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The Soviet Union was an interesting place to be in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Restrictions from the government on the citizens were harsh and the country was engaged heavily in the Cold War with the US. Soviet citizens passed time by watching television – and they couldn't get enough of it.
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The most popular model was the KVN-49. It was a black and white TV produced in the 1950s and was the first to be mass produced in the country. There was one peculiar thing about the KVN-49 though... It had an incredibly tiny screen and a giant magnifying glass in front of it.
You see, Soviet citizens loved their TVs, they just didn't have enough money to buy bigger ones.
The magnifying glass on the front of the TV was typically made of plastic and would be filled with a liquid like distilled water or glycerol. Once filled it would magnify the screen to make it feel and look bigger.
At this time, these TV sets cost in the range of 850 to 2600 Rubles, in the range of about 3000 USD in today's money. This was equivalent to several months salary of the average worker back in the day, so Soviet citizens just bought the smallest TVs they could afford.
It may seem strange that TVs, being so expensive at a time where household income was scarce, became so popular. But, there were ulterior motives behind TVs popularity.
TVs became a prime means of pushing Soviet propaganda, and the government even worked to artificially decrease the cost of the television sets. The government even subsidized broadcasting stations so that there would be more attractive programming and more people would be enticed to purchase a television. And all this propaganda, at the end of the day, was viewed on a screen no bigger than a few inches across the room through the lens of a giant water-filled magnifying glass.
The first TVs came to the Soviet Union in 1934. They had vertical resolutions of 30 pixels, screens smaller than 10 cm, and a frame rate of just 12.5 fps. Official broadcasting began in 1938, but on in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
After the second world war, their popularity grew until in 1955, there were about 1 million television owners in the Soviet Union. By 1960, that number was now 5 million. In 1963, it was up to 10 million. And finally, by 1970, 20 million households had televisions.
In fact, the boom was so large that manufacturers had to cut corners in television quality. Many Soviet TVs were known to explode and burn down houses. If the TVs didn't explode, they were likely to break in the first 6 or so months. When that happened, they were essentially useless because no one was creating replacement parts.
All in all, the cold war was an interesting time, particularly for life in the Soviet Union. Now we have televisions larger than houses, but back just 6 decades ago, many TV sets came with giant water-filled magnifying glasses in front of their screens to help you feel like you got a bigger TV than you did.