1941 Bulova Watch Co pays $9 for 1st ever network TV commercial

July 1, 2021

The first TV commercial ever aired in the United States was on July 1, 1941, at 2:29 p.m. At the time, the Brooklyn Dodgers played a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Ebbets Field, New York. The commercial featured on the NBC-owned WNBT (now WNBC), and it appeared just before the first pitch. This was the first-ever commercial in the history of television.

The commercial was short and simple by Bulova Watch and Jewels Company, lasting for only ten seconds. The voiceover on the commercial told the viewers, “America runs on Bulova time.” It also featured the geographical map of the United States with a picture of a watch with the name ‘Bulova’ written in it. According to the publication, the total cost for the advert was $9. Out of these charges, the station charged $5, while the remaining $4 went into air charges.

Before 1941, it was illegal for US TV stations to air commercials. Stations that tried to air commercials were held responsible through censorship. For instance, in 1930, Lexington, Massachusetts-based station W1XAV was censored on similar grounds for experimenting with ads.

Despite these restrictions, some stations experimented by airing ads. Earlier, in 1939, some TV stations could read out sponsor messages during broadcasts. Some of the earlier companies that aired these messages include General Mills and Procter & Gamble.

However, the Federal Communications Commission provided ten US stations with commercial licenses in May 1941. These licenses went into effect starting July 1, 1941. Among the first stations to receive licensing was WNBT, which aired this historical commercial. The WNBT was the only station that aired commercials that day; however, others stood up to the challenge.

On July 1, 1941, the first TV commercial set the stage for many commercials for years that followed. More money, resources and creativity went into advertising ever since. 

In 1951, TV advertising spending grew ten times to $128M from the $12.5M witnessed in 1949. Another milestone in television was in 1953 with the launch of color TV, and by 1955, the Tv advertising industry grew to $1B.

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