The cost of a TV set in the 1950s ranged from US$129 to $1,295 — not that different from what consumers can expect today. To put this in perspective, the average house cost $20,000 in 1957 while a postage stamp was just 3 cents. The average income in the United States at that time was $4,494.

When Raytheon introduced a 21-inch color set in 1955, it retailed for $795 and sales were slow. To help spur interest, CBS offered consumers the chance to trade in their old black and white sets, offering as much as $400.

That $800 TV was a major purchase — likely the third biggest expense after a house and automobile. By contrast, today’s TVs cost less than what the average family of four probably spends at the grocery store in a month!

This helps explain why only 150,000 color TV sets had been sold by the end of 1957 — less than 60 years ago — and why it took until the mid-1960s for color TV to be widely adopted. Moreover, it took until 1970 for color TV sets to surpass black and white.

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