Posted April 11, 2018
The first all electronic color television offered for sale was the Admiral C1617A.
There has been debate and the consensus by the collector community is that this set was not the first color television marketed for sale. Why, because only 6 sets have been discovered as of the date of this posting which must mean very few sets were actually manufactured. The thought is, if the Admiral C1617A has low manufacturing numbers, it should not count as a bonafide production color receiver. Our research is offered to help clarify the debate.
DECEMBER 18, 1953 New Castle News, New Castle, Pennsylvania.
“GEORGE BROS. will allow you full purchase price on an Admiral Color TV purchased anytime between now (December 18, 1953 date of advertisement) and June 1, 1954.”
In the second article below, Admiral announced the new 15 inch color set on December 18, 1953 and in a further article below, the President of Admiral states that the Admiral color set was “introduced” on December 19, 1953. We believe Admiral offered their dealerships incentives to allow customers full purchase price trade-in’s on expensive Admiral color sets. We found several similar advertisements like this one, one of which is shown further down below. Admiral may have been taking advance orders on the C1617A and it’s possible they may have taken orders on this date. This advertisement appears to be an offer to sell (for future delivery) on December 18, 1953.
Just one day after the FCC announcement approving the RCA compatible color system, the Milwaukee Sentinal reported that Admiral was already producing color sets in pilot production with plans to introduce them to its distributors on December 30, 1953 at a price more then $1,000, with production quantities increasing by the end of the second quarter 1954. A production goal of 30 thousand color sets were planned by the end of the year.
In the enitial roll out of color sets in December, 1953, we found numerous newspaper articles published between December, 1953 and early first quarter, 1954. These articles show that Admiral had a small production run to send to their top selling dealerships. We found that the 15 inch color set was sent to dealers in the MidWest, the Eastern corridor, the South and as far away as Oakland, California. The set in Oakland was on display in an Oakland dealership, presumably for sale on January 26, 1954. We found that the Admiral color sets on display were at each dealership for one week and then, presumably were sent to the next dealership in the chain of dealerships. Below you can see three such dealerships offering the Admiral color set for sale.
We believe Admiral was prepared to gear up to a significant production run, had color television sales taken off, but not 30,000 sets. The industry was pessimistic about sales right from the start. The screen was to small, not enough color programming and the sets were way to expensive. How many sets were manufactured in the initial run? 50, 100, 500 or 1000? We don’t know for sure. The articles found indicate Admiral had a grand scheme of manufacturing 30,000 color sets by the end of 1954. One thousand sets would be a drop in the bucket.
There are multiple accounts indicating a second shipment of Admiral color sets occurred with a price drop in April, 1954. By this time, production estimates dropped from 30 thousand to about 10 units in the year 1954. As you will see further down, production was halted about July or August. We have such articles found in our search. At the time the above article was written, we know there were 21 cities prepared to telecast the Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, 1954. According to the above article, the dealers in these cities were going to get at least one Admiral color set. Conservatively then, we would expect there were at least 21 Admiral color sets produced. (As a sidenote, in my hometown of Milwaukee, there were at least seven, possibly nine prototype color sets available to view the Rose Parade in 1954.) Speculation by this author, we believe there probably were much more then 21 Admiral color sets produced using the RCA 15 inch color CRT, because there were more then one Admiral dealer in each large city in the existing color network. We believe Admiral did put in place at least one sample color set per dealer in the 21 city network and that the production was much higher then 21 color sets. See below article:
Based on Admirals intention to have samples of their first color set available to ALL their distributors in the 21 city color network and the above and below articles, we don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that 1000 sets were indeed manufactured. In a 1955 contest, Admiral was giving away 10 such color sets. In our search of nationwide newspaper articles, we found various private re-sale ads of this Admiral color set in 1954 and 1955. We can’t post every article we found. It would take up too much space on this page. The question is, how many of these color sets sold? According to the collector community, we know 6 sets are known to exist. (Two recently discovered June 25, 2017)
In this November 19, 1961 Chicago Tribune article, the President of Admiral Corporation claims Admiral’s first color television was introduced on December 19, 1953.
In this November 10, 1963 Chicago Tribune article, Mr. Siracusa is now Chairman of the Board, Admiral Corporation. He writes, giving more details about the first Admiral color television. The new information is that the cabinet had a removable top for servicing of the chassis.
This is the first all electronic color set, the Admiral C1617A which was introduced to the public as early as December 18, 1953 according to the Admiral Corporation or on December 30, 1953 according to the New York Times and others.
A New York Times article published December 31, 1953.
Article published January 4, 1954 in the Pittsburgh Press.
Published January 4, 1954 in the Miami News
How many Admiral dealerships existed in the 21 network cities in 1954? Did Admiral manufacture about 1000 color sets to address this question?
On page 106 of the book, Television: The Life Story of a Technology, it is stated: “Admiral Television Corporation put the first receivers (color) on the market for $1175.00 on December 30, 1953, so that it could take a deductible tax loss on its color factory investment.”
An article published January 25, 1954 in The News-Paladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan offering the Admiral color set for sale, “Delivery Guaranteed as we receive shipments. Purchase price, $1175.00 installed with your existing antenna.”
