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Sat Sep 7, 2019, 11:09 AM

92 Years Ago Today; Philo Farnsworth invents the 1st all-electronic TV


Philo Farnsworth and his television

Philo Taylor Farnsworth (August 19, 1906 – March 11, 1971) was an American inventor and television pioneer. He made many crucial contributions to the early development of all-electronic television. He is best known for his 1927 invention of the first fully functional all-electronic image pickup device (video camera tube), the image dissector, as well as the first fully functional and complete all-electronic television system. Farnsworth developed a television system complete with receiver and camera—which he produced commercially through the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation from 1938 to 1951, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
In later life, Farnsworth invented a small nuclear fusion device, the Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor, employing inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC). It was not a practical device for generating nuclear power, though it provides a viable source of neutrons. The design of this device has been the inspiration for other fusion approaches, including the Polywell reactor concept. Farnsworth held 300 patents, mostly in radio and television.



Philo T. Farnsworth in the National Statuary Hall Collection, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

A few months after arriving in California, Farnsworth was prepared to show his models and drawings to a patent attorney who was nationally recognized as an authority on electrophysics. Everson and Gorrell agreed that Farnsworth should apply for patents for his designs, a decision that proved crucial in later disputes with RCA. Most television systems in use at the time used image scanning devices ("rasterizers" ) employing rotating "Nipkow disks" comprising a spinning disk with holes arranged in spiral patterns such that they swept across an image in a succession of short arcs while focusing the light they captured on photosensitive elements, thus producing a varying electrical signal corresponding to the variations in light intensity. Farnsworth recognized the limitations of the mechanical systems, and that an all-electronic scanning system could produce a superior image for transmission to a receiving device.

On September 7, 1927, Farnsworth's image dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line, to a receiver in another room of his laboratory at 202 Green Street in San Francisco. Pem Farnsworth recalled in 1985 that her husband broke the stunned silence of his lab assistants by saying, "There you are – electronic television!" The source of the image was a glass slide, backlit by an arc lamp. An extremely bright source was required because of the low light sensitivity of the design. By 1928, Farnsworth had developed the system sufficiently to hold a demonstration for the press. His backers had demanded to know when they would see dollars from the invention; so the first image shown was, appropriately, a dollar sign. In 1929, the design was further improved by elimination of a motor-generator; so the television system now had no mechanical parts. That year Farnsworth transmitted the first live human images using his television system, including a three and a half-inch image of his wife Pem.

Many inventors had built electromechanical television systems before Farnsworth's seminal contribution, but Farnsworth designed and built the world's first working all-electronic television system, employing electronic scanning in both the pickup and display devices. He first demonstrated his system to the press on September 3, 1928, and to the public at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on August 25, 1934.

In 1930, RCA recruited Vladimir Zworykin—who had tried, unsuccessfully, to develop his own all-electronic television system at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh since 1923—to lead its television development department. Before leaving his old employer, Zworykin visited Farnsworth's laboratory, and was sufficiently impressed with the performance of the Image Dissector that he reportedly had his team at Westinghouse make several copies of the device for experimentation. Zworykin later abandoned research on the Image Dissector, which at the time required extremely bright illumination of its subjects, and turned his attention to what became the Iconoscope. In a 1970s series of videotaped interviews, Zworykin recalled that, "Farnsworth was closer to this thing you're using now [i.e., a video camera] than anybody, because he used the cathode-ray tube for transmission. But, Farnsworth didn't have the mosaic [of discrete light elements], he didn't have storage. Therefore, [picture] definition was very low.... But he was very proud, and he stuck to his method." Contrary to Zworykin's statement, Farnsworth's patent number 2,087,683 for the Image Dissector (filed April 26, 1933) features the "charge storage plate" invented by Tihanyi in 1928 and a "low velocity" method of electron scanning, also describes "discrete particles" whose "potential" is manipulated and "saturated" to varying degrees depending on their velocity. Farnsworth's patent numbers 2,140,695 and 2,233,888 are for a "charge storage dissector" and "charge storage amplifier," respectively.

