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Eugene Polley, inventor of the TV remote, dies aged 96

Eugene Polley, the man who invented the wireless television remote control in 1955, has died at the grand age of 96.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
2 min read

Eugene Polley, the man who invented the television remote control, has died at the age of 96.

Polley pioneered the clicker in 1955. While working for Zenith Electronics, he came up with a handheld zapper that shone a beam of light at four photo cells in each corner of the TV, giving you the four options of either turning the set off or on, or nudging the channel tuner up or down the channels. If only they were still that simple...

Polley's Flash-Matic was the first wireless remote control. A previous Zenith remote was attached to the television by a wire and was called, brilliantly, the Lazy Bone.

As the number of channels increased, Polley's colleague Dr Robert Adler developed an ultrasonic clicker, before the industry moved to infrared in the 1980s.

The remote control seems like such a small thing, but it's an enormously important part of gadget history. Today, living rooms are filled with remotes for TVs, Blu-ray players and set-top boxes, all covered with buttons. And that's not to mention video game controllers, right up to the Wii U controller: a remote with a TV in it. Meanwhile the next generation of remote control is the remote control app on your smart phone or tablet.

Polley was born in Chicago in 1915 and worked for Zenith for 47 years. He also helped pioneer radar during the Second World War and the forerunner of the DVD. He and Adler were presented with an Emmy Award in 1997 for their services to telly.

What's your pet name for the remote? And what's your favourite remote control: the Sky+ hoofer or TiVo jobbie? The minimalist Apple control? The Xbox or PlayStation controller? Zap your thoughts into the comments or our Facebook page.