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The Lost History of the Indian Head Test Pattern

On August 23rd, 1938, an enigmatic artist known only by the pseudonym “Brooks.” forged a symbol that would go on to become a cherished American cultural icon. This symbol, known as the Indian Head, eventually found its place as a staple of television history, particularly in the realm of test patterns employed by television stations during their off-air hours. It wasn’t long before Baby Boomers became intimately acquainted with this iconic pattern, as early as 1947.

The Indian Head, despite its humble origins, assumed a position of prominence in the annals of television broadcasting. Its primary duty was to grace the screens of television sets during the periods when stations were not actively broadcasting programming. This test pattern served a practical purpose, allowing technicians and viewers to adjust their sets’ settings for optimal picture quality and clarity.

The passage of time brought about significant changes in the world of television. The days of television stations signing off for extended periods are now a relic of the past. In the modern era, television stations operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, rendering the Indian Head pattern obsolete.

The Indian Head pattern’s journey didn’t end with its retirement. A fortunate twist of fate occurred when a diligent worker in New Jersey rescued this vintage gem from the brink of oblivion, having been discarded into a trash bin. This act of preservation ensured that the memory of the faithful old Indian Head would live on.

The final curtain call for this beloved symbol arrived when analog signals ceased to be transmitted definitively between February 17 and June 12, 2009. This period marked the transition from analog to digital television, a monumental shift in the broadcasting landscape. As the nation bid farewell to analog broadcasting, the Indian Head pattern, with its nostalgic charm, gracefully stepped aside, making room for the digital era.

The story of the Indian Head pattern is a tale of technological progress and cultural significance. From its creation by the elusive artist Brooks in 1938 to its role as a symbol of a bygone television era, this iconic image has left an indelible mark on the memories of generations past. While the Indian Head may no longer grace our screens, its legacy endures as a testament to the ever-evolving world of broadcast media.

In the early 1970s RCA closed its Harrison, New Jersey factory and offices. They hired a crew to demolish the building. One of the men working on the crew found this artwork in a dumpster!

He took the artwork home, not really knowing what he had rescued from a trip to the local dump! Over 30+ years later, he decided to find out more information on what he had found. He asked a few local TV stations, and did an internet search. Eventually he found ME! He offered to sell me the artwork. After a few offers went back and forth, I bought it! Its really that simple!