In 1931, David Sarnoff of RCA offered to buy Farnsworth's patents for US$100,000, with the stipulation that he become an employee of RCA, but Farnsworth refused. In June of that year, Farnsworth joined the Philco company and moved to Philadelphia along with his wife and two children. RCA later filed an interference suit against Farnsworth, claiming Zworykin's 1923 patent had priority over Farnsworth's design, despite the fact it could present no evidence that Zworykin had actually produced a functioning transmitter tube before 1931. Farnsworth had lost two interference claims to Zworykin in 1928, but this time he prevailed and the U.S. Patent Office rendered a decision in 1934 awarding priority of the invention of the image dissector to Farnsworth. RCA lost a subsequent appeal, but litigation over a variety of issues continued for several years with Sarnoff finally agreeing to pay Farnsworth royalties. Zworykin received a patent in 1928 for a color transmission version of his 1923 patent application; he also divided his original application in 1931, receiving a patent in 1935, while a second one was eventually issued in 1938 by the Court of Appeals on a non-Farnsworth-related interference case, and over the objection of the Patent Office.

In 1932, while in England to raise money for his legal battles with RCA, Farnsworth met with John Logie Baird, a Scottish inventor who had given the world's first public demonstration of a working television system in London in 1926, using an electro-mechanical imaging system, and who was seeking to develop electronic television receivers. Baird demonstrated his mechanical system for Farnsworth.

In May 1933, Philco severed its relationship with Farnsworth because, said Everson, "it [had] become apparent that Philo's aim at establishing a broad patent structure through research [was] not identical with the production program of Philco." In Everson's view the decision was mutual and amicable. Farnsworth set up shop at 127 East Mermaid Lane in Philadelphia, and In 1934 held the first public exhibition of his device at the Franklin Institute in that city.

After sailing to Europe in 1934, Farnsworth secured an agreement with Goerz-Bosch-Fernseh in Germany. Some image dissector cameras were used to broadcast the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Farnsworth returned to his laboratory, and by 1936 his company was regularly transmitting entertainment programs on an experimental basis. That same year, while working with University of Pennsylvania biologists, Farnsworth developed a process to sterilize milk using radio waves. He also invented a fog-penetrating beam for ships and airplanes.

In 1936 he attracted the attention of Collier's Weekly, which described his work in glowing terms. "One of those amazing facts of modern life that just don't seem possible – namely, electrically scanned television that seems destined to reach your home next year, was largely given to the world by a nineteen-year-old boy from Utah ... Today, barely thirty years old he is setting the specialized world of science on its ears."

In 1938, Farnsworth established the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with E. A. Nicholas as president and himself as director of research. In September 1939, after a more than decade-long legal battle, RCA finally conceded to a multi-year licensing agreement concerning Farnsworth's 1927 patent for television totaling $1 million. RCA was then free, after showcasing electronic television at New York World's Fair on April 20, 1939, to sell electronic television cameras to the public.

Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation was purchased by International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) in 1951. During his time at ITT, Farnsworth worked in a basement laboratory known as "the cave" on Pontiac Street in Fort Wayne. From there he introduced a number of breakthrough concepts, including a defense early warning signal, submarine detection devices, radar calibration equipment and an infrared telescope. "Philo was a very deep person – tough to engage in conversation, because he was always thinking about what he could do next", said Art Resler, an ITT photographer who documented Farnsworth's work in pictures. One of Farnsworth's most significant contributions at ITT was the PPI Projector, an enhancement on the iconic "circular sweep" radar display, which allowed safe air traffic control from the ground. This system developed in the 1950s was the forerunner of today's air traffic control systems.

In addition to his electronics research, ITT management agreed to nominally fund Farnsworth's nuclear fusion research. He and staff members invented and refined a series of fusion reaction tubes called "fusors". For scientific reasons unknown to Farnsworth and his staff, the necessary reactions lasted no longer than thirty seconds. In December 1965, ITT came under pressure from its board of directors to terminate the expensive project and sell the Farnsworth subsidiary. It was only due to the urging of president Harold Geneen that the 1966 budget was accepted, extending ITT's fusion research for an additional year. The stress associated with this managerial ultimatum, however, caused Farnsworth to suffer a relapse. A year later he was terminated and eventually allowed medical retirement.