Article published January 26, 1954 in the Oakland Tribune. Admiral color set on display at Maxwells department store in Oakland, California. (Presumably taking orders?)
Article published February 21, 1954 from the Pittsburg Press: “100% trade-in allowance toward color television on any new set purchased from us now.”
Here is an article from the Pittsburg Post-Gazette published February 24, 1954.
An article from Billboard Magazine published May 29, 1954. The President of Admiral Corporation announced a price drop of their color television from $1175.00 to $1000.00. This indicates the Admiral color set was still being marketed as of the date of publication of the article, May 29, 1954.
This earlier April 9, 1954 Chicago Tribune article states that Admiral had started shipping its “second series” of color sets at $1,000, a price drop of $175 dollars from the preceding price. We know that RCA did not announce their 21 inch color tube and television until September 15, 1954, so this “second series” would have been the 15 inch color set. This article affirms the above article.
If Admiral color sets were not selling, they were giving then away in an Arthur Godfrey Lux Liquid contest. “Win an Admiral 15 inch color TV consoles”, one of 10 in this 1955 advertisement. (A similar contest was held to win an RCA 21CT55, sponsored by Kraft Parkay margarine)
In an article appearing in the Chicago Tribube published June 13, 1954, the President of Admiral Corporation declared the 12 inch color tube dead. This should give us insights as to the thinking and intent of further marketing of the Admiral C1617A.
Here is a specification sheet and an advertisement by a serviceing company for the Admiral C1617A courtesy of John Folsom and the Early Television Foundation.
Update, June 25, 2017
Newly discovered Admiral C1617A N color television found at the Canada Science And Technology Museum. Appears in excellent condition with detailed information. This set is one of six known to exist. Tap on images for enlargement. Photos and information courtesy of the museum.
Speculation. Is it possible that the Admiral C1617A was selling or still available in Canada about 1957 as indicated above?
Update, February 9, 2018
COLOR TV IS BORN
Topps Trading Card describing the Admiral (C1617A) as the first color television introduced on December 30, 1953.
We think the above information proves that the Admiral C1617A was the first all electronic color television offered for sale to the public. There is still a question as to when the first Admiral color sets were delivered to consumers homes. The set was engineered and developed in Chicago and Palo Alto, Ca. The chassis and construction of the set show it was not an RCA clone although it used an RCA engineered CRT. We have proof the set was offered for sale to the public in an appliance/electronic store in the Pittsburg area and in Benton Harbor, Michigan as well as in Oakland, California as early as January 25, 1954. We have evidence of a price drop and second production run four months after the Admiral was first announced for sale, strong indicators that this set was offered for sale, but probably in small numbers. We found evidence of at least one service provider for this color television. We also found evidence the first production was 1000 sets with increased production in the second quarter of 1954. It appears that Admiral made the decision to stop production of their first color television about August, 1954. Consider the fact that RCA stopped production of the CT-100 approximately six months after introduction so that they could concentrate on manufacturing the “preferred color size” 21 inch color set, the RCA 21-CT-55. (The Admiral version went on sale January 5, 1955.)
During this time period, if the general buying public could purchase one, then the Admiral C1617A was indeed the first all electronic color television for sale. It does not matter if the production numbers were low. (What defines mass production? 1000? or 4000?) We will continue to search newspaper and city archives for additional information. It’s possible we may find evidence of an Admiral C1617A for sale earlier then January 25, 1954.
Bottom line to correct the record, RCA certainly was the main driver in introducing color television in the United States and the CRT’s used in their competitor televisions were engineered by RCA, but the fact remains, RCA was not the first to introduce color televisions to the buying public. If you count the CBS mechanical color television, then that was the first, followed by the all electronic Admiral, Westinghouse, RCA and other televisions. RCA deserves much credit, because they continued to improve, innovate and sustain color television in the United States, finally realizing a profit from their work in the early 1960’s.
Still, the question remains. Why haven’t more Admiral C1617A color sets been found? Perhaps it’s because the set was lost in obscurity to the marketing blitz, publicity and hoopla of RCA. Admiral was overwhelmed by the name recognition of the RCA brand and it’s resources. *RCA manufactured about 4400 CT-100 sets and its successor, the RCA 21CT55 manufactured about 3000 sets.* As we have seen from the above postings, Admiral manufactured about 1000 C1617A sets, remembering they had 10 sets to give away in the 1955 Lux liquid contest. *Today as we know it, about 146 RCA Ct-100’s survive, about 29 RCA 21CT55’s survive and 6 Admiral C1617’s survive.* Most likely, Admiral watched the slow sales of color sets, not only their own, but from RCA and stopped production just as RCA did with the CT-100 color set.
*It was reported that the CBS-Columbia 12CC2 produced approximately 200 units and only sold 100 of them. The Westinghouse H840CK15 reportedly only sold 30 units in the first few months of sale and an about 200 more according to Steve McVoy of the Early Television Foundation. Low production numbers, no? Do we erase their marks in history?
*Citation, Early Television Foundation.
July 16, 2017 Addendum: We found evidence the first public offering for sale of an Admiral C1617A occurred December 18, 1953.