By 1942, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cut air time to four hours a week and most television stations either stopped broadcasting or just aired programming on the war, boxing matches or occasional theater. Like so many things during wartime, production of television sets, radios and broadcasting equipment for consumers was halted from early 1942 to the fall of 1945.
After the war, everyone made up for lost time with a renewed vigor.
Postwar Television Sets
Imagine the setting: it was just after World War II, and people were trying to get caught up, move on and built better lives for themselves and their families. Miles and miles of tract homes in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas were built quickly to provide shelter and opportunity. New automobiles, appliances, machines and technology -- new everything. By 1947, there were 40 million radios in the U.S. and about 44,000 television sets, and by 1951 there were four television networks -- National Broadcasting Company (NBC), American Broadcasting Company (ABC), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and the DuMont Television Network that were broadcasting shows coast to coast.
New Furniture for the Living Room
A new television set in a family's home meant a substantial new piece of furniture was added to their living room. TVs were housed in wide and deep wood-grain cabinets with ample surface space upon which to display framed photos, vases or some sort of decorative object.
The Fear Factor
In a postwar world where fear of Communism and the nuclear bomb sent school children diving under their desks for weekly air-raid drills and the polio virus was still a threat, people were overly cautious about the unfamiliar or the unknown. What could be scary or dangerous about a television set that brought entertainment into citizens' homes? Experts warned that viewing a TV in a darkened room might damage people's eyesight and possibly lead to blindness. The remedy: indirect lighting in the form of a TV lamp placed on top of the television itself. A new sub-industry was born.
A TV Lamp to Suit Everyone's Taste (Or Lack Thereof)
A TV lamp was an indirect lighting source, which meant there was no way you could read by its glow, lest you risk severe eyestrain yet again. The lamps that sat atop TVs were multi-talented, in that they not only produced indirect light, they were a decorative accent -- in some cases the centerpiece -- in the room. Some were probably more entertaining than whatever was being broadcast on TV. A no-holds-barred approach to what could become a TV lamp is what has made them so popular to collectors. Many were ceramic figurals; Polynesian, Oriental or other "exotic" decor; plants; fruit; transportation, and other kitsch. Some were also planters -- a strange design choice for something that was intended to be operated via electricity. A random sampling of some of the more popular and unpopular TV lamps:
- Ceramic Siamese cats
- Deer and gazellesin various poses
- Mallards, roosters, owls and swans
- Cherubs and other heavenly beings
- Creeping black panthers
- Poodles and other dog breeds
- Fall leaves and grapes
- Miniature TV set (on top of the big one -- get it?)
- Wagons pulled by oxen
- Conch Shells and Tikis
Movers and Shakers in the TV Lamp World
Very quickly a new lighting product was being manufactured by dozens of companies -- some well-known names in lighting or ceramics, others that were newly formed. Among them:
- Haeger Potteries
- West Coast Pottery
- Modern Art Products
- Walter Wilson
- Tele-Vision Clock Corp.
- Lane and Company
TV lamps were made from the late 1940s through the 1960s. By the 1970s, fears of retinal damage from watching TV in dimly lit rooms had diminished (probably due to lack of actual cases). By the 1980s, the lamps were starting to become collectible and have remained a popular item, especially for Baby Boomers.
Turned On: Decorative Lamps of the Fifties by Leland and Crystal Payton