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This Week in Universal News: Video Phone Demonstration, 1955

by on August 25, 2014


This week’s story features a demonstration of the “often-forecast” videophone. Today, numerous devices and programs enable video calling, but the videophone as a separate appliance never quite took off. One reason why 1955 was not the year for the video phone is the price tag: According to the Universal news story, the videophone cost $5000.00, or about $43,000.00 in today’s dollars.

From the release sheet:

VIDEO-PHONE DEMONSTRATED

San Francisco–Demonstrated for the first time, the videophone, with two-way picture screens enabling the parties to see, as well as speak to, each other. As simple to operate as today’s dial tone.

 

videophone-2

The videophone included a small screen so that women could “primp” before placing their calls. A mirror would have been less costly and more effective.

Are you wondering what they mean by “today’s dial tone” in the release sheet text? In 1955, the dial tone had only recently come into widespread use; in conjunction with the rotary dial, the dial tone replaced the need to speak to an operator to place a call.

You may view the complete reel, which also includes stories about an oil refinery fire in Indiana, a fur fashion show, and the National Water Ski Championships in Florida, among others, here.

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.


Comments

Daniel October 8, 2014 at 10:16 am

The small screen was likely mainly for monitoring the outgoing video during calls, but since a mirror won’t tell how your lipstick looks in B/W, I suppose the pre-call primp support was a nice side effect.

Audrey Amidon October 8, 2014 at 10:55 am

Excellent point!

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