The October Artifact of the Month is a 1959 Philco Predicta swivel television set.  Unique and futuristic looking, it is different from any other 1950s television.  The black and white set has a screen and picture tube mounted in a unique pod on a pedestal base which could be swiveled in any direction.  Ads for the Predicta tried to explain how it looked:  “Philco Predicta Table TV, the new look of television!  The picture completely enclosed in its own case “floats” and swivels above its cabinet.” Looking somewhat like a staring alien eye sitting on a box, the Predicta TV has been compared to the shape of a mushroom cloud of an atom bomb.

The Predicta model was radically different from any other television of the time.  Most 1950s designs were large and housed in square wooden cabinets, like pieces of furniture. The Predicta freestanding screen was a unique approach in television design.  No other companies were producing anything like it and very few companies attempted such a product. The closest lookalike to the Predicta was the 1957 Teleavia from France.

Philco produced the Predicta television from 1958 -1960.  The Predicta television set was introduced to the public on the Philco sponsored Miss America TV show in September 1958 in a commercial featuring the new crowned Miss America, Mary Ann Mobley.The public’s reaction was immediate and enthusiastic.

The Predicta came in different versions with either a 17″ or 21″ picture tube, housed in either a wood or a metal cabinet, in various colors and either as a tabletop or floor standing version. Many Predictas were sold to motels and bars due to the convenience of the swivel screen arrangement that could turn in any direction.  One model, the Holiday, came in a low wooden tabletop cabinet and was sold in 1958 for use in the Holiday Inn motel chain.

In 1959, a17-inch tabletop model was introduced as the second-generation Predictas.  They had a perforated and finned metal cabinet in a choice of colors such as beige, mahogany or vermilion. Two of these models were named the “Princess” and the “Debutante.”   A third model, the “Siesta,” had a clock that could turn the television on and off at a designated time. These Predictas were smaller and more compact than the first-generation.  The1958 Predictas sold for $280, equivalent to $2,250 today.

The model in the museum’s collection is the “Princess” tabletop unit in beige, measuring 24 inches tall, 15 inches wide and 25 inches long.  It has a green border around a rectangular picture screen and tube.  It is surrounded by polished brass metal trim and is mounted on a swivel arms.On the front of the cabinet are two dials: one for volume, and another for tuning in the television stations.

The Philco Corporation really encouraged consumers to embrace this new concept for a television.  Ads touted the modernity of the Predicta:

Here’s TV in an exciting new form that perfectly complements contemporary furnishings.  More compact than the conventional table TV, more appropriate for permanent location than a portable… it provides a perfect combination of size, color and design for today’s new televiewing needs.

WORLD’S FIRST SWIVEL SCREEN TELEVISION In one bold stroke Philco brings exciting new freedom to TV design – new brilliance to TV performance!  By creating a new “S-F” (Semi-Flat) picture tube and compact Predicta chassis, Philco opens an exciting new approach to the use and enjoyment of television!  In one bold stroke of scientific research, Philco brings exciting new freedom to television design!  Gives a brilliant, picture-window view of TV land.

Although popular with the public, the Predicta models were discontinued in 1960.  One of the main reasons for its very short lifespan (1958-1960) was because had a reputation as a troublesome, unreliable model.  Their printed circuit boards suffered from overheating, which led to many returns and warranty service calls. Some television histories refer to the Predicta as the “Edsel of televisions,” due to its unusual design and limited production.

Today, due to the futuristic space-age design, the Predicta is a collector’s favorite and restored examples can easily be found.  There are still thousands of original Predicta televisions in homes across America and are commonly sold on auction web sites such as Ebay. Due to this ready availability, no Predicta model is especially rare from a collecting perspective.

Elmer Charles Haddock, usually known as “Tug” Haddock, donated the television to the museum.  Born in Greene County, Illinois on March 22, 1928, the son of Harvey and Lulu, Tug was a life-long bachelor.  From 1952-1954, he served in the armed forces in Stuttgart, Germany.   He became the first General Manager of radio station WWKS at Western Illinois University in Macomb.  WWKS would eventually become Tri States Public Radio.  During the 1960s, Tug was the station’s only full-time employee.  Tug mentored hundreds of young broadcasters during the 1960s, teaching and supervising the students as they learned broadcasting on-air at the station. Tug died January 3, 1985, and is buried at Richwoods West Cemetery in Eldred, Greene County, Illinois.

Even though the Predicta television may not be considered valuable from a television collector’s standpoint, it is significant as a historical artifact, recording the changes in home entertainment.  The Predicta reflects the 1950s baby-boomer atomic age design sensibility, a time with great advances in technology combined with an optimistic imagining of a space age future.   Museum visitors in the 21st century can appreciate the Predicta that once was the “television of tomorrow” and consider how it has influenced design today.

The Predicta television was on display in October of 2014

Article by Heather Munro