The first Emmy Awards ceremony is held on January 25, 1949 at the Hollywood Athletic Club. The awards recognize excellence in television (which in the 1940s was a novel medium).
Hollywood’s first television academy had been founded three years earlier by Sid Cassyd, a former film editor for Frank Capra who later worked as a grip at Paramount Studios and an entertainment journalist. At a time when only about 50,000 American households had TV sets, Cassyd saw the need for an organization that would foster productive discussion of the fledgling entertainment medium. The academy’s membership grew quickly, despite the lack of support from the Hollywood motion-picture establishment, which perhaps understandably felt threatened by TV and its potential to keep audiences entertained at home (and away from the theaters).
In 1947, the well-known radio personality Edgar Bergen (father of Candice Bergen, who would become a noted actress) agreed to become the first president of Cassyd’s organization. Though Cassyd had originally objected to the idea of awards, arguing that the group’s primary goals should be cultural and educational, he eventually succumbed to the need for a highly visible event to raise the academy’s profile. After rejecting 47 designs, Cassyd and his colleagues selected the now-famous statuette depicting a winged woman holding an atom in her extended arms. Created by the TV engineer Louis McManus, who used his wife as a model, the figure represented the collaborative relationship between art (the muse) and science (the atom).
The name “Emmy” was a feminized version of “immy,” the shorthand term for the image orthicon tube that was used in TV cameras until the 1960s.