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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Relat­ed Con­tent:

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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:‑1.jpg

    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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