John Walson Sr.
John Walson, Sr. (March 25, 1915 – March 28, 1993) was an American entrepreneur who is credited with inventing cable television. Walson was born in Forrest City, Pennsylvania, in 1915. He attended Mahanoy Township High School and then went on to study engineering at Coyne Electrical School in Chicago. After graduating, he returned to Mahanoy City.
In the early 1940’s, John Walson was employed by the Pennsylvania Power & Light (PP&L) Company, and he and his wife Margaret opened a GE appliance store in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania in 1945. In 1947 the Walsons began selling and repairing television sets at their store, but it was impossible to receive the three Philadelphia network stations because the town was surrounded by mountains. Mr. Walson decided to build an antenna tower near his store’s warehouse on top of a nearby mountain and run a cable from the antenna to the warehouse so he could demonstrate the new televisions. He would drive potential customers in his car from his shop, up the mountain to his warehouse and demonstrate the TVs.
In June of 1948, Mr. Walson struck a deal with PP&L and attached the cable line on electric utility poles, running it down the mountain to his appliance store. Along the way, several homes were connected to this new “community antenna system”. People gathered to see the television sets in the window of the store showing channels 3, 6, and 10 from Philadelphia and wanted to get connected to the antenna. As a result, the cable TV industry was started in America.
Over the next several years, Mr. Walson began constructing systems in nearby communities and looking for opportunities to expand the Service Electric Cable TV network. As other cable systems were offered for sale, he purchased them. When franchises were available, he applied. He was guided by one, fundamental principle – people wanted television service, they were entitled to receive it, and it was his duty to provide quality access to television.
Mr. Walson’s pioneering achievements were recognized by the Congress of the United States and the National Cable Television Association in the spring of 1979. Quoting from the 96th Congressional record: “By adding new antennas and boosters, and by starting to wire individual homes, Mr. Walson was able to create the Nation’s first cable television system in 1948.”
In 1993, John Walson Sr. passed and his son became president, while his wife Margaret worked in the background with her son to keep Service Electric at the forefront of the industry until her passing in September of 2014.