October 24, 1945
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Customers seem to like the idea that television can be "another means to make shopping an exciting experience." This line sounds like puffery from the Home Shopping Network or QVC, but it was written just three months after the end of the Second World War.
"Shopping by Television" was an experiment of the Gimbel Brothers Department Store in Center City Philadelphia during October and November of 1945. A report by the store stated that TV could be an important part of helping large department stores in center city overcome the pull of neighborhood shops, "drive-in stores," and regional chains. In other words, the tube could help boost sales of the huge center city department stores. In the three quarters of a century since 1945, we have seen most department store in Center City Philadelphia disappear. Guess the report was wrong!
The experiment began on October 24, 1945 and ended on the fourteenth of November of the same year. In that time period, Gimbel Brothers (owners of WIP Radio) reported that TV was viewed in their store by a quarter of a million people. A total of 124,987 were counted in the auditorium studio and another hundred thousand were estimated to have seen various demonstrations in the twenty locations around Gimbels. The report said that about 70 per cent of the visitors had never seen television before that time. In 1945, WPTZ was Philadelphia only TV station and they were operating on a minimum schedule because of the war. WPTZ didn't start regular broadcasting until Spring of the next year, so very few people would have seen television.
Arthur Kaufman, the top guy at the store said: "customers are willing to look at a straight line merchandising presentation…(but) only when it shows what the merchandise will do for the customer . …The medium can be used most effectively. …No enclosed areas are necessary and the television screen can be exposed to the general lighting of the store and that color would be a dramatic advance."
The demonstration was co-sponsored by RCA Victor. There have been various Internet reports that this event was televised over Channel 3 and that the demonstration was visible from the store window. From our research, we feel sure that WPTZ had no connection with the exhibition. The station, at that time, was owned by Philco, a major rival of RCA. Both companies were leading manufacturers of television receivers and both were instrumental in research and experimentation in electronic TV. They were major competitors. It is doubtful that the two would ever agree to cooperate on this venture. On the second point, a leading United States newspaper said that the viewers were either in the auditorium or at 20 other locations throughout the store. The advertisement acknowledged all locations. The store windows were never mentioned.
Pictures in that era from TV sets would have been small, blurry and without much contrast. A receiver in the window of Gimbels (the windows faced north) would have had sunlight most of the day and not have made a good impression. Therefore, we feel positively sure all receivers were in the interior of Gimbel Brothers.
We also feel convinced that WPTZ, Channel 3 had no connection with this demonstration. Several Internet reports discussing this said that it was carried over KYW-TV, Channel 3. Those call letters were not used until 1965. At that time, KYW was a Philadelphia radio station owned by Westinghouse. Channel 3 was owned by Philco. (Philco sold Channel 3 to Westinghouse in 1953). If they have one fact wrong, the rest can be also in doubt. Also, the ad referred to this as "closed circuit."
Gimbels was using the demonstration to get people into the store. Showing it in the window wouldn't do the job. Remember, most people have never seen TV before. That would be enough to get you into the building.
By the way, this wasn't the first demonstration of television in Philadelphia or even Gimbel Brothers, for that matter. In 1932, there was a presentation of mechanical TV (the 1945 exhibition was electronic television, the type we have today) on large TV screens.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Image originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
Researched and written by Broadcast Pioneers historian Gerry Wilkinson
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