Who Invented the TV?

January 31, 2022                                                                                                                                       Home

Most of us don’t remember living without electricity at home.  When the Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to rural America in the 1930s, the light bulb was the first electrical device to appear for most people.  Over time, more and more electrical devices and appliances became available to assist us at work, help us in our daily chores, and make our lives more enjoyable.  One electronic device that can be found in almost every home is a television. Who invented it?  How long ago?

On March 14, 1957, Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of electronic television and vice president and technical consultant for the Farnsworth Electronics Co., shows off one of the early television sets produced by his company in Fort Wayne.

The setting for the invention of TV is a rural farm in Idaho.  The Farnsworth family had moved to Idaho from Utah where they lived in a log cabin with no electricity.  Philo Farnsworth was then 14 years old and fascinated by electronics.  He developed the idea of sending a visual image from one place to another one line at a time.  Most interesting, his inspiration for scanning an image as a series of lines came from his farm work   using the back and forth row method of plowing a field. 

By 1922 Philo had worked out the basic outlines of electronic television.  He was then 16 years old. His high school teacher Justin Tolman allowed Philo to sit in on a senior level electronics course and encouraged him in his creative efforts.  

In September 1927, Farnsworth’s “Image Dissector” camera tube transmitted its first image – a simple straight line – from one location to another.  In 1929, he improved the television system by eliminating a motor generator and spinning disks, so there were now no mechanical parts. He then transmitted the first live human images, including a three and a half-inch image of his wife Elma.  Farnsworth received patents for various parts of what would become the television. 

Farnsworth image issector tube

During this period others were working on the same technology.  The large corporation RCA attempted to buy Farnsworth’s patents.  He refused.  Then RCA began using one of his inventions and would not pay him royalties. An extended court case supported Farnsworth’s patents in 1935.  In 1939 RCA finally paid him royalties.  It is interesting to note that the primary reason for the court decision in favor of Farnsworth was the original drawing of the “Image Dissector” presented at the trial by his high school science teacher.

Early Octagon TV

Again, ahead of his time, Farnsworth wanted to begin television broadcasting in the late 1930s. However, at that time the FCC was not providing any spectrum space for television – only radio. After World War II in 1947 Farnsworth Television produced its first television.  The company could not compete against the major firms already in production, and was soon bought out by International Telephone and Telegraph. 

It is interesting to note that Farnsworth was convinced that the television would bring people across the world together and promote world peace and understanding.   After World War II and the Korean War, Farnsworth became very critical of television. TV had not lived up to the hopes he had, and he suffered from clinical depression – a result of his legal and financial problems with large corporations. 

However, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969, the technology used was derived from his “image dissector”. Farnsworth’s wife reported that watching the moon walk, he said. “This has made it all worthwhile.”

To recap, inventions that are in use worldwide begin as an idea.  Farnsworth was fortunate to have a teacher to support his exploration.  We all use this electronic device.  

Everyone needs to learn more about our electric cooperative.  For more information, go to pve.coop.  

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