Tech #30: The TV Chair

This article comes from the Parade (March 22, 1970).  It's interesting to note how revolutionary and ubiquitous this TV chair would be.  I don't think it ever really caught on, but it's fun to read their exalted expectations.

What do you do when you have to wait at the average airport for one, two, or three hours? You can read, eat, or sleep since most airports are equipped with news stands, coffee shops, and bars. But when it comes to waiting room entertainment, forget it. There's generally nothing — not even television — unless in a few cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco you belong to one of the airline clubs for VIP's and other paid members.

Within a few months, however, you should be able to watch television for a dime (for ten minutes) or a quarter (for 30 minutes) at many of the airports and bus stations throughout the country.

TV for the traveler is the brainchild of John W. Rich, 56, of Salt Lake City. Inventor of the well-known "water bumper" used on buses and taxicabs, Rich has put together Tel-A-Chair, a large, comfortable chair with a TV set mounted on the left arm and the speaker unit imbedded in the headrest.

The chairs are already in use in waiting rooms at Greyhound bus stations throughout the west (Los Angeles, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Fresno, Stockton) and at several western airports (Sacramento, Denver, and Salt Lake City). It's just a matter of time before they become standard fare in waiting rooms throughout the world.

Rich has formed a corporation, Midwest International in Salt Lake City, and is turning out ten chairs a day to add to the 400 already on location.

"It costs us $350 to manufacture a chair," he explains. "And we give the airports and bus stations 35 percent of the revenue for the location. We've had requests from dozens of airports, rail-roads, bus stations, and beauty parlors. Wherever people wait, the Tel-A-Chair is a natural."

No sleeping, please

Since the Tel-A-Chair is far more comfortable than any public seat in any public waiting room, isn't there a danger that people will plop themselves down in the chair and merely go to sleep with¬out dropping a dime or quarter into the coin slot?

"That's not too much of a problem," Rich points out, "because each chair comes, equipped with a sign which says in several languages that the chair's for TV watching. And most people are hon¬est and obedient.

"Our biggest problem is children and young people removing knobs and bolts and screws from the machine. But a few days ago we discovered a marvelous new glue and now we've got that problem licked."

According to Rich, "It took us about seven months to iron out all the kinks in the chair. First, my sons and I thought of putting together a chair with a color TV set. But now color TV sets emit too much radiation at that distance, so we eliminated that idea. Then, we had to perfect a special indoor aerial inside the chair. Anyway, it's now perfected and ready to go. The only thing that can possibly hold us back is the financing. The more money we raise, the faster we can fill the demand."

How he got the idea

A tall, sturdy, jovial white-haired engineer of sorts who has spent most of his life inventing various devices, Rich says the idea for the Tel-A-Chair came to him about a year ago "when I and my comptroller got stuck in the Los Angeles airport for three hours.

"You can only eat so much pie and ice cream so we wandered all over the airport, looked at everything, and still had an hour to kill."

On the way back to Sacramento where he was then living, Rich gave the problem of entertaining "stuck" travelers some thought. He and his two sons decided that a chair with a mounted TV set was the answer.

"I went out," he recalls, "and bought the best armchair from a furniture store that I could buy. I equipped it with a TV set and invited the people from the Sacramento airport to look at it. They thought the idea was tremendous, but they sure didn't like the chair. They said the public would ruin the beautiful tufted fabric in about five minutes flat. They told us that they wanted a tough, durable chair, extremely comfortable, but very hard-wearing. And that's what we've come up with, and it's patented.

"We've signed a five-year contract with Greyhound Bus. Lots of hospitals want the chair installed for their patients. Beauty parlors, service clubs— they're all after us. For a while Jake Harmon, who's president of our company, thought we'd franchise the business out. We've had people contact us from airports in Tokyo, Honolulu, and England. But now we're not so sure.

"We can see the day not far off when these Tel-A-Chairs are used in classrooms throughout the world for teaching. So you can see that what we've come up with is more than a time-killer for travelers."


  1. AnonymousJune 08, 2015

    I remember these tv chairs (or something just like them) at the old Greyhound bus station in Boston throughout the 70s. It seemed there were often "other" things going on at that bus station as well, but, again, that was part of the 70s...

  2. I remember them from Greyhound stations also. Even in the 80s.

  3. AnonymousJune 09, 2015

    I saw them here in Calgary in the Greyhound bus station back in 2003. Really. And they were working! Marcelo.

  4. Pretty sure these were, at one point, in one of the NYC airports. I definitely remember using one as a kid...probably would have been 1975 or 1976.

  5. AnonymousJune 09, 2015

    LaGuardia Airport in NYC had these things late as 1988.

  6. When I was a kid (early to mid 80's) we used to meet my dad at the airport when he'd come home from long business trips (pre 9-11, wait right at the gate!) and I would BEG my mom to let me use one of these. She never did. How we she was able to withstand that onslaught, with my little brother chiming is as well, I don't know...

  7. I watched an episode of My Three Sons on one of these in Washington National (now Reagan National) Airport in March of 83. Always wondered what the story was behind them! Think one can be found on the cheap nowadays?

  8. Waiting for my Dad to come home from one of his many business trips. Washington National Airport. Was it Here Come the Brides, or the Courtship of Eddie's Father? I was probably the grooviest thing in the world

  9. Look at stains and droplets on the used workplace chair's cushion. it is also sensible thinking to smell the cushion though you would possibly look funny doing it. Some stains or remnants of stains might not be seen however smelled. If the chair reeks, escape from it. you will not need alternative people's liquids transferred to you do not you?

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