Posted April 11, 2018
Last updated April 7, 2021
Who introduced the first all electronic color television.
1. Admiral C1617A offered for sale January 6, 1954. (In a dealer showroom.)
2. AMC sold a 15 inch color set January 20, 1954. (Documented.)
3. Raytheon’s first color set on display at a department store in San Francisco, January 24, 1954.
4. Westinghouse H840CK15 offered for sale February 28, 1954. (Newspaper.)
5. RCA CT-100 offered for sale April, 1954. (Newspaper.)
August 27, 2018
You may be wondering why we posted this AMC television to our Admiral page … read on ….
This may be the first all electronic color television sold in America. It used an RCA 15 inch tri-color 15GP22. It was purchased on January 20, 1954 from salesman, Tony Valenti at the Brooklyn, New York Abraham & Straus department store just hours after the below advertisement broke. See the below newspaper article published a few days later. A women phoned the store, then came in to purchase the set including a $200 service contract with delivery in February.
The first all electronic color television in production and offered for sale was the Admiral C1617A. This article will document the existence of at least 33 C1617A’s.
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 4 sets are know to exist in collectors possession and two in a museum as of the date of this posting and because of this low number, it’s been assumed that 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. Westinghouse and other color set manufactures did exactly the same thing. 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 dealerships. We found that the 15 inch color sets were sent to dealers in the North, MidWest, the Eastern corridor, the South and as far away as Oakland, and Los Angles, California. The set in San Francisco was on display in a San Francisco dealership, for sale on January 14, 1954. In our search of nationwide newspapers arquives, we found many advertisements throughout the country, indicating the Admiral C1617A sets were at various dealerships at virtually the same time in the months of January, February, March, April and May, 1954. We also found numerous “giveaways”, contests, contest winners and private resale advertisements. This would indicate a limited production existed. Based on our research, production was at least several hundred sets and probably much more. Had to be in the hundreds with all the simultaneous showing of sets in dealers stores throughout the country, contests, “giveaways” and resale’s. Then we discovered that Admiral had a production run of 1000 in January, 1954 (below) and 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. This was hyperbole for Admiral shareholders. 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 ten thousand 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. There were more then one dealer in each city. (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 were a sizeable number of Admiral color sets (not prototypes) produced using the RCA 15 inch color CRT, because there were more then one Admiral dealer in each large city in the existing color networks and the many advertisements found with Admiral color sets in dealer stores. 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 the current belief. See below two articles.
1000 sets being produced.
Based on Admirals intention to have samples of their first color set available to all their dealers 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 in possession of collectors and a museum as of the date of this post. (Two recently discovered June 25, 2017, the museum sets by this author)
January 10, 1954
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 19, 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?
January 6, 1954
Earliest evidence (I’ve found so far) of an Admiral C1617A in a dealer store. (Maryland)
JANUARY 14, 1954
The Admiral C1617A color TV goes on sale in San Francisco on January 14, 1954. Orders for color TV taken on priority basis.
JANUARY 15, 1954
January 16, 1954
Admiral C1617A in Ogden, Utah.
First photographic evidence of an Admiral C1617A in a dealer store.
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? Of course, why in the store if not to sell?)
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.
First documented purchase of an Admiral C1617A (that I’ve found so far) occurred sometime prior to May 16, 1954. Possibly a mom and pop repair shop looking for business?
One month later a follow up article found.
Second documented purchase (found so far) of an Admiral C1617A occurred sometime prior to May 25, 1954 including the disclosure that “(Admiral) color sets have been installed in a few private homes in the Chicago area.” Note: “In the Midwest area”.
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 Tribune 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.
One of the many “Giveaway” advertisements we found of the Admiral C1617A color set.
Another giveaway in Boston, September 29, 1955.
Another contest. Three Admiral C1617A’s to be given away.
UPDATE, MARCH 24, 2021
Workers at an Admiral factory in Bloomington, IL. 1956 courtesy Made In Chicago Museum.
One more giveaway in Waco, Texas, February 7, 1956.
Private sale or resale in Tampa, Florida, April 24, 1956.
In the book, “1950s American Style A Reference Guide”, on page 97, it is stated, “The first compatible color sets, built by the Admiral Corporation in 1953, sold for $1,175.”
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 (by author) Admiral C1617A N color television found at the Canada Science And Technology Museum. The museum has two, which appear in excellent condition with detailed information. This set is one of six known to exist as of the date of this writing. 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? Or was this pristine looking set a donation from a dealers new old stock about 1957?
Update, February 9, 2018
COLOR TV IS BORN
Topps Trading Card describing the Admiral (C1617A) as the first color television sold on December 30, 1953.
UPDATE, August 28, 2018
An eye whitness account from an owner of an Admiral C1617A which appeared in a VideoKarma forum post.
