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 76.

    I tried the remote when Cameron was in full pompous arrogant pillock mode in PMQ's it works a treat, thanks Eugene.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Original one broken, but still can't find that universal one to work ASDA DVD player! Guess what ended up buying a new DVD player....from TESCO's...............

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    72.Laurie Knight - ".....when are the BBC going to open up all articles for comment like any decent news site? What year are we living in?"

    Unfortunately no one wants to pay more for their license to fund the moderation required to open all stories to HYS.

    If so many didn't abuse their right to comment by ignoring their responsibilities the moderation costs wouldn't be an issue......

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I can't believe all the negativity being thrown around here!

    The remote control is a brilliant invention. Mine can control several devices at once: it is literally one remote to rule them all, a very powerful piece of technology. And it wouldn't be possible with Eugene Polley's original flash gun style remote.

    The man was a real credit to inventors and technology. Rest in peace, sir.

  • Comment number 72.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Remember Victoria Wood's joke about sitting on the remote control and thinking Gorbachev had won Dusty Bin?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    @ 69 - why bother commenting then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Sad to know he died. But what is there to commento n here? We are being fobbed off again by the BBC, (orf who I have liong been a supporter) with soft news itemsup for comment while we are denied more controversial topics that might contribute to democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Men would be impotent without the power to weald a remote control. I wonder if Eugenes dying wish was to be buried down the back of the sofa?

    RIP Eugene, possibly the greatest labor saving device, ever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Perhaps this remote may herald a new invention for its committed users.

    Perhaps it could monitor all the chemicals that pollute the family enviroment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    I like the idea in the ad that you can turn off long, annoying ads with this invention.Did the ad men know this? Has anyone asked why he was compelled to invent such a thing? I disagree with 47 - some technologies are inherently bad. Further, the inventor does not exist in a political or social vacuum. The reasons why certain technologies are developed at all depends on a variety of influences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Please press the red button !

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Never heard of him I'm afraid. Shows how much we take inventors for granted. More popular media needed attentionshould be given to people who really affect our lives and less on the so called celebrities. Mind you I haven't heard of most of them either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    So many benefits so many drawbacks - benefits: for the elderly, infirm, bed-ridden and all of those benefiting from it. Drawbacks: facilitated the vast number of puerile TV pap channels, aids the idle to be even more so, the mislaying of the cursed thing is the probable cause of so many rows even divorces particularly when football/sport must-sees are transmitted. A mixed blessing I'd say ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Here was a brilliant inventor proud of his invention. Practically every modern 21st century home boasts of this handy TV gadget. Just imagine viewers rushing to their sets to change channels! Convenience in this electronic day and age is often taken for granted. But thought should be be given to the brains behind the whole project. Eugene Polly blazed an electronic trail was honoured with an Emmy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    The invention of the remote solved the problem of moving parts on a tv. from breaking down, thereby saving money on repairs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    A truly great invention that so assists the elderly, bed-ridden and disabled as well as those of us that can't get out of the armchair! My children find it really weird that there used to be TVs without remote controls!

    A real innovator. I hope his invention earned him the fortune he undoubtedly deserved from it.


  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    A brilliant invention. Thanks to Eugene I can effortlessly select any of the many "freak show" style programmes about obesity or watch "The Day After Tommorrow" for the 20th time that month (provided my daughter hasn't stolen the batteries)

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Jokes about being on Standby? There must be one...

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    What a great pity he bothered. The remote control is one of the most annoying, frustrating and pointless "inventions" ever, serving no possible purpose. They consume batteries, they fail to work properly, they are not needed. What is wrong with a few knobs and switches? Oh yes, that's right, you have to get up to work them! We should be glad he didn't make them go "beep" as well, I suppose.


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