In the spring of 1967, Farnsworth and his family moved back to Utah to continue his fusion research at Brigham Young University, which presented him with an honorary doctorate. The university also offered him office space and an underground concrete bunker for the project. Realizing ITT would dismantle its fusion lab, Farnsworth invited staff members to accompany him to Salt Lake City, as team members in Philo T. Farnsworth Associates (PTFA). By late 1968, the associates began holding regular business meetings and PTFA was underway. They promptly secured a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and more possibilities were within reach—but financing stalled for the $24,000 a month required for salaries and equipment rental.

By Christmas 1970, PTFA had failed to secure the necessary financing, and the Farnsworths had sold all their own ITT stock and cashed in Philo's life insurance policy to maintain organizational stability. The underwriter had failed to provide the financial backing that was to have supported the organization during its critical first year. The banks called in all outstanding loans, repossession notices were placed on anything not previously sold, and the Internal Revenue Service put a lock on the laboratory door until delinquent taxes were paid. In January 1971, PTFA disbanded. Farnsworth had begun abusing alcohol in his later years, and as a result became seriously ill with pneumonia, and died on March 11, 1971.

Farnsworth's wife Elma Gardner "Pem" Farnsworth fought for decades after his death to assure his place in history. Farnsworth always gave her equal credit for creating television, saying, "my wife and I started this TV." She died on April 27, 2006, at age 98. The inventor and wife were survived by two sons, Russell (then living in New York City), and Kent (then living in Fort Wayne, Indiana).

In 1999, Time magazine included Farnsworth in the "Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century".

Electronic television

Farnsworth worked out the principle of the image dissector in the summer of 1921, not long before his 15th birthday, and demonstrated the first working version on September 7, 1927, having turned 21 the previous August. A farm boy, his inspiration for scanning an image as series of lines came from the back-and-forth motion used to plow a field. In the course of a patent interference suit brought by the Radio Corporation of America in 1934 and decided in February 1935, his high school chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman, produced a sketch he had made of a blackboard drawing Farnsworth had shown him in spring 1922. Farnsworth won the suit; RCA appealed the decision in 1936 and lost. Farnsworth received royalties from RCA, but he never became wealthy. The video camera tube that evolved from the combined work of Farnsworth, Zworykin, and many others was used in all television cameras until the late 20th century, when alternate technologies such as charge-coupled devices began to appear.[citation needed]

Farnsworth also developed the "image oscillite", a cathode ray tube that displayed the images captured by the image dissector.

Farnsworth called his device an image dissector because it converted individual elements of the image into electricity one at a time. He replaced the spinning disks with caesium, an element that emits electrons when exposed to light.

In 1984, Farnsworth was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

The Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor is an apparatus designed by Farnsworth to create nuclear fusion. Unlike most controlled fusion systems, which slowly heat a magnetically confined plasma, the fusor injects high-temperature ions directly into a reaction chamber, thereby avoiding a considerable amount of complexity.

When the Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor was first introduced to the fusion research world in the late 1960s, the fusor was the first device that could clearly demonstrate it was producing fusion reactions at all. Hopes at the time were high that it could be quickly developed into a practical power source. However, as with other fusion experiments, development into a power source has proven difficult. Nevertheless, the fusor has since become a practical neutron source and is produced commercially for this role.

Other inventions
At the time he died, Farnsworth held 300 U.S. and foreign patents. His inventions contributed to the development of radar, infra-red night vision devices, the electron microscope, the baby incubator, the gastroscope, and the astronomical telescope.

TV appearance
Although he was the man responsible for its technology, Farnsworth appeared only once on a television program. On July 3, 1957, he was a mystery guest ("Doctor X" ) on the CBS quiz show I've Got A Secret. He fielded questions from the panel as they unsuccessfully tried to guess his secret ("I invented electronic television." ). For stumping the panel, he received $80 and a carton of Winston cigarettes. Host Garry Moore then spent a few minutes discussing with Farnsworth his research on such projects as high-definition television, flat-screen receivers, and fusion power. Farnsworth 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." When Moore asked about others' contributions, Farnsworth agreed, "There are literally thousands of inventions important to television. I hold something in excess of 165 American patents." The host then asked about his current research, and the inventor replied, "In television, we're attempting first to make better utilization of the bandwidth, because we think we can eventually get in excess of 2,000 lines instead of 525 ... and do it on an even narrower channel ... which will make for a much sharper picture. We believe in the picture-frame type of a picture, where the visual display will be just a screen. And we hope for a memory, so that the picture will be just as though it's pasted on there."

