Muntz TV Inc.
Muntz TV Inc.
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|Company||Muntz TV Inc.
|Certificate Type||Capital Stock
|Date Issued||Specimen, circa 1950's|
|Printer||Columbian Bank Note Company
11 3/4" (w) by 8" (h)
||Show the exact certificate you will receive|
Earl William "Madman" Muntz started plans to sell television receivers in 1946, and sales began in 1947. Muntz played the madman in his unorthodox television commercials, but in fact he was a shrewd businessman and a self-taught electrical engineer. By trial and error, taking apart and studying Philco, RCA, and DuMont televisions, he figured out how to reduce the devices' electrical components to their minimum functional number. This practice became known as "Muntzing".
In the 1940s and 1950s, most brands of television receivers were complicated pieces of equipment, commonly containing about 30 vacuum tubes, as well as rheostats, transformers, and other heavy components. As a result, they were usually very expensive: the cheapest U.S.-manufactured receiver made before World War II used a 3-inch screen and cost $125 ($2,326 in 2020); the cheapest model with a 12-inch screen cost $445 ($8,279 in 2020). By 1954, although broadcast television in the United States had existed in various forms since 1928, only 55 percent of U.S. households owned a receiver. By contrast, eight years later, 90 percent of U.S. households had one.
Muntz developed a television chassis that produced an acceptable monochrome picture with 17 tubes. He often carried a pair of wire clippers, and when he thought that one of his employees was "overengineering" a circuit, he would begin snipping components out until the picture or sound stopped working. At that point, he would tell the engineer "Well, I guess you have to put that last part back in" and walk away.
Marketed under the name "Muntz" by his company Muntz TV, Inc., the simplified units were the first black and white TV receivers to retail in the U.S. for less than $100. Muntz was also the first retailer to measure his screens from corner to corner rather than by width. The receivers sold well and were reliable partly because fewer tubes created less heat. The sets worked well in metropolitan areas that were close to television transmission towers where signals were strong. They worked poorly with weaker signals, as most of the components that Muntz had removed were intended to boost performance in fringe areas. This was a calculated decision: Muntz preferred to leave the low-volume, high-performance television receiver market to firms such as RCA and Zenith Electronics, as his intended customers were primarily urban dwellers with limited funds. Additionally, many urban apartment buildings had rules prohibiting external television antennas, and installation of an antenna, even if allowed, cost as much as $150. Muntz solved this problem by adding a built-in antenna to his receivers.
Muntz continued with his "Madman" persona in many of his advertisements. In one TV commercial that normally aired after The Ed Sullivan Show, Muntz, dressed in red long johns and a Napoleon hat, promoted his new 14-inch televisions by saying, "I wanna give 'em away, but Mrs. Muntz won't let me. She's crazy!" Another TV commercial presented a marching-band song with lyrics about Muntz TVs and incorporated animations by Oskar Fischinger. His radio commercials, which Muntz ran up to 170 times a day, initially followed a classical music theme built around the spelling of Muntz's name. However, he soon convinced radio stations to run ads more in line with his persona. In one spot, Muntz screamed "Stop staring at your radio!" He followed up his radio ads with a direct mail campaign, collecting thousands of TV knobs and mailing them to prospective customers with a note saying, "Call us and we'll show up with the rest of the set!"
Some sources credit Muntz with inventing the abbreviation "TV". Muntz used skywriting as one of his marketing tactics, but, after watching one of his ads being created, he noted that the letters began to blur and dissipate before the pilot could finish spelling out "Muntz Televisions". So Muntz came up with the abbreviation "TV". However, "TV" had earlier been used in the call letters of television stations, such as WCBS-TV, which adopted those call letters in 1946. Muntz also named his daughter "Tee Vee", although she normally went by "Teena" and, later, "Tee".
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