Skip to content
Interpreting the Evidence

Puerto Rican Family Watching Television, c. 1953

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Postwar United States (1945 - 1970)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Puerto Rican Family Watching Television, c. 1953 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Puerto Rican man, woman, and two children watching television, ca. 1953. Photographer unknown.
Historical Context
Full-scale commercial television broadcasting did not begin in the United States until 1947.  The number of television sets in use rose from 6,000 in 1946 to around 12 million by 1951. No new invention entered American homes faster than black-and-white television sets; by 1955, half of all U.S. homes had one.

"The Ed Sullivan Show" (originally called "Toast of the Town") made its debut in June 1948. Sponsored by Lincoln-Mercury, the show became one of TV's longest-running and most successful variety series. The show aired on CBS until 1971, spurring the advancement of scores of show business careers.

In 1948, Cuba became the second country in the world after the United States to implement regular national broadcasting of television. By the time of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cuba was the world leader for television sets per capita. This fact had a profound effect on solidifying Fidel Castro’s power in the island nation and on the use of television as a tool of mass persuasion.

In the early 1960s, Spanish-language television programming in the United States began slowly and poorly in major urban centers with increasing Latino populations. With the enormous growth of the Hispanic population in the United States during the 1980s, a powerful untapped source of commercial economic power was ready to emerge.

The two major Spanish-language television networks in the United States are Telemundo and Univision; the latter leads in both audience viewing and local network affiliates. Univision has the largest Hispanic audience largely due to "telenovelas" and other Mexican programs produced by Grupo Televisa. Univision is headquartered in Los Angeles, California, and its major production facilities/operations are in Miami, Florida. It is available on cable in most of the country, and has local stations in several markets with large Hispanic populations. Most of these stations air full local news and programming in addition to network shows. Univision's major programming is closed-captioned in Spanish, but unlike its main competitor, Telemundo, it almost never provides English subtitles.
Essential Question
How does technology influence culture?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain the role of the television in the development of culture and cultural identity.
Historical Challenges
Investigate the advent of television programming in Latin America. You may decide to report on how the power of television was instrumental in fortifying Fidel Castro’s revolutionary victory and political power in Cuba before and after 1959.
What were some of the first television programs? How has television changed over the last fifty years? Describe the rise of Spanish-language television programming.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Technology: Report to the class on what prospects are ahead for television broadcasting. Besides Internet and i-Pod broadcasts and HD television, what do experts predict will be the next developments in this medium?
Foreign Language: Find a list of Spanish-language television programming and translate it into English.