Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Philo Taylor Farnsworth and the Electronic Television

Philo Taylor Farnsworth
(1906 – 1971)
On August 19, 1906, American inventor and television pioneer Philo Taylor Farnsworth was born. As a pioneer in the development of electronic television, he counts responsible for taking all of the moving parts out of television inventions.

Philo Taylor Farnsworth was born in Utah as the eldest of five children and moved to Idaho with his family, when he was about 12 years old. He was taught the legends of Edison and Bell by his father and quickly decided to become an inventor himself. The young boy convinced his chemistry teacher to teach him extra lessons and to let him attend more advanced courses. It has been delivered that the still 12-year old Farnsworth, bored of his household duties, created an electric motor which he connected with the mechanical washing machine. It is assumed that he developed his interest in electronic television at the age of only 14. He told his teacher Justin Tolman, how television should really work and sketched all of his ideas on the blackboard. Several years later, Farnsworth's lawyer tried to track the teacher down to testify about what the young boy drew. After only two years of high school, he was allowed to attend Brigham Young University. Unfortunately, his father passed away shortly after and Farnsworth had to take care of his family from then on [1,2,3].

Farnsworth got to know cliff Gardener, and together they opened a radio repair business in Salt Lake City, which failed. However, the young inventor became acquainted with Leslie Gorrell and George Everson, a pair of San Francisco philanthropists who were then conducting a Salt Lake City Community Chest fundraising campaign. They agreed to back Farnsworth's early television research with an initial $6,000. He set up a laboratory in Los Angeles, where he performed his experiments [2]. He managed to build his first electronic camera, but for some reason it exploded during early testings. Farnsworth had to find new investors and managed to 'broadcast' the first pictures in 1927 [1].

Unfortunately, Vladimir Zworykin had already patented electronic television in 1923, which caused both, Farnsworth and the Radio Corporation of America, which Zworykin worked for, lots of troubles. The company increased its interest in the television market and bought Zworykin's patents and a long law fight evolved between the parties. Even though Farnsworth is considered the winner of these battles, World War II was about to start right after and the demand for television devices decreased. After the war, he lost his patents since they were only valid for seven years. Still, the RCA promoted Vladimir Zworykin as the inventor of electronic television for many years [1].

Despite the fact, that Farnsworth was the man responsible for its technology, he appeared only once on a television program. On July 3, 1957, he was a mystery guest on the CBS quiz show I've Got A Secret. After the panel unsuccessfully tried to guess his secret "I invented electronic television", he discussed his research projects for a while with the host and he said: "There had been attempts to devise a television system using mechanical disks and rotating mirrors and vibrating mirrors, all mechanical. My contribution was to take out the moving parts and make the thing entirely electronic, and that was the concept that I had when I was just a freshman in high school in the Spring of 1921 at age 14".

At yovisto, you may be interested in a short except from the show I've Got A Secret starring Philo Farnsworth.

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