Hey Harvey!

Posted on Feb 15th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under TV Museum, History

Collectors of retro video games, as collectors of all media, stand against the ravages of time's arrow.  Said arrow only goes in one direction and as it inexorably pushes all forward it simultaneously leaves all behind.  As the the grand philosophers in Spaceballs once posited:

Col. Sandurz: Now. You're looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now is happening now.
Lord Dark Helmet: What happened to then?
Col. Sandurz: We passed it.
Lord Dark Helmet: When?
Col. Sandurz: Just now. We're in now now.
Lord Dark Helmet: Go back to then!
Col. Sandurz: When?
Lord Dark Helmet: Now!
Col. Sandurz: Now?
Lord Dark Helmet: Now!
Col. Sandurz: I can't!
Lord Dark Helmet: Why?
Col. Sandurz: We missed it!
Lord Dark Helmet: When?
Col. Sandurz: Just now!
Lord Dark Helmet: When will then be now?
Col. Sandurz: Soon.

I had to start with comedy because the news can be quite bleak for those of us interested in not just the now but the then.  The fiscal challenges due to 2020 has seen countless businesses fold and already fledgling museums and conventions scramble to survive.  The recent resurgence of bar-cades, retro arcades, and public VR centers may not recover.  SEGA Entertainment is getting out of the arcade business.  The Museum of Arts and Digital Entertainment (or the MADE) in Oakland, Calif, The Strong in New York, and the UK's National Videogame Museum are among the museums dedicated to preserving the video game industry, and their ultimate fates are (as of this writing) yet undecided.  Even pre-2020, there has always been a surprising apathy to recording and preserving the legacy of such an important media. *Obligatory nod to the importance of supporting our own site*

General Electric Octagon Replica circa 1950

Many readers likely know or have heard of these.  What is lesser known but, I'd argue, is at least as important is the Early Television Foundation and Museum in Hilliard, OH.  In a very unassuming building (my beloved just happened to notice the sign outside as we were on our way to a gaming convention) is a treasure trove of fascinating history, interesting artistry, and mostly-forgotten technological stepping stones.

 Until visiting, I had no idea television sets even existed as far back as the 1920s, with experimental devices and bizarre (to us) approaches to the devices so primary to building our modern life.  Some of the earliest models featured humongous tubes that had to be standing upright and then mirror-reflected onto a (often circular or oval) screen only a few inches around.  Others featured various mechanical moving parts and bulbs that make the original Star Trek series look positively modern.  The earliest sets were hand-made and often feature unique woodwork, the precursors to the giant console CRTs many of us grew up with.  I could go on and on, but why not feast your eyes on some beauties even the Atari 2600 could call grandpa:

A Baird Televisor from 1929

Hollis Baird Receiver with Globe Scanning Disk

Jenkins Model 100/102 from 1931

RCA Scanning Disk Set from 1929-1930

Andrea 2-F-12 from 1939.  These I found really interesting due to the upright tube inside that was reflected in the mirror above to view.

Raytheon 15in Color

What is immediately obvious when visiting the museum is the respect given not just to the advances in technology, but also the changing of culture around it.  As television became less of a hobbyist and niche market and into the mainstream, the design for the marketing and TVs themselves changed.  Clunky mechanical devices sitting on workbenches transformed into art pieces fitting alongside or replacing phonograghs and record players.  Posters and flyers with highly technical terms and concepts morph into viewing guides for how to entertain guests as the television became the centerpiece in entertainment spaces.

Walking from one room to the next, a tourist in the museum can feel the decades and eras pass.  Several of the sets are still operational and can be activated, giving an even more accurate depiction of the tiny portals the world was using to view the world.

Mechanical sets

Early British electronic sets

There are also several elaborate and technical displays of how early broadcasting technology developed over the decades.  The museum houses artifacts well beyond just the televisions themselves.

Perhaps most of this seems quaint, interesting but not significant.  Fun for enthusiasts, sure, but not really noteworthy for the larger world.  Ah, but one day it will be 2121 and as hard as it is to believe, our cell phones and PS5s and Nintendo Switches will be to that world as the Early Television Foundation and Museum is to us now.  Will there be more interest in learning from what came before, to better inform where to go?  There is much discussion these days about history and how it is written.  Technology is inescapably tied to culture; in a hundred years, people will want to know who we were, why we did what we did, why we watched what we watched and played what we played.  Accurately recording the now and preserving what we can of the past will always be important, even for something as seemingly innocuous as television and video games. 

If you can support such organizations financially, that's an excellent way to help preserve our history.  Perhaps even more important is to keep the metaphorical torch lit; to keep the conversation going, to preserve the interest as well as the artifacts.  The arrow of time will neither change direction nor slow down; since we are along for the ride, let's make sure we help those ahead of us know who we were and where we came from.


Permission was kindly given to link to the museum's gallery of pictures.

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thats not far from me.  its a great place to visit. 
This would be very cool to visit!

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