TV Remote Control Inventor Eugene Polley Dies at 96

Former Zenith engineer came up with Flash-Matic tuning in the mid-50s, forever changing the way that we watch television

Eugene Polley, who invented the first wireless remote control for television, died of natural causes Sunday at a Chicago hospital, the Associated Press reports. He was 96.

A former engineer for Zenith, Polley created the Flash-Matic tuning system — a ray gun-shaped device that shot a beam of light at photo cells at the corners of television screens, allowing viewers to change channels and turn the picture and sound on and off — in 1955. Advertising for the device noted that it was "[a]bsolutely harmless to humans!"

Polley, a native of Chicago, received an Emmy, along with fellow Zenith engineer Robert Adler, in 1997 for his work in developing television remotes. He was also given the Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award from the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers in 2009.

An engineer for 47 years, Polley rose through the ranks from the stockroom at Zenith, and worked for the U.S. Department of Defense during World War II, focusing on advances for radar. In all he amassed 18 U.S. patents, helping to create such groundbreaking products as the push-button radio for cars and the video disk, which preceded the DVD.

Zenith spokesman John Taylor told the AP that Polley remained proud of his invention well into his sunset years, showing it off to visitors at his home: "He always kept his original remote control with him."