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Dayhoff: First television in Carroll County? Remembering the ‘thrilling days of yesteryear’

The barn in this undated picture taken around 1947 was refurbished into “Legion Square,” the home of Carroll Post 31 of the American Legion in Westminster on Sycamore Street. The barn was readapted and renovated and dedicated as the home of the American Legion on June 12, 1948 with great fanfare and a parade. At the time the Democratic Advocate praised the adaptive reuse as “one of the most beautiful modern structures in Carroll County.” One of the first TVs in Carroll County was installed in the facility in March 1948.
The barn in this undated picture taken around 1947 was refurbished into “Legion Square,” the home of Carroll Post 31 of the American Legion in Westminster on Sycamore Street. The barn was readapted and renovated and dedicated as the home of the American Legion on June 12, 1948 with great fanfare and a parade. At the time the Democratic Advocate praised the adaptive reuse as “one of the most beautiful modern structures in Carroll County.” One of the first TVs in Carroll County was installed in the facility in March 1948. (Courtesy Babylon-Dayhoff family papers)

The first time an American president gave a televised speech took place on Oct. 5, 1947. History reflects that the speech delivered over 70 years ago by President Harry S Truman “to save wheat” was hardly memorable.

For excitement in the early days of TV one needed to “Return with us now to the thrilling days of yesteryear ... The Lone Ranger Rides Again!” The “Lone Ranger,” a live action western, debuted in 1949, two years after Truman’s historic live broadcast.

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According to an undated article on the event in “American Heritage,” by Christine Gibson, “the October 5 broadcast did have a large effect on the free world, just not in a way Truman, or anyone at the time, could have predicted. The TV simulcast was clearly an afterthought for the administration, and an article on the speech published in Time magazine didn’t even mention that it had been televised.”

Today, most folks take for granted a world dominated by cellphones, computers, and cable TV. News and entertainment travels around the world in minutes, if not seconds, but in 1947 much of the news was disseminated by way of the radio, newspapers, and newsreels.

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There were only approximately 14,000 televisions in the United States. There were millions of radios. For many of us it was not until the 1950s that we remember the advent of television in our daily lives — or, for that matter, our first TV.

However, the concept had been around since around 1900 when the term “television” was coined by Constantin Perskyi at the International Electricity Congress in Paris. Seven years later, Boris Rosing first transmitted silhouetted images of geometric shapes, using a cathode-ray tube receiver.

The first any of the public became aware of the concept happened on Jan. 26, 1926, when John Logie Baird gave a demonstration for the British Royal Institution. The first television installed at 10 Downing Street in London occurred in 1930. Various sources cite that it was on July 14, 1930 that British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald watched “the first television drama,” titled “The Man with the flower in his mouth.”

In the U.S., it was May 28, 1928 that the “first” television station, “WGY” began broadcasting in Schenectady, New York. There are vague references to aspects of the 1932 presidential campaign being televised. It may have been CBS that experimented with television broadcasting at the time; however, the network abandoned the effort the next year in 1933.

Nevertheless, it is fairly well accepted that the first president to appear on TV was President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the New York World’s Fair on April 30, 1939; the same year that the first Major League Baseball game was televised.

It was in 1931 that Allen B. DuMont perfected a long-lasting reliable cathode-ray tube for television reception and by 1938 he began manufacturing an “all-electric” television for consumers.

However, WWII essentially ground the fledgling industry to a halt. After the war, on Aug. 9, 1945, DuMont began “network broadcasts.”

In Westminster, The Democratic Advocate reported on April 2, 1948 the Carroll Post No. 31, American Legion purchased a “large 18” by 24″ TV set, which was “installed by J. Stoner Geiman. … The television set is larger than standard models. It has two fourteen inch speakers, a screen eighteen by twenty-four inches…”

I have written about the topic of early TV in Carroll County in the past. Portions of this discussion have been published before. At Fallfest in September 2007, when the subject of early memories of television in Carroll County was brought up at the Lion’s Club booth, Bob Keefer, the late Ron Brewer and Bill Haifley all remembered “television firsts.”

“J. Stoner Geiman got a DuMont TV. He had it in the front window of his store at Carroll and Main Streets,” recalled former Westminster Common Council President Haifley. “That was first television in Westminster,” he continued.

Haifley couldn’t remember the year or any of the television programs, but Messrs. Haifley, Brewer, and Keefer all agreed, “We were thrilled as heck to watch a test pattern back then.”

All three gentleman shared recollections of “Campbell’s Radio,” located on Main Street across the street from the old Westminster firehall, also installing a TV in the front window. On Friday and Saturday nights the sidewalk would fill up with townsfolk stopping by to watch.

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In 1947, the year of President Truman’s speech on “food conservation,” the DuMont Television Network, which existed from 1945 to 1955, featured the first live broadcast of the World Series. NBC premiered “Howdy Doody” and “Meet the Press.”

In an age of widescreen flat TVs, Brewer remembered his family’s first television well. He came from a family of 12 children. In 1950, “there were about 7 of us born by 1950, when Dad brought home a 5-and-a-half inch screen TV. All of us would crowd around to watch it. … Dad finally went out a bought a magnifying glass and with that the screen appeared about 12” wide," laughed Brewer.

“Back then we were used to gathering around close from listening to the radio,” remembered Brewer. “You talk about excitement. [The TV] was excitement in our house.”

Meanwhile, dust off a copy of Gioacchino Rossini’s “William Tell overture” and recite with me: “Who was that masked man?”

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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