Watch the First Commercial Ever Shown on American TV, 1941

Let’s set the scene: The Brooklyn Dodgers are playing the Philadelphia Phillies at Ebbets Field on July 1, 1941, and the game is being aired on WNBT-TV (later to become WNBC). Before the game begins, TV viewers see this: a 10-second advertisement for Bulova clocks and watches. The ad shows a clock and a map of the United States, with a voice-over that says, “America runs on Bulova time.” This litte spot (which ran at 2:29 pm, if you’re keeping Bulova time) marked the advent of something much bigger — commercialized television. Earlier in 1941, the FCC had approved a plan to turn TV into big business. When Bulova paid $9 dollars to plug its brand, the plan was actualized. Every advertisement seen since (for better or worse) has a common lineage in this moment.

via Mashable

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Comments (9)
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  • Dave Juliette says:

    Great clip.

    But two things: First, WNBT was simply WNBT, not WNBT-TV. Secondly, and perhaps most interestingly, WNBT operated on Channel 1, this being before the FCC eliminated Channel 1 from the television spectrum because of all the interference its low frequency was prey to. As there were a number of TVs out in the field when the FCC made this decision, they simply dropped Channel 1 from the dial, rather than shift everything over one channel. WNBT was moved to channel 4, and eventually became WNBC-TV.

    Further TV history reveals (stop me before I Cliff Clavin myself to death) that when ABC was setting up its New York channel, they specifically requested Channel 7, because the FCC was actually considering eliminating channels 1 thru 6, and ABC wanted to have their channel first on the new dial. Of course, that never materialized.

    OK, I’m done.

  • Guy says:

    Whats with the stupidly fake audio overlay? Whos dumbass idea was that? If you didnt have the original audio, just say so and put in a caption. Cheesy as fuck.

  • Michael ambjorn says:

    Ha ha, how cheesy is that?

  • Kevin says:

    Thanks Guy for saying what I thought when I watched this earlier today…. That doesn’t sound like anything I would expect from the 1940s…. I guess my expectations of the 1940s could be off the mark, but something doesn’t sound right there.

  • Kathryn says:

    Not sure what the YouTube description said when Open Culture first posted this, but it now states what is so obviously is… a ‘reconstruction’. I’m not crying in my coffee, but it’s a tad disappointing to see it touted as the original seeing as the audio was so blatant.

  • Denis says:

    Sorry, but this was NOT the famous WNBT Bulova “first commercial” from July 1, 1941.

    The first Bulova advertisement was seen at 2:29 PM as part of a placement on a WNBT test pattern modified with hands to look like a clock giving the time. The camera focused on the test pattern for a minute, just before the Brooklyn Dodgers telecast. In the lower right hand quadrant of the test pattern is the message “Bulova Watch Time”. Bulova wanted to be the first paid ad on TV and the test pattern guaranteed that nothing would be on before it.

    Here is the photo:

    It is documented in a story called “Imagery For Profit” R.W. Stewart, New York Times, July 6, 1941.

  • Joanne Raymond says:

    Get a life Dave Juliette!!!

  • Stephen Tropiano says:

    I would like to use this image for a book I am writing — does anyone know what the watermark on the photo stands for so I can trace it?

  • Richard J says:

    I remember 1961 1962 I was in a cereal advertisement for MAD MEN (I was a black kid)

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