TV remote control inventor Eugene Polley dies at 96

Undated photo of Eugene Polley Eugene Polley earned 18 patents during his 47-year career

The inventor of the television remote control has died at the age of 96, his former employer has said.

Zenith Electronics said Eugene Polley passed away of natural causes on Sunday at a Chicago hospital.

His 1955 invention, Flash-Matic, pointed a beam of light at photo cells on each corner of the TV, turning it off and on and changing the channels.

His invention was a luxury add-on in the days before hundreds of cable television channels.

Born in Chicago in 1915, Polley began his engineering career in 1935. He worked at Zenith for 47 years, earning 18 US patents.

A 1955 advertisement for Flash-Matic, the first wireless TV remote control A 1955 advertisement for Flash-Matic, the first wireless TV remote control

He was a long-time resident of Lombard, Illinois, outside Chicago.

Because the Flash-Matic used light to operate the television, it was temperamental and other lights could interfere with its operation.

It was followed by sonic-controlled remotes and then infrared and radio frequency models.

Before Polley's invention, Zenith's first remote was connected to the television by a wire cord.

The first remote would not have fitted down the back of the sofa

Polley was proud of his invention, Zenith spokesman John Taylor told the Associated Press, showing off the Flash-Matic to visitors after his retirement.

"He was a proud owner of a flat-screen TV and modern remote," Mr Taylor added. "He always kept his original remote control with him."

Along with another Zenith engineer, Robert Adler, Polley was honoured in 1997 with an Emmy for his work.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    The technique was quite reliable - using a small motor to chenge channels - I ihad Zenith in '90s that used the same method - obviously smaller remote! But never had problem changing channels - motors have of course been replaced with digital tech.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    14 & 23 Please in future refrain from trying to make some political statement out of somebody's death, it really is disrespectful and uncalled for! I am sure there is somewhere online you can go and debate your grievances!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    An invention of genius, but it has to be said that the television remote in turn invented the couch potato.

    Going back and forth to the set in the olden days also probably helped develop concentration, as people switched channels less. The impact of the invention of the TV remote control on the carpet industry is sadly unknown.

  • Comment number 53.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    This man is a legend and he actually helped my exercise routine. I do sit-ups by keeping the remote control between my toes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    It is sad when someone dies.

    The remote control was and is a boon for anyone with mobility problems and, as such, is oneof the great inventions.

    As for me, I don't have mobility problems but I seem to have become addicted to the buttons; using them like worry beads. Drives the wife bonkers!

    Overall though, and I say again, a very useful invention. But only for those with mobility issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    A very sad day for us all, imagine having to get up and actually use the buttons on the TV set.. rest in peace Eugene, you legend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    "Now if someone would invent a remote that beeped when you wanted find it, think how many hours would be saved and arguments ended."

    You could do what they do on cordless phones and page it from the base unit. Obviously that would have to be on the TV......

    oh.... wait.... :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    My remote control broke recently and I can honestly say I truly appreciate this genius invention now.

    There's nothing wrong with trying to make everyones lives a bit easier

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The TV remote control is perhaps the most typical example of how technology is never inherantly good or bad in & of itself - when used senisbly it is a force for good but when used badly it is a force for ill.... the end of the day the good & bad uses for technoology reflect not the technology itself, but the sttrengths & weaknesses of us human beings ourselves.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    One of the great things about the BBC is stories like this. I always thought the Remote Control would have been invented in Japan like many other, more modern, electronic devices. Every day is a schoolday on the BBC Website...

    RIP Mr Polley and thank you...

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Inventors - Important Yes and we should mark the mans passing. However if we promise to be good little boys and girls can we please get to comment on other newsworthy items today Please??

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    A genius invention, but at what cost I wonder?

    How much have remote controls contributed to
    - lazy channel hopping junk TV watching
    - obesity ??

    Still gotta give the guy some credit for a great idea....... I wonder if he lived to such a ripe old age because his invention meant that he didn't have to go near the borderline lethal emissions from TV sets of that era?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Eugene Polley what a great fellow,enthusiastic & brilliant,if the US had more like him it would still be years ahead of the rest of the pack.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    The thing that struck me was also the significance of Zenith (now part of LG). As it's not a UK brand (AFAIK) we don't hear much about it but their employees obviously made significant contributions to broadcasting. The one that comes to mind is FM stereo, which for years was described as Zenith-GE multiplex stereo. Eras pass and sometimes we don't even notice: so thanks BBC for reminding us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    A genius in many ways, RIP.

    Now all I need to find is the remote to actually see this on the news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    More important than the invention itself was the idea of switching items on and off remotely. The norm had always been going to the device to operate its controls..A simple idea to make things easier has spawned a lot of changes in thinking.
    Many thanks Eugene Polley.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Is he actually dead, or just on standby?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Brilliant engineers generally have their work under rated. Before success they are treated as cranks, and afterwards their efforts are dismissed as of little importance, whilst others make fortunes from their efforts.

    Don't believe me?

    Look at the fortunes made in business, through the internet, in banking, then name ten engineers who are multi millionaires from their efforts. Not easy is it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    PM GlenThomas-It makes the news because hundreds of millions of people use this invention that this man invented.Its something you may take for granted,but it made a hell of a difference to the masses that could turn over from watching Celebrity Master Chef , On Ice In the Jungle.To Strictly, Big Brother, X Idol,In the Attic, without getting up from their sofa.


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