One Tuesday in July, the Dodgers were playing the Phillies and the game was televised. There’s nothing unusual about that, except that it was July 1, 1941, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, and only about 4,000 people in New York City even owned televisions. American life and attention spans changed forever during that broadcast, because Bulova paid TV station WNBT $9 to run the very first television ad.
The first legal television ad, that is. Experimental sales pitches had appeared in broadcasts before, and an experimental station in Boston was fined for running an unauthorized ad during a TV broadcast of a radio program back in 1930. During the first televised baseball game in 1939 (again, the Dodgers), NBC tried a few free spots for the team’s radio sponsors. They pitched products from familiar companies: Procter & Gamble, General Mills, and Socony Oil–which we now know as Mobil.
This video is a reconstruction of that spot: the original film with a modern voiceover. The spot was ten seconds long, and showed a ticking watch over a map of what were then all 48 states. “America runs on Bulova time,” said the announcer.