History of TV
John Logie Baird was born on 14 August 1888, the fourth child of Jessie and the
Reverend John Baird. His family lived in a large house called "The Lodge" in
Helensburgh, a coastal town which lies 25 miles northwest of Glasgow. By the
turn of the century, this house had seen the development of a telephone
exchange, had been supplied with electric lighting and had been the site of an
early flight experiment, all of which were the work of the imaginative youngest
A telephone exchange was quite an achievement for a young schoolboy. Other children played with tin cans and pieces of string, but John Baird had tried this method and was dissatisfied. Instead, he made an electric exchange and connected his home to those of four of his friends.(1) Unfortunately this telephone service was not in use for very long, as one of its low hanging wires caused the driver of a hansom cab to have an accident. This driver's protests soon led to the removal of the telephone wires from their various positions around the neighbourhood. Never one to waste resources, the boy then used the wires from his telephone exchange to set up a lighting system for The Lodge. Run by a petrol powered generator in the back garden, this activity made his parents' home the first in Helensburgh to have electric lighting.
John Logie Baird was also conducting experiments in other areas of research. The first year of this century saw the young inventor standing on the roof of his parents' house with a home-made glider. This experiment took place on a flat section of the roof of The Lodge, and had a rather strong impact on the rest of Baird's life. The glider was constructed with the assistance of his friend Godfrey Harris, but may not have been as well designed or constructed as some of his later machinery. Baird describes this incident in his autobiography Sermons, Soap and Television:
I had no intention of flying, but before I had time to give more than one shriek of alarm, Godfrey gave the machine one terrific push, and I was launched shrieking into the air. I had a few very nauseating seconds while the machine rocked wildly and then broke in half and deposited me with a terrific bump on the lawn.(2)
Fortunately, Baird was not seriously hurt by this fall, but elements of this particular experiment would surface again in his life. Just as he collaborated with young Godfrey Harris, he would always be ready to enlist the help of others. In later life, Baird's experiments would associate him with a diverse range of people, from a bright teen age radio enthusiast named Victor Mills to Winston Churchill's chief scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann.(3)
This glider incident gave Baird a great fear of flying, which would prevent him from travelling easily, and also foreshadowed the great difficulty he would have in maintaining his physical well-being. Even as a child, from the time he suffered an undiagnosed illness at the age of two, Baird's health was never good. Later on, as well as incurring various minor injuries in the early days of his work on television, he would also suffer from repeated physical breakdowns. After falling victim to a heart attack, Baird had time to write his autobiography while he was convalescing, but lived only another five years. He died on 14 June 1946, at a time when he was about to reinstate Britain as a world leader in television technology.
A healthy social life and an inventive nature seemed to be at variance with Baird's school career. The twelve year old boy is described in his school report as "very slow," "timid" and "...by no means a quick learner."(4) Nevertheless, Baird was not discouraged by his academic record, and in 1906 entered a diploma course in electrical engineering at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College.(5) He graduated from this course on 1 October 1914, and then entered Glasgow University to upgrade his diploma to a Bachelor of Science.(6) Unfortunately, World War One broke out, and Baird never completed his degree. Baird, now 26 years old, tried on many occasions to enlist with the army, but was repeatedly rejected as unfit for army service. He therefore continued his various investigations, including work on television.
The earliest suggestion of Baird's interest in television technology is an experiment which he conducted at his parents' house in 1903.(7) This experiment involved the attempted construction of a selenium photo-electric cell, but was unsuccessful, and Baird burnt his hands in the process. Although John Logie Baird suggests that he first started work on a complete television system in Hastings, there is evidence that he actually began ten years earlier. In 1976, Peter Waddell wrote an article which quoted sources suggesting that Baird first experimented with a complete television system between 1912 and 1915, while living in Yoker and working towards his electrical engineering diploma at the Glasgow College.(8) R.W. Burns reinforces this suggestion in his 1986 book British Television: The Formative Years.(9) In 1996, Malcolm Baird said that his father's work in Yoker can now be considered a definite possibility.(10)
The most fully substantiated evidence for Baird's early television work is found on the south coast of England, in Hastings in 1923. Even here, there is a certain amount of controversy, for Baird himself writes that he travelled directly from London to Hastings, where he then started work on television. This statement is untrue, for although Baird did travel to the south coast, it was not first to Hastings but to another seaside town called Folkestone. Since this new information has been released, a plaque has been placed on 26 Guildhall Street in Folkestone, in order to commemorate Baird's early television work there. According to R.W. Burns, Baird was definitely in Hastings during the winter of 1922 to 1923.(11) This situation therefore suggests that Baird was simultaneously renting accommodation in Folkestone and Hastings.
