Here's the Interesting Story Behind Who Invented the Television

Invention of the television
Television, an invention that revolutionized the entire world, is also the center of a historic dispute - the claim to the honor of being its inventor. Over three hundred scientists, thinkers and inventors are regarded as contributors, however, few can be considered as the pioneers of television as we see it today.
Television is not the Truth. Television is god-damned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers and football players. - Paddy Chayefsky

The invention of television is not a one line answer. It's a story. It can start from Count Volta who gave us static electricity in 1775, and can continue even after the first practical implementation of LED was invented by Nick Holonyak Jr. in 1962.

But yes, without any doubts, the first person to invent a fully functional all-electronic television system, was Philo T. Farnsworth in 1927.

Conception of Television

With Joseph Henry and Michael Faraday's discovery of self and mutual induction of electromagnetism (individually), the avenues for electronic communication became plausible. But the idea of transmitting moving images, was not an example of serendipity. It was a result of cumulative inventions and contributions.

Well, it all might have started with the discovery of photo-conductivity of Selenium by Joseph May in 1872. He, together with his supervisor Willoughby Smith, suggested using selenium photocells to capture the light reflected from any image. They called it 'visual telegraph', which was based on Abbe Giovanna Caselli's Pantelegraph (1862). During this period, many scientists around the world proposed several theories, the notable being of George R. Carey, Eugen Goldstein and Sheldon Bidwell.

In 1876, Alexander Bell invented the 'telephone', and in 1883, a German student, Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, made the first breakthrough in the history of television. Based on Bell's telephone, he made his own microphone, and using a spiral-perforated disk (Nipkow Disk), he made the first electromechanical television scanning system, on the Christmas Eve of 1884. He patented the scanning disk as electric telescope. Though Alexander Bain had transmitted images over a distance via electrical 'pantelegraph' in 1943, the Nipkow disk improvised on the process of encoding.

In Nipkow's design, however great, there was a problem that he failed to solve - the mechanical process of scanning the images. Boris Rosing, a Russian inventor, improved Nipkow's design, by implementing a mechanical camera device with a cathode ray tube on the receiving end. In 1906, he built the first working mechanical TV system.

Invention of Mechanical Television

During the late 19th century, several discoveries, inventions and improvements were made, which gave the world its first practical and publicly demonstrated television system. As hard as it is to believe, John Logie Baird built the first television using just an old hatbox, pair of scissors, some needles, bicycle lamps, and some sealing wax. In early 1924, in a demonstration for the Radio Times, he transmitted moving silhouette images, confirming that a semi-mechanical analog television system can exist.

On 25th March 1925, he began a three-week series of public display in a departmental store in Soho, London. It was the first public display of moving silhouette images by television. He improved his design, and in 1926, demonstrated moving monochromatic images. The Nipkow disk that Baird improved for his mechanical television, produced a 30-line resolution, enough to identify a human face.

Baird's version of the mechanical television was never adopted, and was not even feasible for a standard format for the present day television. But, Baird succeeded where others had failed. He was the first to transmit a moving picture from one place to another. While Baird was busy in London, Charles Francis Jenkins was working on his design of mechanical television in Washington. It is reported that on 13th June 1925, he demonstrated publicly, a synchronized image and sound transmission, in the presence of a few witnesses.

Invention of Electronic Television

The huge apparatus of mechanical television gradually rendered it obsolete. Scientists moved on to find an alternative. With improvements in the cathode ray tubes, the prospects of an emerging technology became evident.

In 1908, perhaps the first idea of an all-electronic television was published in Nature. It was a letter from Alan Archibald Campbell-Swinton, wherein he proposed the use of cathode ray tube as receiver and also as transmitter. Many others worked and propounded on this theory. The ones who succeeded were Philo T Farnsworth, Vladimir K. Zworykin and Kálmán Tihanyi.

Philo Taylor Farnsworth was a child prodigy. He was only fifteen when he formed the principle for Image Dissector, a video camera tube. He successfully produced the first television transmission in his San Francisco lab on 7th September 1927. He etched a single line on a smoked glass slide and placed it in the projector. The people in another room, the viewing room, could see the line at the other end of the vacuum tube. Phil improved his system for a press demonstration in September 1928. He first displayed the live images of a human face, precisely the face of his wife, Pem, in 1929.

In another part of America, a Russian engineer, Vladimir Zworykin, was also working on a similar system. He developed an electronic method of scanning images on a screen, which could be read by an electron beam, and could transmit information to the receiving cathode tube. The results were very coarse images. But he did develop a television setup that is the basis of present technology, however, it was rudimentary.

Farnsworth and Zworykin were both working on similar designs at the same time, and had filed a patent for each. A legal battle ensued and Farnsworth was credited with the invention of Electronic Television. However, Zworykin's contributions have been equally important.

Kálmán Tihanyi, a Hungarian physicist, developed a technology known as 'storage principle'. It solved the major problem in Farnsworth and Zworykin's television system - low electrical output resulted from low sensitivity to light. All kinds of contemporary image sensors still rely on the storage and charge principle devised by Tihanyi.

The Developments

Manfred von Ardenne, a German inventor, developed a television system that used cathode ray tube as flying spot scanner to scan the images to slides. He first demonstrated his design at the Berlin Radio Show in August 1931.

Three years later, on 25th August 1934, Farnsworth gave the world its first all electronic television system demonstration with a live camera.

Zworykin developed and patented Iconoscope in 1933, a new tube with better sensitivity to light. It was an improved version of Tihanyi's storage principle.

Further Developments

The television sets at our home have come a long way from Baird's hatbox version. We have a variety of technology to choose from. These technologies were made possible by:
  • Emitron: Isaac Shoenberg
  • Color Television: Jan Szczepanik
  • Plasma Diplay: Kálmán Tihanyi
  • Flat Screen: General Electric (GE)
  • Liquid Crystal Display: James Fergason

Honorable Mentions

YearPioneersInventions and Discoveries
1775Alessandro VoltaStatic Electricity
1791Luigi GalvaniGalvanic Electricity
1794Robert BakerPanorama
1801Thomas YoungWave Theory of Light
1807Dr. WollastonCamera Lucida
1808Humphry DavyElectric Arc Light
1817Jöns Jakob BerzeliusSelenium
1827Charles WheatstoneMicrophone
1830Michael FaradayElectromagnetic Induction
1832Joseph PlateauPhantascope
1862Giovanni CaselliPantelegraph
1873Joseph May and Willoughby SmithPhotoconductivity of Selenium
1876Alexander Graham BellTelephone
1884Thomas Alva EdisonEdison Effect
1893Nikola TeslaRemote Control
1895Guglielmo MarconiRadio Transmission
1897Karl BraunCathode Ray Tube
1899Julius Elster and Hans GeitelLuminous Imagery
1906Lee De ForestAudion vacuum tube
1906Reginald FessendenWireless Telephony
1939Fritz FischerEidophor
1940Peter GoldmarkColor Television (343-line Resolution)
1953Robert AdlerZenith Space Commander

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." - Groucho Marx
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