Following up on last week’s post, titled Wonkskolaser: The Family Who Built Warner Bros, this week’s topic is television. The device that was once expected to cement the family as an institution, but ended up doing just the opposite.
So, how did television come about? What innovations have been made to the device since? And what opportunities lie in its future?
Long before its realization, television was seen as a natural progression from the telephones, the radio, and motion pictures. An idea that existed since at least 1839, it was thought to be have been a good medium to educate, implant ideas, impressions and attitudes. Whether it lives up to this goal is a matter of opinion.
In the 1920s, when you mentioned television you were referring to a device that mechanically scanned an image through a spinning disc, projecting a tiny, unstable reproduction of what was being scanned on a screen. Many people contributed to its progression, a few of whom I’ll mention:
- German inventor and physicist, Karl Ferdinand Braun, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1909, invented the earliest version of the cathode ray tube or “CRT”, also known as the Braun tube in 1897.
- John B. Johnson and Harry Weiner Weinhart developed the first CRT to use a hot cathode — the negatively charged metal electrode from which conventional current travels in a polarized electrical device.
- As early as 1907, Soviet Armenian engineer Hovannes Adamian, experimented with and claimed the first color television project. He filed for and secured several patents during his lifetime.
- Kenjiro Takayanagi, known as the father of Japanese television, developed the world’s first practical electronic television in 1926 and was the first to transmit human faces in halftone (by 1928). The prototype is still on display at the Takayanagi Memorial Museum at Shizuoka University, Hamamatsu Campus.
- Scottish inventor John Logie Baird demonstrated the world’s first color transmission on July 3, 1928. Baird made the world’s first color broadcast on February 4, 1938. He also gave the first demonstration of stereoscopic (3D) television.
- The first national color broadcast wouldn’t take place until the 1954 Tournament of Roses Parade by NBC on January 1.
- In 1936, Kalman Tihanyi described the principle of plasma television and designed the first flat-panel television system.
By the end of the 1920s, research shows that electronic televisions proved far superior than mechanical systems.
In comes Philo Taylor Farnsworth, who according to surviving relatives conceived the idea of an electronic — rather than mechanical — television while plowing the fields on the family farm at the age of 14. He successfully demonstrated his television in San Francisco on September 7, 1927.
As he plowed a potato field in straight, parallel lines, he saw television in the furrows. He envisioned a system that would break an image into horizontal lines and reassemble those lines into a picture at the other end. Only electrons could capture, transmit and reproduce a clear moving figure.
Sixteen years before Farnsworth’s first success, Boris Rosing and Vladimir Zworykin, inventor of the kinescope (not to be confused with Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope), had conducted experiments in transmitting images utilizing a mechanical mirror-drum scanner to transmit. In Zworykin’s words, sending “very crude images” over wires to the CRT in the receiver.
Farnsworth received a patent for his device in 1930. Though RCA offered to purchase all related patents from Farnsworth, he refused insisting on royalty payments instead.
He gave the world’s first public demonstration of his electrical television at the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia on August 25, 1934, and for ten days afterwards.
“If we were able to see people in other countries and learn about our differences, why would there be any misunderstandings?” he asked. “War would be a thing of the past.”
In 1939 RCA introduced Farnworth’s television at the World’s Fair in New York City. While many television sets awaited their new homes, initial sales were marginal at best. To compare, the purchase of a brand new car in the 1940s would set you back about $1,000. On the other hand, television sets were being sold for over $600 with not much to offer in terms of variety in programming.
As far as the individuals standing in front of the camera to bring the pictures to your screen… lighting proved to be a major issue. Dinah Shore while singing in front of a piano, reportedly ended up with her mascara melting and seeping into her eyes as she performed due to heat emitted from the light source. She continued her performance despite.
Fast forward to the 1950s, digital television becomes the first significant evolution in television technology since color television.
On September 4, 1951, the first national live television broadcast in the U.S. took place at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco. The event focused on President Harry Truman’s acceptance of the treaty that officially ended America’s post-World War II occupation of Japan.
Some of the journalists who emerged during the 50s and 60s include David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, John Charles Daly, Chet Huntley, Edward P. Morgan, Edward R. Murrow, Howard K. Smith, Barabara Walters, to name a few.
Television can show you the Atlantic & the Pacific, television can show you the face of the moon. But it can also show you the heart and face of man.
~Edward R. Murrow
Looking to the future. Augmented reality? Virtual reality? What roles will they play? Of personal interest, could we see a resurface of the smell-o-vision at our local drive-in to augment the experience, in the ways that the scratch-n-sniff cards arriving with our local newspaper used to do?
To close, World Television Day — designated by the United Nations on December 17, 1996 — will be celebrated on November 21. While National Today mentions binging and chilling… also consider the impact television used to have and still can continue to have on decision-making by bringing awareness to societal concerns and ways to increase peace and security.
Don’t follow today’s trends. Discover technology that will benefit your country decades from now. Steadily walk your path to developing what the world will want in the future, in 20 years.
~Dr. Kenjiro Takayanagi
- Paley Center for Media
- Early Television Museum
- Museum of Broadcast Communications
- National Media Museum
- National Australia Film and Archives Museum