In order to tackle the problem of television, John Logie Baird chose a system which employed mechanical scanning. There were various methods available to achieve this, and Baird selected a system which used the Nipkow disc as being the most promising. Invented by Paul Nipkow in 1884, this disc had a series of apertures cut into it, which could then be used to scan an image. This disc was combined with other discs, and produced a very different television set from the ones we use today, for Baird's system did not use the cathode ray tube which is the most common method of displaying an image on modern television equipment.
J. L. Baird and his television apparatus
Baird was quite capable of inventing his machines, but he was not quite so capable of their construction. For this reason, he enlisted the help of two young Hastings boys, Victor Mills and Norman Loxdale. Mills assisted Baird in the refinement of his electronics and Loxdale made various components, including a Nipkow disc with two spirals of apertures which were covered with orange-red and blue-green filters. Loxdale later described his surprise at Baird's experimentation with this disc, as at that time the inventor had not yet achieved a television picture.(12) This surprise can be more easily understood when one realises that this disc was capable of producing colour and/or three dimensional pictures.
Other experiments conducted by Baird at this time involved the transmission, reflection and detection of radio waves which determined the distance of an object. According to Loxdale, Baird did some of these experiments in his laboratory at 8 Queen's Avenue in Hastings, and the inventor later conducted further experiments of a similar nature from a local hilltop.(13) The significance of these tests is that they were very early examples of experimentation with a technology that was later to become famous during World War Two -- namely, radar.(14)
Although Baird was not accepted into military service at the beginning of World War One, there is evidence that he joined the military services. On 1 June 1976, a Mr. James Heath wrote a letter to Helensburgh library, stating that he saw Baird in 1928 or 1929, dressed as "...a Lieutenant in the Supplementary Reserve of Officers...[and he] was conducting experiments in several types of army field communications and new systems." Heath suggests that these new systems involved "...an invention to send pictures through the atmosphere." In other words, this statement implies that John Logie Baird was not only working on television for public use, but also for use in secret signalling for the armed forces.
Tom McArthur and Peter Waddell report the above information in their book The Secret Life of John Logie Baird, which was published in 1986.(15) These authors have uncovered a remarkable amount of previously undisclosed work which connects John Logie Baird with radar and secret signalling, and more information will eventually be published by Peter Waddell and Douglas Brown on this subject.
There were two main problems which Baird would have to overcome in order to achieve television: the problem of the insensitivity of the photo-electric cell, and also the difficulty of obtaining a clear image. At first, he could only produce pictures of the outline of shapes, known as "shadowgraphs." C.F. Jenkins in America and D. von Mihaly in Hungary were also working on the problem of television, and had also produced shadowgraphs. However, Baird was able to solve his main difficulties and go beyond these two inventors in achieving true television.
To overcome his first problem, Baird worked with an assistant in Tunbridge Wells on the development of a photo-electric cell. The experimentation was successful, and he eventually produced a cell that "...was entirely different from existing cells on the market.(16) The second problem was solved by Baird's refinement of his electronics. Douglas Brown suggests that Baird's system was as poor as everyone else's, but it was his use of a technique called "sharpening" that finally produced a television picture.(17) Sharpening is an electronic method which brings a picture into focus in the same manner in which a normal lens focuses an image.
Almost eleven years to the day after graduating with an electrical engineering diploma from the Royal Technical College in Glasgow, John Logie Baird first achieved a recognisable television image. In his autobiography, Baird describes this historic occasion.
The image of the dummy's head formed itself on the screen with what appeared to be almost unbelievable clarity...I ran down the little flight of stairs to Mr. Cross' office, and seized by the arm his office boy William Taynton, hauled him upstairs and put him in front of the transmitter...(18)
After paying Taynton two shillings and sixpence to stay in position, Baird finally saw a human face recognisably reproduced on his apparatus. Baird waited four months, until 26 January 1926, before demonstrating his achievement to the Royal Institute and a reporter from The Times newspaper.
