The Holy Grail of TV Remotes: 1955 Zenith Flash-Matic

Submitted by StoryTroy May 22nd, 2011
Certifikitsch WinnerClassique d Camembert

Presented here after many years of watching, waiting, and minor ebay heart failures, the 1955 Zenith Flash-Matic finally arrived in today’s mail.

Looks like a flashlight out of grandpa’s tackle box, doesn’t it?  That’s because it kinda sorta is a flashlight.  Well, not even kinda sorta.  Given the grip and shape, it almost looks like something you’d water a futuristic neon garden with.

Here’s how it works… you pop a c-cell battery into this lil’ chamber…

Point it at one of the receptors on the corners of the set, and fire away!

Exciting stuff.  So much so that the ad required underlining the amazing things it could do for emphasis!

Adding to the kitsch value of this find is the fact that it was manufactured with almost complete obliviousness to its critical flaw.  You can probably guess right away what the major issue with the Zenith Flash-matic was, too: Any time somebody went into the kitchenette to make himself a dagwood sandwich and flipped the lights on or off, the photoreceptors went bananas.  This is why the world’s first-ever wireless television remote was doomed to just ONE year of production in 1955.  It may have seemed an improvement over the corded Zenith Lazy Bones Remote at first, but its utter impracticality left it wide open to being replaced in 1956 with the Space Command remotes we all know and love for their rich, solid, “ker-plink.”  Those only changed channels when you accidentally dropped a fork jussssssst right.

An industrious collector with more room at home than moi has posted both the Flash-Matic’s operation manual and images of his working Flash-Matic TV here:

9 Responses to “The Holy Grail of TV Remotes: 1955 Zenith Flash-Matic”

  1. Mark Milligan

    That is so cool. I think if I ever found one I wouldn’t have any idea what it was!

    In our house I was the remote until 6th grade. But we only had three channels. CBS, ABC, and PBS. No NBC, because Dad wouldn’t spring for another antenna that faced the NBC tower. If someone was really well-to-do, they might have an electric motor at the base of their roof top antenna to spin it to face the NBC tower.

  2. denny

    I broke out into a sweat over this post. What a fantastic find. I am so jealous that I will have to hit the button below!

    This is so deserving of the Camembert Award!

  3. windupkitty

    hah WOW! Congrats ont his! What a fabulous post…I know virtually nothing about tv remotes but now i’m really curious to learn…love the design and the color and will always love the old zenith logo…very sci-fi…

  4. k2dtw

    Great post… Love the Zenith “Flash-Matic”.. In addition to the remote itself… I’m guessing how much you love words, and I can only imagine how much you love the great names they always give the remotes.
    I love your title…smile.. In a effort to try to find something to help celebrate your description… “The Holy Grail of TV Remote”..
    i found this….LOL…

  5. StoryTroy

    Another collector has suggested that the complete lack of paint inside the embossed Zenith lettering and the atypical curvature of the trigger might suggest that this may actually be a pre-production prototype. Emailing a few other Zenith know-it-alls to see if this might actually be so, in which case this sweet little find would be made even sweeter.