The teleprompter equipment has come a long way since it was first used in classic Greek theater. Discover the History of Teleprompters.

Television teleprompter equipment has a long history

Using television teleprompter equipment may not be the centenarian profession there is, but it has been around for quite a while now. It is believed that some were even used in classic Greek theater in the form of people whispering lines to actors who had a short lapse of memory. Amid the early days of theater in ancient Green up to Shakespeare’s plays at The Globe Theater today, one of the constant elements has consistently been the prompter or prompt corner.

There is a whole genre of single-game print cartoons that portray guys in the prompting booth making cracks on the Wagnerian soprano in her Viking helmet. Study has found that the original ‘prompt box’ is theater was located stage left, and it varied from a small table on the wings to a total installation of a booth. In today’s times, it often comes with a communications intercom, green and red signal lights for the actors, controls for safety curtain and other emergency equipment, or telephone transmission to the front of the house.

The inspiration behind the electronic teleprompter came in during the 1940s from Broadway actor Fred Barton who desired a device that can help him remember his lines. He pitched this idea to 20th Century Fox VP for radio and TV, Irvin Kahn. In turn, Kahn sought the expertise of Hubery Schlafly, a broadcast engineer and director of television study at Fox, who then developed the first paper scroll prompter. It started in the year 1950 on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, and the soap opera The First Hundred Years.

Schlafly, Kahn and Barton were persuaded that there is a potential market for their invention, so they started a new company, naming it TelePrompTer Corp. The initial big break of the company outside the studio came when former president Herbert Hoover presented the TelePrompTer as a political speaker tool in a speech before the 1952 Republican National Convention.

Previously, I Love Lucy producer Jess Oppenheimer made claims crediting the invention of the teleprompter

He applied and was granted a US patent for the device. His version of the teleprompter was used for the commercial productions of Lucille Ball’s. Apart from this dispute, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to use a teleprompter for his State of the Union address.

In the year 1954 as well, Eisenhower wanted to give a television version of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fireside Cats. The two Teleprompters were used to give the living room television audiences the impression that he was looking intently at them, talking informally. A few years later in 1975, the Chicago Tribune promoted an article about the preparations of Gerald Ford for his State of the Union address. The article noted that an aid recommended he use the old teleprompter system from the White House basement, unused since the days of Lyndon Johnson.

There were speculations that Ford, who was nearsighted, had a hard time reading the dated teleprompter equipment, so he ended up buying new ones. As stated in this article, the staffers of the White House tried to control the delivery of Ford’s speech by making the technician slow down the speed of the scroll so Ford can speak more slowly. This is a practice frowned upon by numerous professional teleprompter equipment operators practice because it puts additional stress on the speaker.

Many presidents have utilized teleprompter equipment as a tool for speech delivery from the days of Eisenhower to Clinton to Obama

One exclusion to this is former president Nixon, who always opens to use note cards as an alternative of a teleprompter. Outside the political circle, television shows, corporate events and news networks, today, Teleprompters are even utilized in live concerts, assisting performers with their lyrics. Notable artists who frequently used Teleprompters include Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Liza Minnelli and more.

From ancient Greek Theater to today’s modern times, the responsibility of teleprompter equipment will remain listening in the wings of the stage. Anyone can acquire a teleprompter these days, which have since them become available in varying sizes, uses, and features. Teleprompter rentals are also in demand these days; you just have to make sure that you hire equipment and pay for the services of an operator from a highly regarded business. Contact one in your area now and learn their added services and rates.

Learn how our friendly team of skilled teleprompter operators can save you time and money.

About Neil Tanner

Neil began teleprompting in 1993. He saw that speakers were much more comfortable with the right teleprompter, operator, and training. He’s since served thousands of delighted celebrities, politicians, CEOs, and other great speakers. Neil acquired better gear and associates over time to better serve more clients. We get comments from clients saying that they appreciate how engaged our team is, how we're their "secret weapon." We only want you to have the best experience on-camera and on-stage.