“I guess I’m one of the few who ever saw a color picture on a 15G set, back when they were still “new.” It was on our 15G Admiral and I’m reminded how tricky it was to get a decent picture – in Wichita, Kansas, over-the-air. At that time, about 1957, those sets were already obsolete and we bought ours for $65. The seller had won it in a contest and had less than zero interest in keeping it. (Few 15G’s were ever sold and I’ve always wondered how many of those Admirals were ever manufactured – let alone, sold.)
But I was just young enough and naive enough to believe that I could impress the neighbors with COLOR TV. It was primitive but it was fun. Not easy to watch a world series on that little screen. I was always trying to tweak the convergence and purity – with no instrumentation to assist. The only repair I remember was ordering a replacement focus control; the original couldn’t hold up to the load on it. Eventually my teenage interests moved on and I don’t even remember the final disposition of that set. I probably used the proceeds to “fix up” my first car.”
Added, April 7, 2021
I’m sure the debate will continue, but we believe the above information proves that the Admiral C1617A was the first all electronic color television offered for sale to the public. Westinghouse disputes this, saying their first color set was the first to be mass produced in meaningful numbers; but an Admiral spokesperson told a Chicago Daily News reporter that as of January 7, 1954, the company “was producing 1000 color sets”.
When we search the internet, we find the first color sets sold was on such and such date. It was either the Admiral, Westinghouse or the RCA set. How do these reports know that the color set “sold”. Did the reporters verify by interviewing the buyer or seller? I don’t think so. What we should be reporting is, “when was the first color television offered for sale”. The first documented evidence we found so far of a purchase of the Admiral C1617A occurred sometime prior to May 16, 1954 by the owner of a television service shop in Texas and a week later by the owner of a cocktail lounge in the Chicago area and several other sets installed in private homes in the Chicago area.
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 shown that an Admiral C1617A was on display in a Maryland store on January 6, 1954 and we have proof the set was offered for sale to the public in an appliance/electronic store in San Francisco on January 14, 1954, 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 4400?) 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 6, 1954. Update December 24, 2018: At least six, possibly more Admiral C1617A sets were available at six stores in the Los Angeles area as late as January, 1957. (Below)
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 1946 General Electric mechanical model No. 950, then that was the first and the 1951 CBS mechanical color television, 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. Even today, most collectors I know think of the RCA as being first and indeed many internet sites report the same. *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 and needed enough samples to ship to various stores in the country. As we have shown above, the set was displayed in all portions of the country. *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 Westinghouse and RCA did with the H840CK15 and the CT-100 color sets.
Edit: December 24, 2018. We have seen that the Admiral, Westinghouse, RCA and other brands sales of their first color offerings were dismal for the reasons given, too small of a screen, too expensive, not enough color programming and were hard to adjust. As a result, many of the Admirals manufactured went unsold. They were given away in contests and promotions. Motorola and other brands introduced a 19 inch color set for $895.00 in July, 1954 and RCA introduced a $895.00 21 inch color set in December, 1954, so why would the public want to buy a discontinued 12 1/2 inch Admiral color set? Admiral had to reduce the remaining stock to $595.00 and the set still did not sell. Where did these (so called) 1000 plus sets go? They sat in warehouses and dealer showrooms, unsold as new old stock as we have just learned, as late as 1957. (See below) The Early Television Foundation believes about 4400 RCA CT 100 sets were made, this author believes about 3500 to 4000 Westinghouse HK840CK15 were made (see our data on the Westinghouse page) and at least 1000 Admiral C1617A sets were made. We limited our search to the years 1953, 1954 and 1955. In light of the new finding by Steve Dichter, we are going to expand our search to 1956 and 1957.
*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?
Note: The above research was acquired from a small, limited database of the nations newpaper archives. As an example, we did not search the New York Times. If we can broaden the scope of the search, it might reveal interesting results. We are certain we can find additional documented sales evidence of the Admiral C1617A. Lastly, we present this evidence based on facts without bias.
*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.
UPDATE, DECEMBER 24, 2018
Steve Dichter posted this advertisement from a Los Angeles area newspaper, which lends credence that Admiral really did manufacture at least 1000 units of the Admiral C1617A. This appears to be new old stock still available in 1957, rembering this Admiral’s production stopped about August, 1954. It’s interesting to note that the two examples in a Canadian museum state “circa 1957”. I wonder how many ads like this one existed nationwide? They are there to be discovered.
UPDATE January 7, 2019
Because of Steve’s find, we were inspired to search our newspaper archive and found two additional Dorn advertisements. The first from the Los Angeles Times, January 31, 1957 indicating the Admiral was on display at six stores in the Los Angeles area.
The second advertisement was found in the Covina Argus, Covina, California, March 7, 1957 with a price reduction down to an incredible (for the time) $199.95.
UPDATE, AUGUST 15, 2019
“How could Admiral sell color sets in December or January, (1953/54) when RCA didn’t start selling the tubes until April” (1954), one viewer asked.
Explanation. See below article published January 4, 1954 in Broadcast Magazine. Wednesday would have been December 30, 1953.