can also pay off bigtime, if the product idea succeeds.