John Logie Baird's achievement of television brought him great recognition. He went on to become a well known public figure in Great Britain. In 1931 married the concert pianist Margaret Albu. The couple had two children, Diana and Malcolm. Diana is a retired schoolteacher living near Glasgow, and Malcolm is a professor in chemical engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, as well as a Baird historian in his own right.
Baird's work did not stop with his achievement of true television. He went on to develop television for cinemas, both colour and three dimensional television, and also investigated further into secret signalling and radar technology. The fall edition of Kinema will contain a complementary article by Malcolm Baird, examining his father's work following the first demonstration of television.
The author wishes to acknowledge the editing assistance of Kristine Schmitt
history of tele timelineistory of Television Timeline
• History of Television
Television was not invented by a single inventor, instead many people working together and alone, contributed to the evolution of TV.
1831: Joseph Henry's and Michael Faraday's work with electromagnetism makes possible the era of electronic communication to begin.
1862: Abbe Giovanna Caselli invents his "pantelegraph" and becomes the first person to transmit a still image over wires.
1873: Scientists May and Smith experiment with selenium and light, this opens the door for inventors to transform images into electronic signals.
1876: Boston civil servant George Carey was thinking about complete television systems and in 1877 he put forward drawings for what he called a "selenium camera" that would allow people to "see by electricity." Eugen Goldstein coins the term "cathode rays" to describe the light emitted when an electric current was forced through a vacuum tube.
Late 1870's: Scientists and engineers like Paiva, Figuier, and Senlecq were suggesting alternative designs for "telectroscopes."
1880: Inventors like Bell and Edison theorize about telephone devices that transmit image as well as sound. Bell's photophone used light to transmit sound and he wanted to advance his device for image sending. George Carey builds a rudimentary system with light-sensitive cells.
1881: Sheldon Bidwell experiments with telephotography, another photophone.
1884: Paul Nipkow sends images over wires using a rotating metal disk technology calling it the "electric telescope" with 18 lines of resolution.
1900: At the World's Fair in Paris, the 1st International Congress of Electricity was held, where Russian, Constantin Perskyi made the first known use of the word "television."
Soon after, the momentum shifted from ideas and discussions to physical development of TV systems. Two paths were followed:
Mechanical television - based on Nipkow's rotating disks, and
Electronic television - based on the cathode ray tube work done independently in 1907 by English inventor A.A. Campbell-Swinton and Russian scientist Boris Rosing.
1906: Lee de Forest invents the "Audion" vacuum tube that proved essential to electronics. The Audion was the first tube with the ablity to amplify signals. Boris Rosing combines Nipkow's disk and a cathode ray tube and builds the first working mechanical TV system.
1907: Campbell Swinton and Boris Rosing suggest using cathode ray tubes to transmit images - independent of each other, they both develop electronic scanning methods of reproducing images.
American Charles Jenkins and Scotsman John Baird followed the mechanical model while Philo Farnsworth, working independently in San Francisco, and Russian émigré Vladimir Zworkin, working for Westinghouse and later RCA, advanced the electronic model.
1923: Vladimir Zworykin patents his iconscope a TV camera tube based on Campbell Swinton's ideas. The iconscope, which he called an "electric eye" becomes the cornerstone for further television development. He later develops the kinescope for picture display.
1924 - 1925: American Charles Jenkins and John Baird from Scotland, each demonstrate the mechanical transmissions of images over wire circuits. Photo Left: Jenkin's Radiovisor Model 100 circa 1931, sold as a kit. Baird becomes the first person to transmit moving silhouette images using a mechanical system based on Nipkow's disk. Vladimir Zworykin patents a color television system.
1926: John Baird operates a 30 lines of resolution system at 5 frames per second.
1927: Bell Telephone and the U.S. Department of Commerce conduct the first long distance use of TV, between Washington D.C. and New York City on April 9th. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover commented, “Today we have, in a sense, the transmission of sight for the first time in the world’s history. Human genius has now destroyed the impediment of distance in a new respect, and in a manner hitherto unknown.” Philo Farnsworth files for a patent on the first complete electronic television system, which he called the Image Dissector.
