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Who invented Televsion? The answer lies in how you define "television". It has something to do with whether you prefer an elite or populist view of historical causation. Was television, however defined, the outcome of a few brilliant minds: of irreplaceable genius overcoming mind-boggling obstacles of physics and engineering? Or was it the result of many hands, minds, hearts, pocketbooks, and voices, all of which contributed to the invention, innovation, organization, regulation, content, sale, and reception of a technology that did not exist a little over a hundred years ago? These pages will not answer the question above, but it should provide you with some food for thought.

The Roots of Television, 1880-1923

1880: Engineer Maurice LeBlanc of France proposes scanning a moving image with light beams reflected onto a selenium photocell, which will convert them into electricity for transmission via conducting wire to another photocell and a display screen.  Article appears in La Lumière Electrique.

1882: Englishman William Lucas proposes a similar technique in English Mechanic.

1884: Engineer Paul Nipkow (1861-1940) of Germany receives patent #30,105 for his system of scanning and reproducing an image through light valves and the perforated discs bearing his name.

1900: Frenchman Constantin Perskyi invents the word “television” at the International Electricity Congress during the Paris Exhibition.

1908: Scotsman Alan Archibald Campbell Swinton writes letter to Nature proposing all-electronic television system using scanning “cathode rays” or electron beams in camera and display tubes.

1909: Frenchmen Georges Rignoux and Professor A. Fournier describe a television system using a rotating mirrored-drum and selenium photocell panels to scan, transmit, and display images.

May 9, 1911: Dr. Boris Rosing of St. Petersburg, Russia, adopts Rignoux and Fournier’s mirrored-drum scanner to a system that displays an image on a cathode-ray tube; Vladimir Zworykin assists him.

November 7, 1911: Campbell Swinton amplifies 1908 proposal in his presidential lecture to the Röntgen Society of London.  The Times of London reprints his lecture eight days later.

August 1915: Hugo Gernsback’s Electrical Experimenter magazine popularizes Campbell Swinton electronic scanning system.

Spring 1918: Philo Farnsworth’s family moves to house in Rigby, Idaho, where Philo discovers a collection of science and technical magazines in the attic.

1919: Zworykin discloses his idea for a fully electronic television system to his superior in the Russian Army, Colonel Ilia Mouromtseff

1920: Campbell Swinton doubts the value of financially investing in the development of televsion in a lecture before the Radio Society of Great Britain.

Spring 1921: Farnsworth imagines scanning and displaying images electronically.

1921: Marcus J. Martin publishes The Electrical Transmission of Photographs, which includes a description of Campbell Swinton’s television system.

Charles Jenkins incorporates Jenkins Laboratories in Washington, D.C., for “developing radio movies to be broadcast for entertainment in the home.”

Fall 1921: Zworykin discloses his television system to fellow Westinghouse engineer Joseph Tykociner.

Spring 1922: Farnsworth explains his system to his science teacher in Rigby, Justin Tolman.

Broadcast radio enjoys its first boom in stations established and receivers sold.  Home radios are battery-powered and listened to over headphones or through crude loudspeaker horns.  The sound is terrible and station content and stations themselves highly erratic.

March 1922: Jenkins applies for patent on electromechanical television system; in October he publicly broadcasts still images from the Annacostia Naval Air Station to the U. S. Post Office in Washington, D.C.

February 1923: Zworykin rejoins Westinghouse; submits patent proposal for electronic television system to his boss, Samuel Kintner, in April.

April 5, 1923: David Sarnoff writes memo for RCA and GE superiors that television, which is the technical name for seeing instead of hearing by radio, will come to pass in due course.”

Spring 1923: John Logie Baird demonstrates Nipkow disc television system in his apartment, or flat, in Hastings, Sussex, England; applies for patent in July.

December 29, 1923: Westinghouse files Zworykin’s patent application.


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