Wired magazine just wrapped up its Greatest Gadget of All Time contest where readers voted for their favorite gadgets in a bracket-style elimination tournament, and the winner was the RCA CT-100 color television from 1954. Runner-up was the John Bird Sextant from 1757, a navigation device responsible for helping many of our ancestors find their way across the Atlantic Ocean. These two classic gadgets beat out the iPod, the iPhone, lots of different computers and everything else. But when you think about it, that RCA color TV was a truly revolutionary gadget.
Although it wasn’t the first NTSC color TV set to ship to consumers (that honor goes to Westinghouse, which first shipped its color TV set in February, 1954), the RCA Victor CT-100 was the first to ship in volume, with the company planning a production run of 2000 TVs. The CT-100 had a 15-inch screen, 37 tubes inside and in its console form factor weighed 175 pounds. It was first shipped in late April, 1954, and sold for $1000, the equivalent of about $7500 in today’s money.
Other manufacturers such as Motorola, Admiral and Hoffman also shipped limited quantities of color TVs in 1954 at similar prices. Later that year, RCA rolled out a 21-inch color receiver, and by two years later, the color TV revolution had temporarily stalled. Even though color TV prices had dropped as low as $495, that was still too expensive for most consumers. Also slowing sales to a crawl was the fact that few color broadcasts were available and there was a perception that color TVs were unreliable and difficult to adjust. Color TV sales didn’t really take off until about ten years later. [Wired and Steve’s Vintage Color TV Page]