Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Monumental events, mindless comedy, sports victories, talk shows, filibusters and on and on: television has shown it all. Almost any TV show will find an audience and some will find millions. Long before the recent dawn of cord-cutting and personal screens, when TV was in its infancy and then rising as a black-and-white cultural mainstay, it sometimes served as a venue for group gatherings. A shared activity, even if that activity was (usually) pretty passive.

Here LIFE looked back at some Americans, famous and not, who liked to watch.

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

Radio Corporation of America (RCA) executives watch a brand new invention called television, their New York offices before introducing the product to the public, 1939.

Radio Corporation of America (RCA) executives watched a brand new invention called television at their New York offices before introducing the product to the public, 1939.

Carl Mydans The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Writer Russell Finch enjoys a smoke, a bath and a TV show in 1948

Russell Finch, a writer, enjoyed a smoke, a bath and a TV show in 1948

George Skadding The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Men gather to watch TV through a store window in Pennsylvania in 1948.

Men gathered to watch TV through a store window in Pennsylvania in 1948.

Ralph Morse The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A boy watches TV in an appliance store window in 1948.

A boy watched TV in an appliance store window in 1948.

Ralph Morse The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Sisters at St. Vincent's Hospital in Erie, Penn., watch a program on a new local TV station, 1949.

Sisters at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Erie, Penn., watched a program on a new local TV station, 1949.

Ralph Morse The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Watching a Western on TV in 1950.

Watching a Western, 1950

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A group of swimmers at an indoor pool watch the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Jacob Malik, filibustering in the UN Security Council in 1950.

A group of swimmers at an indoor pool watched the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Jacob Malik, filibustering in the UN Security Council in 1950.

George Skadding The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grade school kids in Minneapolis watch a video "classroom lesson" on TV while the city's public schools are on strike in 1951.

Grade school kids in Minneapolis watched a video “classroom lesson” on TV while the city’s public schools were on strike in 1951.

Francis Miller The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A rapt audience in a Chicago bar watches the 1952 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees. (The Yankees won.)

A rapt audience in a Chicago bar watched the 1952 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees. (The Yankees won.)

Francis Miller The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Six-year-old girls use a "Winky Dink" drawing kit on their home TV screen as they watch the kids' program, 1953. The show, which aired for four years in the 1950s, has been cited as "the first interactive TV show," especially in light of its "magic drawing screen"   a piece of plastic that stuck to the TV screen, and on which kids (and, no doubt, some adults) would trace the action on the screen.

Six-year-old girls used a “Winky Dink” drawing kit on their home TV screen as they watch the kids’ program, Winky Dink and You, 1953. The show, which aired for four years in the 1950s, has been cited as “the first interactive TV show,” especially in light of its “magic drawing screen” a piece of plastic that stuck to the TV screen, and on which viewers could trace the action on the screen.

Walter Sanders The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A performing chimpanzee named Zippy watches TV in 1955.

A performing chimpanzee named Zippy watched TV in 1955.

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

An adopted Korean war orphan, Kang Koo Ri, watches television in his new home in Los Angeles in 1956.

An adopted Korean war orphan, Kang Koo Ri, watched television in his new home in Los Angeles in 1956.

Allan Grant The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Milwaukee fans watch the 1957 World Series, when their Braves beat the Yankees in seven, behind three complete-game victories by the gutsy Lew Burdette.

Milwaukee fans watched the 1957 World Series, when their Braves beat the Yankees in seven games.

Francis Miller The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A railroad worker's family watches TV in a trailer at a camp for Southern Pacific employees in Utah in 1957.

A railroad worker’s family watched TV in a trailer at a camp for Southern Pacific employees in Utah in 1957.

Frank Scherschel The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

An awe-struck baseball fan is seized with utter delight as he watches the Braves win their first and only World Series while based in Milwaukee in 1957.

An awe-struck baseball watched the Braves win the World Series in Milwaukee in 1957.

Francis Miller The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A traveling businessman watches TV in a hotel room in 1958.

A traveling businessman watched TV in a hotel room in 1958.

Nat Farbman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tenant farmer Thomas B. Knox and his family watch Ed Sullivan and ventriloquist Rickie Layne on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1958.

Tenant farmer Thomas B. Knox and his family watched Ed Sullivan and ventriloquist Rickie Layne on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1958.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Picketers watch TV in a tent outside the gates of a U.S. Steel plant in Gary, Indiana, during a strike in 1959.

Picketing workers watched TV in a tent outside the gates of a U.S. Steel plant in Gary, Indiana, during a strike in 1959.

Francis Miller The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Vice President Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat, watch the 1960 GOP convention in Chicago from their hotel suite.

Vice President Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat, watched the 1960 GOP convention in Chicago from their hotel suite.

Hank Walker The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The Kim Sisters   a Korean-born singing trio who had some success in the U.S. in the 1960s   watch television in Chicago in 1960.

The Kim Sisters—a Korean-born singing trio who had some success in the U.S. in the 1960s —watched television in Chicago in 1960.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

LBJ watches TV during the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Eventual VP candidate Lyndon Johnson watched TV during the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Thomas D. McAvoy The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A "Three-Eyed TV Monster" created by Ulises Sanabria which permits simultaneous two- and three-screen viewing, 1961.

A “Three-Eyed TV Monster” created by Ulises Sanabria permitted simultaneous two- and three-screen viewing, 1961.

Francis Miller The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Astronaut Scott Carpenter's wife, Rene, and son, Marc, watch his 1962 orbital flight on TV.

Astronaut Scott Carpenter’s wife, Rene, and son, Marc, watched his 1962 orbital flight on TV. Carpenter’s was NASA’s second manned orbital flight, after John Glenn’s, and lasted nearly five hours.

Ralph Morse The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Die-hard New York Giants fans watch the 1962 NFL championship game against the Packers outside a Connecticut motel, beyond the range of the NYC-area TV blackout, December 1962. Green Bay won, 16-7.

Die-hard New York Giants fans watched the 1962 NFL championship game against the Packers outside a Connecticut motel, beyond the range of the NYC-area TV blackout, December 1962. Green Bay won, 16-7.

John Loengard The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A crowd watches John F. Kennedy address the nation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962.

A crowd watched John F. Kennedy address the nation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Frank Sinatra watches his son, Frank Jr., 21, emcee a TV show, 1964.

Frank Sinatra watched his son, Frank Jr., 21, emcee a TV show, 1964.

John Dominis The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Different CATV (Community Antenna Television) stations available to subscribers in Elmira, New York, in 1966.

Different CATV (Community Antenna Television) stations available to subscribers in Elmira, New York, in 1966.

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Actress Diahann Carroll and journalist David Frost watch themselves on separate talk shows. Carroll and Frost were engaged for a while, but never married.

Actress Diahann Carroll and journalist David Frost watched themselves on separate talk shows. Carroll and Frost were engaged for a while, but never married.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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