The World's First TV Commercial Aired Exactly 75 Years Ago

old television

Everywhere you look these days, someone is advertising something to you. Even this paragraph, which appears to be introducing the story below, is really just a bunch of subliminal messages trying to convince you to take advantage of a fabulous time share option in the Florida Keys. And it was on this day 75 years ago - July 1, 1941 - that commercial TV was authorized by the FCC and the very first TV commercial the world had ever seen legally aired on NBC. The ad was for the watch brand Bulova, and it was exactly what you'd expect. (Buy a time share in the Florida Keys.)

For Bulova's ad, the company really didn't go far out of its way to present something that was any different from a magazine ad beyond the use of sound, and there wasn't any reason to, since people had no expectations. The commercial was basically a Bulova clock logo over an outline of the United States, and a voice popped in and said, "America runs on Bulova time." Direct, affirmative and directly patriotic. That's what 1941 was about really. (The year, not the Ivan Reitman movie.)

You can see a reproduction below of the ad, the original of which has been lost to history.

Depending on who you ask, the Bulova ad cost between $4 and $9, which is a stunningly minuscule amount of money to spend on a commercial, at least in a world where the cash blown on a single Super Bowl commercial would help thousands of people escape debt and hunger. Bulova is still around and still making a killing, so I guess that was a pretty good investment. Meanwhile, I'm going to probably spend between $4 and $9 on a fast food meal at some point this weekend, from a restaurant whose commercials play ad nauseam.

It's so strange to think that all of the completely bizarre commercials that exist these days, from Skittles to Snickers to Terry Crews' Old Spice excellence, were all preceded by an ad whose only moving part was the unsteadied camera. Imagine turning on the Dodgers and Phillies game on July 1, 1941 an seeing that Bulova ad followed up by some of the racy and blatantly sexual marketing we have today, and then an infomercial for pet scissors.

For comparison's sake, take a look at a Bulova commercial from 2013.

These days, people are usually trying to avoid commercials by any means necessary, whether it's by binge-watching shows on Netflix or using DVR to fast-forward their way through them. But as long as networks keep giving us a reason to tune into shows live, we'll have our commercials for another 75 years and beyond.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.