1928: The Federal Radio Commission issues the first television license (W3XK) to Charles Jenkins.
1929: Vladimir Zworykin demonstrates the first practical electronic system for both the transmission and reception of images using his new kinescope tube. John Baird opens the first TV studio, however, the image quality was poor.
1930: Charles Jenkins broadcasts the first TV commercial. The BBC begins regular TV transmissions.
1933: Iowa State University (W9XK) starts broadcasting twice weekly television programs in cooperation with radio station WSUI.
1936: About 200 hundred television sets are in use world-wide. The introduction of coaxial cable, which is a pure copper or copper-coated wire surrounded by insulation and an aluminum covering. These cables were and are used to transmit television, telephone and data signals. The 1st "experimental" coaxial cable lines were laid by AT&T between New York and Philadelphia in 1936. The first “regular” installation connected Minneapolis and Stevens Point, WI in 1941. The original L1 coaxial-cable system could carry 480 telephone conversations or one television program. By the 1970's, L5 systems could carry 132,000 calls or more than 200 television programs.
1937: CBS begins TV development. The BBC begins high definition broadcasts in London. Brothers and Stanford researchers Russell and Sigurd Varian introduced the Klystron in. A Klystron is a high-frequency amplifier for generating microwaves. It is considered the technology that makes UHF-TV possible because it gives the ability to generate the high power required in this spectrum.
1939: Vladimir Zworykin and RCA conduct experimentally broadcasts from the Empire State Building. Television was demonstrated at the New York World's Fair and the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition. RCA's David Sarnoff used his company's exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair as a showcase for the 1st Presidential speech (Roosevelt) on television and to introduce RCA's new line of television receivers – some of which had to be coupled with a radio if you wanted to hear sound. The Dumont company starts making tv sets.
1940: Peter Goldmark invents a 343 lines of resolution color television.
1941: The FCC releases the NTSC standard for black and white TV.
1943: Vladimir Zworykin developed a better camera tube - the Orthicon. The Orthicon (Photo Left) had enough light sensitivity to record outdoor events at night.
1946: Peter Goldmark, working for CBS, demonstrated his color television system to the FCC. His system produced color pictures by having a red-blue-green wheel spin in front of a cathode ray tube. This mechanical means of producing a color picture was used in 1949 to broadcast medical procedures from Pennsylvania and Atlantic City hospitals. In Atlantic City, viewers could come to the convention center to see broadcasts of operations. Reports from the time noted that the realism of seeing surgery in color caused more than a few viewers to faint. Although Goldmark's mechanical system was eventually replaced by an electronic system he is recognized as the first to introduce a broadcasting color television system.
1948: Cable television is introduced in Pennsylvania as a means of bringing television to rural areas. A patent was granted to Louis W. Parker for a low-cost television receiver. One million homes in the United States have television sets.
1950: The FCC approves the first color television standard which is replaced by a second in 1953. Vladimir Zworykin developed a better camera tube - the Vidicon.
1956: Ampex introduces the first practical videotape system of broadcast quality.
1956: Robert Adler invents the first practical remote control called the Zenith Space Commander, proceeded by wired remotes and units that failed in sunlight.
1960: The first split screen broadcast occurs on the Kennedy - Nixon debates.
1962: The All Channel Receiver Act requires that UHF tuners (channels 14 to 83) be included in all sets.
1962: AT&T launches Telstar, the first satellite to carry TV broadcasts - broadcasts are now internationally relayed.
1967: Most TV broadcasts are in color.
1969: July 20, first TV transmission from the moon and 600 million people watch.
1972: Half the TVs in homes are color sets.
1973: Giant screen projection TV is first marketed.
1976: Sony introduces betamax, the first home video cassette recorder.
1978: PBS becomes the first station to switch to all satellite delivery of programs.
1981: NHK demonstrates HDTV with 1,125 lines of resolution.
1982: Dolby surround sound for home sets is introduced.
1983: Direct Broadcast Satellite begins service in Indianapolis, In.
1984: Stereo TV broadcasts approved.
1986: Super VHS introduced.
1993: Closed captioning required on all sets.
1996: The FCC approves ATSC's HDTV standard. Billion TV sets world-wide.