The Early History of Television and Philo Farnsworth

A web-based presentation by Martin Grider.    [bibliography]

The word television was first coined by Constantin Perskyi on Friday, August 25th, 1900, in a paper with that title.





















In the late 1800s both photography and film were established mediums. The techonology to transmit pictures and images via telegraph wire had existed for years, (but was not used commercially until the 1920s).





















Between 1914 and 1918 radio was primarilly used for two-way communication, but by 1920 broadcast radio was a commercial reality. For many, broadcast film was the next logical step; and large laboratories like Bell, RCA (Radio Corporation of America), and Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company were quickly moving to research this new technology.











A look into the history of television would not be complete without mentioning the italian inventor John L. Baird (pictured here working on his television system).

Baird's television used rotating disks and was based on several papers that had been written on the subject.

He began work in late 1922, but did not find substantial funding until 1924-25. He also wrote several papers in these years, incuding one titled Television--A Fact





















In 1928 Baird suceeded in transmitting moving images accross the Atlantic Ocean via telegraph wires. By 1930 a limmited number (approximately 100) of Baird's television receivers went up for public sale.

By this time, however, it was generally agreed that the television would only become a reality through a system without moving parts.

Philo Farnsworth was the first to patent such a system in 1930. (He had applied for the patent in 1926.) Although there were other major players in this game of early television, I will be mostly talking about Farnsworth.











Philo Farnsworth (1906-1971)

Farnsworth knew at the age of six that he wanted to be an inventor. He became interested in television when his father subscribed to an inventor's magazine for him, and he read an article on the subject.

At the age of 12 he won a $25 prize from one of these magazines for inventing a thief proof car lock.











Young Philo Farnsworth's mother wanted him to be a violinist, and Farsworth remained an avid violin player all his life. It was said that Farsworth felt his playing allowed him to think about his projects more clearly.





















In his first and only year of high school Farnsworth became good friends with the senior chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman. After spending many afternoons together talking about chemistry, Farnsworth suprised Tolman by illustrating for him on the chalkboard his concept for an electrical television system. The year was 1919, and Farnsworth was 15 at the time.





















The young Farnsworth read his highschool's electronics encyclopedia from cover to cover, and paid especially close attention to two entries, the one on the photoelectric cell, and the one on the cathode ray tube.

Put simply, a photoelectric cell converts light into energy, and a cathode ray tube changes a beam of electrons into glowing light.





















Farnsworth attended less than a year of college before his father died and he decided that the best way he could help his family financially was to move to Salt Lake City and try to work in the radio industry. He opened a radio repair shop with a friend named Clifford Gardner. Later he would marry Gardner's sister. The shop failed misserably and Farnsworth was forced to seek other work.











Farnsworth met some fund raisers from California while working for them on a project called the Salt Lake City Community Chest. The investors were George Everson, who would later become Farnsworth's biographer, and Leslie Gorrell. (pictured here are Gorrell, Farnsworth, and Everson.)

With their help, Farnsworth eventually convinced a group of investors that he could produce a workable television system for $6000. He was only 20 years old.





















Farnsworth moved to Los Angeles to be near Cal Tech, and brought Elna Garner with him as his bride. The 6000 dollars was used to set up a shop in the dining room of their appartment, and did not last very long. New funding was procured.

In 1927 Farnsworth had the only opperating camera tubes in the world. Many of the "images" he transmitted were merely blobs on a screen, but progress was being made. Cliff Gardner, who was Farnsworth's brother-in-law, had learned the art of glass blowing, and was the primary creator of the dissector tubes.

Farnsworth gave the first public demonstration of his television system in the summer of 1928. This was the first ever demonstration of an all-electronic television system.











Farnsworth's work and that of the work being done at RCA overlapped considerably. There were many patent disputes, the most famous of which was in Spring of 1932. At dispute was the forming and function of an "electrical image".

Dr. Vladimir Zworkin, while working for RCA had also developed an all electronic television system, and the patent offices had to decide who had the concept first.

Over his lifetime, Farnsworth held at least 168 patents, and several of them are still in use today. Shown here is Farnsworth's first patent that was eventually disputed by RCA.





















In order to prove that Farnsworth had thought of the all-electronic television system before Zworkin, Farnswoth's high school teacher, Tolman was brought to the stand, and without much prompting he reporoduced the sketches that Farnsworth had shown him years before.











Vladimir Kosma Zworkin (pictured here with an electron multiplier tube in 1936) was Farnsworth's greatest competitor, but also one of his greatest admirers. In 1930, Dr. Zworkin arrived in San Francisco and spent three days with Farensworth and was apparently much impressed by what he saw. This was before the patent disputes began.




















While in Farnsworth's office Zworkin picked up one of Farnsworth's image dissectors and said, "This is a beautiful instrument. I wish that I might have invented it."

Zworkin later wrote a paper discussing the Farnsworth television system that apparently arroused much interest in Farnsworth and his work.











Here is farnsworth in 1928 with his image dissector and one of his picture tubes, arguably his two most famous contributions to television. This picture appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.











The above photos are of Farnsworth's image dissectors. The first is from about 1926, and the second is a little later design, possibly as early as 1927.











By 1934 this is what Farnsworth's image dissector camera looked like. You can just see the image tube sticking out from inside of the deflection coils.

Various developments around this time allowed Farnsworth to boast that his camera could now "scan" outdoors, even when there was no direct sunlight.











In 1983 there were more televisions sets in the world than there were telephones. According to statistics from the International Telecommunication Union, there were 565 million telephones, and 600 million televisions.



LINK: see mztv