In October of 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. It was the beginning of the Space Age, a monumental moment not only in the world of science and politics, but in design. Suddenly, futuristic stylings emerged in everything from cars to vacuum cleaners.
So, it shouldn’t have come as too big of a surprise when in 1958 Philco debuted Predicta, a television set it promoted as the “TV of Tomorrow.” And yet it was. Gone was the traditional square or rectangular shapes of a television screen entombed in heavy wood. The Predicta was elegant, with a forward-looking design that was lightyears ahead of the competition. Even today, the design remains appealing more than sixty years later.
Philco’s engineering department helped turn designers’ dreams into reality by separating the viewing screen from the bulky receiver chassis. Such freedom of movement was revolutionary.
The swivel picture tube made viewing more flexible and gave the Predicta a modern look, which led to its nicknames of “the Atom Bomb,” “Cyclops,” and “the gas pump.” A new plastic called Tenite protected the glass and caused the tube’s greenish hue, adding to the set’s otherworldly look.
Philco's Predicta televisions are possibly the most distinctive sets ever designed and cause quite a stir in the market place. RCA's president, David Sarnoff, was quoted as saying, "Philco has reinvented the industry and made TV more exciting again."
Alas, the Predicta was short-lived. While it's true that its swivel head and space-age design were way before its time, the Predicta was a black-and-white TV in a world that was turning to color. As color TV technology improved, black and white TV sales plummeted. The pioneering design was shelved after two years, shortly before Philco was sold to Ford Motor Co. The last Predictas were liquidated in block sales to motel chains.
The Predicta, however, lives on with collectors smitten with its Mod design. In working condition and depending on model, a highly desirable Predicta can sell for north of $3,500.
“Predicta is a conversation starter for sure,” says Yasmina Greco, a lifestyle blogger in San Francisco, who bought her set at an antique mall in working condition. “Most people haven’t ever seen one. It’s a dynamite looking mid-century marvel.”