A letter to the editor of the Idaho Falls Post Register disputed that Farnsworth had made only one television appearance. Roy Southwick claimed "... I interviewed Mr. [Philo] Farnsworth back in 1953—the first day KID-TV went on the air." KID-TV, which later became KIDK-TV, was then located near the Rigby area where Farnsworth grew up.

In a 1996 videotaped interview by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Elma Farnsworth recounts Philo's change of heart about the value of television, after seeing how it showed man walking on the moon, in real time, to millions of viewers:

Interviewer: The image dissector was used to send shots back from the moon to earth.
Elma Farnsworth: Right.
Interviewer: What did Phil think of that?
Elma Farnsworth: We were watching it, and, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Phil turned to me and said, "Pem, this has made it all worthwhile." Before then, he wasn't too sure.


Philo on "I've Got A Secret"

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Reply 92 Years Ago Today; Philo Farnsworth invents the 1st all-electronic TV (Original post)
Dennis Donovan Sep 7 OP
Dennis Donovan Sep 7 #1
rurallib Sep 7 #2
2naSalit Sep 7 #4
rurallib Sep 7 #8
2naSalit Sep 7 #9
Mendocino Sep 7 #3
MineralMan Sep 7 #5
Dennis Donovan Sep 7 #6
MineralMan Sep 7 #7

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat Sep 7, 2019, 12:07 PM

1. Fun fact: On the panel of I've Got A Secret was Faye Emerson, who herself had a secret...

She, at one time, was the daughter-in-law of FDR and Eleanor!

Elliot Roosevelt and Faye Emerson

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat Sep 7, 2019, 12:16 PM

2. I read many years ago that Farnsworth got his inspiration for electronic TV

from sitting on a hill and watching a breeze blow across a wheat field in his native Kansas. The breeze would move across the field not moving all the wheat at once but one row at a time slowly creating the vision of a wave. Breeze after breeze would create the image of a waving field of wheat.

I am old enough to remember early TVs where if you got up close enough you could see the constant changing of the lines. When you backed up you couldn't see the lines change. Instead you would see a full moving picture. If I recall correctly, TV screens were mage up of 256 constantly changing lines no matter what size the TV screen was.

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Response to rurallib (Reply #2)

Sat Sep 7, 2019, 01:07 PM

4. I think it was

a spud field in Idaho, where he's from.

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Response to 2naSalit (Reply #4)

Sat Sep 7, 2019, 08:31 PM

8. you are probably right -the memory fades as I get older

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Response to rurallib (Reply #8)

Sat Sep 7, 2019, 08:34 PM

9. That's okay...

I wouldn't have known if I hadn't lived about an hour from his home town of Rexberg where there is a museum and a billboard along the highway about it.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat Sep 7, 2019, 01:00 PM

3. My father

developed Digiveiw, adapted from oscilloscopes. This led to plasma TV.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat Sep 7, 2019, 03:45 PM

5. I once bought a TV with a 3" screen at a garage sale for $10

It was a Pilot, made in 1948. It would have been in 1970 when I bought it. I plugged it in and it worked perfectly. Looked like this:

Except I didn't have the magnifier. I had a regular TV, but kept that Pilot so people could see what TV looked like right after WWII. Sadly, the picture tube went out a few years later, and I couldn't find a replacement, so I tossed that historical TV.

Wish I still had it. I didn't know, at the time, that I could have used a common oscilloscope tube to replace the picture tube. Oh, well...

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #5)

Sat Sep 7, 2019, 03:47 PM

6. It's worth a LOT now!

I used to collect TV's (from the 1947 RCA's to the Philco Predictas) and I would JONES for such a find!

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Reply #6)

Sat Sep 7, 2019, 08:08 PM

7. Yup.

Not then, though. It was fun to have, though.

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