DuMont Network Is The Forgotten Pioneer of Television

In the era of black-and-white television, the concept of remote controls was a distant dream. It was a time when changing channels or adjusting the volume meant getting up from your seat, a memory that might have faded into the recesses of your mind. In the grand narrative of television history, the DuMont Network often occupies a forgotten corner. However, it’s time to shine a spotlight on the remarkable journey of Allen B. DuMont and his pioneering network that played a significant role in shaping the television landscape.

Allen B. DuMont’s journey into the realm of television commenced against the backdrop of his illustrious radio career. In 1924, he found himself at the helm of tube production at Westinghouse, a prominent radio manufacturer of its time. His innovations led to a tenfold increase in daily tube production, setting the stage for what was to come.

By 1928, DuMont’s insatiable curiosity pushed him to explore new horizons. Even before the invention of television, giants like RCA and radio networks such as CBS and NBC were already dipping their toes into this burgeoning medium. DuMont proposed that Westinghouse venture into television as well, but his superiors showed little interest. Undeterred, DuMont resigned from Westinghouse and embarked on an extraordinary journey by establishing a television laboratory in the basement of his home.

In just two years, DuMont achieved a significant breakthrough—he perfected the cathode ray tube, the very heart and soul of every television set. Unlike earlier cathode ray prototypes that fizzled out after a few days, DuMont’s creation endured indefinitely. With this monumental achievement, he was poised to make history.

Armed with the proceeds from selling his cathode ray tube patent to RCA, DuMont set the wheels in motion for his television manufacturing company. In 1939, he forged a strategic partnership by selling 40% of his company to Paramount Pictures. With the financial backing of Paramount, DuMont was well-positioned to start producing television sets. However, there was a catch—the absence of television programming in 1939 meant that few people were eager to purchase television sets.

As the early 1940s rolled in, CBS and NBC were transitioning from experimental broadcasts to regular commercial programming in the New York area. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II abruptly halted all television operations. DuMont recognized that the key to boosting television sales lay in the availability of compelling programming, and he was about to take matters into his own hands.

“Allen B. DuMont” Takes Center Stage

In 1944, DuMont inaugurated his first New York radio station, aptly named “Allen B. DuMont” (WABD), following the acquisition of a broadcasting license. The following year, he extended his reach by launching a second station, WTTG, in Washington, D.C., bearing the name of his vice president, Thomas T. Goldsmith. To bridge the gap between his Passaic, New Jersey, laboratory and these two stations, DuMont laid nearly 200 miles of coaxial cable—a monumental feat in itself.

A historic moment etched in the annals of television history occurred on August 9, 1945, when DuMont broadcast the news of the United States’ atomic bomb detonation over Nagasaki, Japan. This message reached the televisions of viewers in three states. With that broadcast, commercial television and the DuMont Network were born. A year later, the network’s first regular program, “Serving Through Science,” graced the airwaves.

The stage was set for a new era in television. In late 1946, NBC initiated broadcasts in several locations, including Schenectady, New York, Philadelphia, and New York City. In 1948, two additional networks, ABC and CBS, joined the fray. It’s worth noting that the majority of the over one million televisions sold in the United States that year bore the hallmark of DuMont Labs.

By 1949, Pittsburgh’s WDTV (abbreviated for “DuMont Television”) became the third DuMont station to go live. This strategic move made perfect sense, considering Pittsburgh ranked as the sixth-largest city in the United States at the time, and neither CBS nor NBC had a presence there. While advertising revenue took a hit in cities where DuMont competed with CBS and NBC, the profits generated by the Pittsburgh monopoly allowed the network to weather the storm.

Pioneering Innovation in Television Technology

The DuMont Network’s journey into the annals of television history began with a remarkable innovation—an advancement that would lay the foundation for the modern television we know today. Allen B. DuMont’s relentless pursuit of excellence led to significant breakthroughs in cathode ray tube technology. These tubes served as the very heart of every television set, responsible for transforming incoming signals into coherent images. What set DuMont’s innovation apart was its durability. Unlike earlier prototypes that fizzled out after a few days, DuMont’s cathode ray tubes endured indefinitely. This innovation not only ensured the reliability of television sets but also marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of television technology.

The Visionary Entrepreneur

Allen B. DuMont’s transition from a career in radio to the forefront of television was a testament to his entrepreneurial spirit. Departing from Westinghouse, a leading radio manufacturer of its time, DuMont embarked on an audacious journey. In his quest for innovation, he established a television laboratory in the basement of his own home—a move that underscored his unwavering determination to make a mark in the nascent world of television. This visionary entrepreneur’s willingness to take bold steps and invest in pioneering endeavors set the stage for the birth of the DuMont Network and its lasting impact on the television industry.

Birth of Commercial Television

The DuMont Network played a pivotal role in ushering in the era of commercial television. At a time when television was in its infancy and major networks like CBS and NBC were still experimenting with the medium, DuMont seized the opportunity to make a difference. The absence of television programming in 1939 posed a significant challenge to television sales. DuMont, however, was undeterred. By 1944, he launched his first New York radio station, “Allen B. DuMont” (WABD), followed by a second station in Washington, D.C., named WTTG. These stations laid the groundwork for the DuMont Network, ultimately bridging the gap between experimental broadcasts and regular commercial programming.

Pioneering Programming Initiatives

In the early days of television, programming was scarce, and innovation was required to fuel the medium’s growth. DuMont understood the vital importance of engaging content to drive television sales. With limited programming available, he took matters into his own hands. DuMont’s network not only broadcasted crucial news, such as the United States’ atomic bomb detonation over Nagasaki, Japan but also initiated its first regular program, “Serving Through Science.” This bold move not only solidified the network’s presence but also laid the groundwork for the diverse television programming landscape we enjoy today.

Market Dominance and Competition

DuMont’s emergence in the television market was nothing short of impressive. Late in 1946, NBC began broadcasting in multiple locations, while in 1948, new networks like ABC and CBS entered the scene. Surprisingly, the majority of the over one million televisions sold in the United States that year bore the mark of DuMont Labs. This dominance in the television market was particularly evident in cities where CBS and NBC were absent. While market competition took its toll on advertising revenue, DuMont’s strategic decision to establish Pittsburgh’s WDTV (short for “DuMont Television”) in 1949 proved to be a shrewd move. The absence of major networks like CBS and NBC in Pittsburgh allowed DuMont to flourish and generate substantial profits.

The Enduring Legacy and Impact

The legacy of the DuMont Network resonates through the ages, leaving an indelible mark on the evolution of television. Despite its eventual decline, DuMont’s impact on the industry and its contribution to shaping the medium cannot be underestimated. The network’s commitment to innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and pioneering programming initiatives paved the way for the television landscape we know today. While the DuMont Network may have found its place in the “Dustbin of History,” its enduring legacy endures as a testament to the vision and determination of Allen B. DuMont and his unwavering belief in the power of television.

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