If you’ve read Found Around the APC, you’ll know there’s always something fun popping up at the American Philatelic Center here in Bellefonte. But since that series focuses on stamps (mostly) I thought there should also be a space for, if not formal postal history, then at least history via post – so welcome to the very first edition of “History by Mail.” The item I’ll be exploring for the inaugural piece came my way courtesy of Leonard Bloom, APS volunteer to the stars and co-runner of the Stamp & Cover Shop (alongside wife Darlene Bloom). Knowing how much I enjoy philatelic bits and pieces, Leonard was kind enough to set this donated postal card aside for me to look at, and I’m so glad he did.
If you just look at the front of this postal card, it might seem unremarkable – unless you collect S54 postal cards, or perhaps are from the Burrton, Kansas area. But flip the card over, and you’ll find a true delight: an advertisement for a “free television show” from a…Lumber company?
This does not mean, as I initially hoped, that a lumber company was broadcasting their own television program in 1953 – which I would have loved to see a tape of. Instead, this postal card (addressed generically to “BOXHOLDER Burrton, Kansas”) welcomed the wider Burrton area to Harris Lumber Company on Wednesday, July 1, 1953 to watch the first day of programming from brand-new television station KTVH. It appears to have been postmarked somewhat late for that date, at 11 p.m. on June 30 – it’s unknown whether Harris Lumber failed to bring their advertising materials to the post office with time to spare, or if they simply trusted Burrton residents to check their P.O. boxes every day.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to find out much about Harris Lumber Company itself, just that it’s long defunct and some owners of the family company served on various boards and raised funds for various causes in the Burrton area. But thanks to Newspapers.com and the Kansas Historical Society, I was able to find plenty of information about KTVH and its first days of broadcasting.
The first licensed television station in Kansas, KTVH originally provided programming from all three national networks to the wider Wichita area before eventually becoming a full-time CBS affiliate. Broadcasting did indeed begin as planned on July 1, 1953, almost exactly 25 years after the first American TV station (W3XK of Washington D.C.) began broadcasting. Visitors to Harris Lumber’s special event on July 1 would have enjoyed an inaugural broadcast beginning at 4:30 p.m. with remarks by the mayors of ten area cities, followed by such programs as Arthur Godfrey and His Friends at 6 p.m., the Carole Landis film The Brass Monkey at 7 p.m. and fifteen minutes of news, sports, and weather beginning at 9:30 p.m. until the station signed off at 9:45. The Wichita Eagle reported (along with the schedule for the first three days of programming) that KTVH would begin broadcasting with 25,000 ERP, expanding to 240,000 ERP later that year, and that the test pattern broadcast over the previous days “has been coming in clearly from KTVH at Wichita and over a wide area of central Kansas.”
A clipping from the July 1, 1953 edition of The Wichita Eagle.*
Most of the information on the postal card was fairly self-explanatory, but the last line took me a bit longer to work out. I recognized Zenith as a television manufacturer, and a quick Google search let me know that Westinghouse and Hoffman were as well, but why were they included on the card? Were these somehow the only TVs that could receive the KTVH broadcast? Had these companies sponsored the station, or possibly the watch party?
Neither option seemed right, so, as is often my instinct, I texted my dad to see if he had any idea. His best guess? Harris Lumber may have been diversifying their holdings, offering not just a variety of building supplies but also the trendiest new technology to their customers. The list of brands at the bottom of the card could be a reminder to the people of the Burrton area that should they be interested in watching further KTVH broadcasts, they could do it from the comfort of their own home with a Zenith, Westinghouse, or Hoffman set purchased from their friendly, neighborhood lumber company.
Since Harris Lumber Company ceased operating some decades ago, I can’t guarantee this explanation is correct, but I think it’s a fair guess. If you have any information to refute it, or any other knowledge to share about this postal card and its contents, send me an email at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you!