Zenith pioneered the TV remote control, but those early models were more drag than advantage. Electronic House has a full walk down remote-control memory lane, but first, here's a quick Retromodo look at Zenith's first three creative attempts—and what was tragically wrong with them:
Lazy Bones (1950) - According to Electronic House, it was the world's first commercially available TV remote control. It could only flip through channels by triggering a motorized knob. Needless to say, its secondary skill as a tripwire caused problems in the living room.
Flash-Matic (1955) - Billed as "absolutely harmless to humans," this focused flashlight could be aimed at one of four light sensors on the TV itself, in order to turn TV on or off, change channel or adjust volume. But like Gyration mice and other gestural devices of today, it was a challenge because people forgot where and how to point the thing to activate each function. Also, sunlight really played havoc with the sensors.
Space Command (1956) - A much better system than Flash-Matic and as comfortable as a pack of Benson & Hedges in the hand, the Space Command used ultrasound—ingeniously generated without batteries by plungers hitting aluminum tuning forks—to change channel, turn TV on or off, and adjust volume. It did have one problem, though: Some dogs couldn't stand the noise.
Check out EH's "A History of TV Remote Controls" for the full story. [Electronic House]