Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Philo Taylor Farnsworth’s Electric TV

On this date in 1930, the U.S. Patent Office issued two patents to Philo Farnsworth, one for a television system and the other for a television receiving system. Farnsworth was not the first person to conceive of a way to generate live pictures via a form of television. For some time there were motorized television systems based on spinning wheels that created an effect of live action. But Farnsworth was the first person (although there is still ongoing argument on this) to devise a form of electronic television based on the scanning of an image with an electron beam.

In 1921, while still a high school teen mowing rows of hay on his family farm in Idaho, Farnworth conceived of an electron beam scanning rows of an image line after line, in a manner similar to mowing a field of hay.

Farnsworth applied for his patents in 1927, and two were issued on this date in 1930. Significant patent litigation ensued between Farnsworth and RCA, headed by Gen. Sarnoff, over the method of television. By 1939, Farnsworth’s patents were substantially upheld and RCA was required to pay royalties to Farnsworth Radio & Television Co. for operation of RCA’s new commercial television business.

In 1957, Farnsworth explained his invention on nationwide TV, stating: "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 1922, at age 14]. * * * There are literally thousands of inventions important to television. I hold something in excess of 165 American patents."

Farnsworth's electronic TV inventions have, for the most part, been replaced with new digital technology, including the recent development of the computer chip and its use in generating digital images. But Farnsworth's invention allowed several generations to watch I Love Lucy, the moon landing, the funeral of JFK, the Watergate Hearings, and more.

Further, today marks the anniversary of the first live broadcast of a professional baseball game in 1939, some twelve years after Farnsworth’s first TV patents. The game between the Cincinnati Reds at the Brooklyn Dodgers was broadcast from Ebbets Field on experimental TV station W2XBS, New York (subsequently WNBC), with Red Barber announcing. The Reds won 5-2. This was not the first baseball game ever broadcast on TV. That distinction goes to Princeton at Columbia, played a few months earlier at Columbia’s Baker Field on May 17, 1939. Princeton won 2-1.

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