America’s First Television Theatre

1938 DuMont Television

1938 DuMont Television

Today in 1938, musical performances in an upstairs area at 568 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, were screened on a television display in the auditorium below, seating 200 patrons paying 25 cents each. The studio and auditorium were linked by cable. About two weeks later, Time magazine reported:

Among the automobile showrooms and tire and accessory shops where Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue runs into Kenmore Square, gaudy posters proclaim TELEVISION. A PREVIEW OF TOMORROW. SENSATIONAL, ENTERTAINING, EDUCATIONAL. The sensation belongs to the Massachusetts Television Institute, licensed by the city authorities to operate America’s first television theatre.

M. T. I. is not in the broadcasting entertainment business. It is a television technology training school. Behind its garish façade it has distinguished advisers —Inventors Dr. Greenleaf Whittier Pickard, Philo Taylor Farnsworth. M. I. T. treasurer is Socialite Sam Batchelder, onetime Harvard football and hockey star. The Institute built its own television equipment, uses a 9 in. by 12 in.-screen English receiver manufactured by Baird Television Ltd. Originally intended for student demonstrations the equipment drew so many curious visitors to the school’s converted automobile showroom that M. I. T. President Porter Henderson Evans last week arranged regularly scheduled evening performances, obtained a Boston theatre license, charged admission (adults, 25¢, children, 15¢).

Holding no television broadcasting license. Educator-Entrepreneur Evans carries his pictures from M. I. T.’s second-story studio to its street-level showroom by wire. Amateur talent on the first show included Boston’s Mayor Maurice Joseph Tobin. Professional performers will be hired only if the box office take is large enough to pay salaries. President Evans does not expect his theatre to survive Boston’s first curiosity to see television pictures. Said he: “I’ve always practiced the reduction of ideas to practice.”

Note that after the first mention of “M.T.I.” (for Massachusetts Television Institute), the text refers a number of times to “M.I.T.” Challenges of digitization?

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