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This 'Television Monocle' From 1938 Was Silly and Wonderful

Illustration for article titled This Television Monocle From 1938 Was Silly and Wonderful
Photo: Novak Archive

Back in 1938, TV wasn’t really a thing yet. But that didn’t stop people from already dreaming about the wild future of tiny, personalized TV sets. One perfect example is this bizarre contraption from a British company, dubbed the “Television Monocle.”


TV technology was improving rapidly during the 1930s, at least in the lab, but Americans really couldn’t buy a TV set until the late 1940s. Companies often used TV tech to get attention from the press, however, and this device seems like it was precisely for that purpose. The Television Monocle had an absolutely tiny screen, measuring just 1.5 inches by 1 inch, a ridiculous idea no matter how you slice it.

The March 1939 issue of Radio-Craft magazine published the photo above, and included a description:

In England, the Gramophone Co. (Middlesex) last month announced the Television Monocle, says Radio-Press-Service. Held like an ordinary French-phone, it affords “personalized” television image and sound reception. This H.M.V.—His Master’s Voice—Television Monocle presents an image about 1.5 x 1in. (which is about all the eye can accommodate at such short range), as viewed on the second of 2 mirrors at 45-deg. angles; the cathode-ray tube is actuated by a nearby receiver. The earpiece at the end of the Monocle completes this televiwer for the “rugged individualist.”


The December 1938 issue of Popular Science published its own photo of the device, which gives you a better sense of just how small the screen was.

Illustration for article titled This Television Monocle From 1938 Was Silly and Wonderful
Image: Popular Science

Silly? Yes, of course. But back in the 1930s, inventors were coming up with all kinds of silly gadgets to stand out in the crowd. Did you hear about that 1930s appliance, the mechanical refrigerator? Absolutely ridiculous if you ask me. Real Americans keep things cold the old fashioned way, sitting on a block of ice.

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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The real good stuff was further down in that Popular Science issue.