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CBS Color Demonstration, Sears in Brooklyn, NY

From Bob Cooper's article "Television: The Technology That Changed Our Lives":

On July 12, 1951 Sears unveiled in public CBS field sequential color television to the public. The News-Graphic report, here in full, leaves no doubt that Sears and CBS-Columbia had a very close relationship.

"Amazement grew in Brooklyn as ... . Audience glued eyes on 1st Silvertone color TV screen. (New York City). On a recent Thursday, Brooklyn, home of the beloved 'Bums' and other famous local heroes, scored again. The store here staged the first public demonstration - anywhere in the country - of the new, self-contained, Silvertone color TV receiver.

"Special - guest invitations had been sent to a selected list of preferred customers, the press, managers and selling personnel of company stores in the New York City area. So a fair crowd was, naturally, expected. But a full half-hour before that morning's CBS color broadcast at 10:30 a.m., whole families began pouring into D/57.

"Grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, children of all ages (including babes in arms) and their assorted cousins, sisters and aunts came. It was really like Christmas in midsummer!

"Odell explained it. The demonstration was opened with a revealing talk by Chicago's Douglas L. Odell, D/657 retired sales manager. He described, in laymen's language, the intricacies, present limitations and boundless possibilities of the fabulous new entertainment medium ... color TV.

"The Silvertone color TV, used for the Brooklyn demonstrations, it is reported, was the only one in the world at that time capable of receiving either color or black and white with the mere flick of a switch.

"Self contained, it is equipped with a 10-inch tube, magnified to a 12-1/2 inch size, and all of the mechanism is concealed in a handsome mahogany cabinet with fold-back doors on the upper half.

"An interesting comparison between color and black and white reception of the same broadcast was shown. There was a standard black-and-white TV set - a small console, specially adapted for the purpose - set up next to the Silvertone color TV cabinet.

"Home ec. gal was star. The first Brooklyn demonstration picked up the CBS broadcast of the show 'Modern Homemakers.' Wearing a simple summer dress of watermelon pink, Home Economist Edalene Stohr, gave the cooking lesson in a kitchen resplendent with modern white enamelled equipment against aquamarine walls and cherry red accessories. (Note: What a spot for Harmony House colors!)

"Miss Stohr's opening picture consisted of southern fried chicken sizzling in a gleaming, stainless-steel skillet. While that was cooking, she prepared (on a celadon green platter) a mouth-watering array of ruby-red sliced tomatoes, frilled with freshly-sliced cucumbers, scallions with their pale green stems, and emerald-green pepper rings.

"The vegetable course was a luscious arrangement of garden fresh peas and brilliant orange colored carrots, quartered the long way.

"Comedy relief (unrehearsed). All of the viewers at the demonstration drooled - actually, visibly in some cases! - when Miss Stohr created a marvellous layer cake, piled high with pale-pink, seven-minute, whipped frosting. And then lavishly covered with fresh strawberries!

"As she was carefully arranging the fluffy frosting, a big, coal-black house fly made a perfect six-point landing smack on top of the cake. It's satisfaction was brief. BANG! It was liquidated by a swift smack of the cook's spatula - off the cake!

"Miss Stohr's neat coup brought roars of laughter from the Sears-store audience. Miss Stohr went on ... calmly as if nothing had happened.

"Hungered again. The colorful meal was completed by tall, frosty, glasses of iced coffee, chilled with cubes of frozen chocolate for 'exotic flavor'. And her dish was topped by a huge white cloud of whipped cream.

"Seeing such an irresistible meal in actual colors on the new Silvertone Color TV made everyone in the audience ravenously hungry.

"Typical remark reported: 'Gosh! I just had lunch. But I could eat all THAT right now!' What better proof of how vividly sharp and clear the CBS color program was received on the Silvertone? Also, it indicated what a terrific impact color, added to television, can have on an audience!

"About 350 attended the initial morning broadcast, and well over 400 caught the afternoon show."

A photograph of the event, perhaps strangely showing a line of people waiting for admission, carried the following caption: "GUARDRAILS WERE NEEDED as men, women, and children crowded into D/57 during recent Silvertone color TV demonstrations in the Brooklyn, N.Y. store. Hundreds asked, 'How soon will color sets be on sale?' as they signed preference certificates entitling them to be among the first to get their sets. It all bodes well for the future popularity of color television."

Comments submitted by Jeff Frey:

Dear Mr Cooper,

I have read your article on Early Color Television at http://www.earlytelevision.org/color_tv_cooper.html with fascination: It dawned on me as I was reading that I was one of the few people who actually witnessed a demonstration of field-sequential color at the Sears store in Brooklyn, NY, in July, 1951.

The demonstration I saw, which must have been a public version of the July 12 demonstration you wrote about, no doubt took place in the TV section of the Sears store at 2307 Beverley Rd, in Brooklyn, NY.  That was my neighborhood Sears store, and it has been in operation since 1932.  I was 12 in 1951 and I often bicycled down to Sears to see the latest technology.

I don't remember whether I was alerted to the demo by an advertisement or whether I stumbled on it on my own, but I clearly remember the set and the hundred or so people standing in front of it to see it work.  The set was a large wooden thing with a rounded top and bulbous magnifying lens.  And I remember the quality of the color TV picture, which--in normal store lighting and from a distance of about twelve feet--looked very good indeed.  I don't recall any flicker or color bleeding or instability.  I don't recall the program content, either; it was difficult to hear the audio due to the crowd, and I really was only interested in the technology.  Indeed, I think the image quality of the field-sequential system was superior to that of the NTSC system for many years, due to registration problems with both three-CRT and single-CRT systems.

The political, business, and mob implications of the RCA/NBC battle completely evaded me at the time, and your article answered many questions I didn't even know I had.  It would have been great if you had been able to share more of your sources, however, in a properly footnoted article--as I, at least, would be interested in reading more of that primary material.