The Emmys: An Abridged History

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A watercolor rendering of Louis McManus's original Emmy design (1948).

The Primetime Emmys, one of the biggies in award show culture, are airing this Monday, August 25. We all know they exist to honor the television industry, but what else do we know about them? Where did the name “Emmy” come from anyway? And how heavy is that statuette? Here are four fun facts you can whip out on a commercial break.

The Backstory
Entertainment journalist Syd Cassyd is responsible for the creation of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which had its first meeting on November 14, 1946. He envisioned the organization as a simple space where the poweplayers of media’s newest medium could come together and talk shop. The group had its ups and downs but managed to cement its place among other entertainment associations in 1947 when radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (actress Candice Bergen’s father) became the organization’s first president.

Congrats! You’ve Just Won an…Ike?
Once the Academy decided to throw a ceremony, finding the perfect name was of utmost importance. Cassyd suggested “Ike,” a moniker for a television iconoscope tube, but the name was nixed due to its association with Dwight D. Eisenhower. Henry Lubcke, the Academys third president, suggested “Immy” (so named for the image-orthicon camera tube), which won out. The name was eventually feminized to “Emmy” because of the statuette’s design…

She’s a Lady
The Emmy statuette features a graceful, winged woman holding an atom aloft. The wings were meant to represent the muse of art; the atom was symbolic of the new technology of television. The Academy saw and subsequently rejected 47 designs before accepting one created by TV engineer Louis McManus (which he had modeled after his own wife—looks like he was a lucky guy).

Statue Stats
Nearly 400 statuettes are created for the Primetime Emmys each year by the R.S. Owens company in Chicago. Between 250 and 300 additional (albeit smaller) ones are ordered for the Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards, which are given out for excellence in broadcasting. Each Primetime figure weighs six pounds, 12-and-a-half ounces, and is formed from nickel, copper, gold, and silver. Making one takes about five-and-a-half hours.

Above: A watercolor rendering of Louis McManus’s original Emmy design (1948). Photograph courtesy emmys.com.

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