Editor's note: This is an archived version of a statement we have since re-rated to True.
"I don’t think anybody makes television sets in the United States anymore."
— Donald Trump on Sunday, October 18th, 2015 in an interview on "Fox News Sunday"
Donald Trump questions whether U.S. manufactures televisions any more
By Linda Qiu on Sunday, October 18th, 2015 at 6:37 p.m.
About this statement:
Published: Sunday, October 18th, 2015 at 6:37 p.m.
Researched by: Linda Qiu
Edited by: Louis Jacobson
Donald Trump, no stranger to the small screen, is miffed that the United States no longer makes televisions.
In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Trump made the case that you can’t say the same about TVs anymore.
"I just ordered 4,000 television sets. You know where they come from? South Korea," Trump said on Oct. 18. "I don’t want to order them from South Korea. I don’t think anybody makes television sets in the United States anymore. I don’t want to order from South Korea, I want to order from here."
Is Trump right that the United States stopped manufacturing TVs, an iconic example of American culture and innovation? Even a panelist appearing later on Fox News Sunday — conservative pundit George Will countered Trump’s claim, saying that there are TVs manufactured in South Carolina.
So who’s right?
We reached out the Trump campaign and didn’t hear back. But our research found that Trump is wrong to suggest that the United States doesn’t make TVs any more, though he has a point that we don’t make nearly as many as we used to.
There are American companies that specialize in TV sales, like Vizio and Silo, but they manufacture their products abroad. (Silo used to assemble some LCD models in California, but it is unclear if they currently do.) But by most assessments, they would fall outside of Trump’s criteria.
What about sets that are actually made in the USA? A spokesperson for the Alliance for American Manufacturing told us the group is only aware of two American companies currently manufacturing or assembling TVs in the United States. To the best of our and the Alliance's knowledge, Séura makes TV mirrors in Green Bay, Wisc. and Element Electronics assembles some products South Carolina. (Another U.S. manufacturer, Olevia, was making TVs in California but has since folded.)
Down the tube
In the 1950s, there were 90 to 150 television manufacturers in the United States, churning out 11 million television sets per year, according to a 1955 report by the (now defunct) Radio Electronics Television Manufacturers' Association.
American manufacturers continued to dominate the domestic market into the 1960s, though Japanese-made TVs began to trickle in. In 1965, the United States made 3 million color sets, while Japan produced fewer than 100,000. But it and other Asian companies were catching up fast.
Imports rose quickly in the 1970s, even as U.S. makers began to move production abroad. By 1972, every major American manufacturer had established factories in developing countries, while imports from South Korea and Taiwan began to overtake those from Japan.
By 1980, just three American makers remained: the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Zenith, and GTE-Sylvania (which stopped making consumer electronics in the 1980s).
According to a report from the now-defunct congressional Office of Technology Assessment, 68 percent of black-and-white TVs and 13 percent of color TVs were imported in 1982, and whatever manufacturing remained had become largely assembly operations. Nonetheless, Zenith and RCA still held about 40 percent of the U.S. market share.
Then in 1986, RCA was acquired and broken up by General Electronics. Zenith, then the third-largest and last remaining American TV maker, "gave up its battle to survive on its own" in 1995 and was sold to the South Korean giant, LG Electronics, according to the New York Times.
American-made versus American-owned
LG’s acquisition of Zenith, however, did not mean the end of all TV manufacturing in the United States. In 1995, the two largest producers — Thomas of France and Philips of the Netherlands — made TV sets in Indiana and Tennessee respectively, according to the New York Times.
American manufacturing may see a comeback yet. Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturer of Apple products that has drawn negative attention for its labor practices, is in talks to make displays in Arizona, according to Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, America is still "a powerhouse for research and development," according to a USA Today profile of a New Jersey-based company that supplies crucial parts of TVs for major foreign manufacturers.
Nonetheless, two of the three largest TV makers worldwide are South Korean (Samsung and LGE) and one is Japanese (Sony). Together, they account for about half of the flat screen market. Overall, according to numbers from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, the United States imports far more TVs than it exports.
Trump said, "I don’t think we make television sets in the U.S. anymore."
He has a point that the United States makes very few TVs today, especially when compared to its dominance decades ago. However, it’s incorrect to suggest that we don’t make any, since there are least two American-owned companies that make TVs in the United States. We rate his claim Half True.
UPDATE, Oct. 19, 2015: After this story was published, several readers questioned whether Element Electronics should be counted as an American manufacturer, based on a complaint filed to the Federal Trade Commission taking exception to Element's "Assembled in the USA" labeling. However, the Federal Trade Commission did not find the company in to be violation of labeling laws and did not pursue further action. The controversy over Element highlights that there’s a difference between products that are "Made in USA" as opposed to "Assembled in the USA," which was alluded to in the initial story but which we are now making clearer. The changes we're making do not reflect our ruling. As for Séura, the other American company we listed, the company states on its website that its products are made in Wisconsin, and the Alliance for American Manufacturing told us it’s not aware of any dispute about that label.