In honor of National Inventor’s Day, Jewish Treats presents a short biography of a Jewish inventor whose work transformed the world of home entertainment. Robert Adler, who received a PhD in physics in 1937, is credited with the creation of the first wireless remote control.

Adler was employed by the Zenith Radio Corporation, which hired him in 1941, shortly after his arrival in America. Born in Vienna in 1913, Adler left his homeland at the urging of many of his friends and colleagues, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1939.

Adler’s wireless remote control was not the first one developed in the Zenith research lab. That was created by Adler’s colleague Eugene Polley, but it was unsuccessful since the design was based on light technology allowing sunlight to cause the television to change channels. Adler’s invention used soundwaves (and later ultrasound).

The early remotes enabled simple commands only: Channel up and down and Volume up and down. Adler’s “Zenith Space Command” remotes were used for over two decades (until the development of infrared-based remotes), and over 9 million such remotes were sold. In 1997, Adler and Polley were given an Emmy Award by the National Academy of Television, Arts and Science.

By the time Adler retired in 1982, he was the Vice President of Zenith, the company that gave him a place when he first came to America. He continued consulting with them until 1999.

Adler worked on many other advancements for Zenith, and the technology he developed was used in numerous other applications (he submitted almost 200 patent applications). He received the Edison Award in 1980. Continuing his work until the end of his life, Adler filed for a patent for Touchscreen Technology in 2006. He passed away less than a year later.

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