“The instrument can teach, it can illuminate, it can even inspire. But only if human beings are willing to use it to
those ends. Otherwise, it is just wires and lights in a box.” Edward R. Murrow, NBC studios in NEW York on
You use it all the time. It’s a part of your every day life, but do you really have any idea who invented it?
Television is the center of the household. It will always be there. You cannot ignore it just as you cannot ignore a
plague. Not many ponder it’s power or how it works. This paper tells of the man who did. In fact he invented it. Philo
Taylor Farnsworth who was the American inventor of the television during the first half of the century from 1927-1956
had a significant impact on history because television dramatically changed politics and culture throughout the world.
What Edward R. Murrow meant was that television was a great thing if used correctly, if not it was useless.
Philo Taylor Farnsworth was born in Beaver, Utah on August 19,1906. He discovered the subject of
electricity, as a young boy. He became very fascinated with it. He later saw a science magazine that had a article in it
about a new idea which an author described as,”…pictures that fly through the air…” Young Philo became interested
and decided to look into it. At this time television had already been invented by some inventors such as Paul Nipkow
and John Logie Baird, but they had only created mechanical television with spinning disks or mirrors. Philo new that
you could not spin disks fast enough to create a moving picture. He only knew of one thing that could; the electron.
One day Philo was daydreaming while disk harrowing a potato field with a two horse team. Row by row by
row. Suddenly he got an idea that if he could put lines of dots row by row on the television to make a picture, he
would have something. This single idea started the whole thing. At fifteen years of age Philo created his first television
system design and showed the design to his chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman. Philo covered a couple of chalkboards
with diagrams. After the death of his father, Lewis Farnsworth, Philo quit school to take care of his family.
Philo applied for an office boy job. He was interviewed by George Everson who was impressed by his school
record and asked why he dropped out. Philo told him that he had to take care of his family and to work on his
invention. After Philo explained it to Mr. Everson, Mr. Everson thought it was a good idea and thought someone
should put some money in to it. Mr. Everson remembers this meeting well in his biography on Philo Farnsworth. Mr.
Everson and a San Francisco partner named Leslie Gorrel drew up a contract to help the young inventor since only a
working model could meet patent requirements. Philo Farnsworth also got twenty-five thousand dollars from the
famous San Francisco banker, W.W. Crocker.
Philo moved into half of a two family house in San Francisco with his family. The other family was the
Gardners. The Gardner’s oldest son, Cliff, became good friends with Philo. The prettiest of the six Gardner daughters
was named Elma, but everyone called her Pem. She was only a year younger than Philo who had started to call
himself Phil now because he thought it sounded more mature. On Pem’s birthday in 1926 Phil proposed to her, but
their youth and uncertainty of their lives made them postpone setting a wedding date. Later, in the spring of 1926, Phil
and Cliff opened their own store to repair radios.
Phil and Pem were married in 1926. On Phil’s wedding night Phil confessed to his 19-year-old bride:
Pemmie, I have to tell you there is another woman in my life and her name is television.
The way I see it, my work is going to be taking most of my time. The only way we will
have the time together I would like is for you to work with me. How about it? It will be
exciting. We’ll be working right on the leading edge of discovery. (Farnsworth, E.,
Phil’s lab, located at 202 Green Street, San Francisco, was full of tools. He even had to learn glass blowing
for his cathode-ray tube. In 1927 Phil made his first transmission (explained later). When he and his team were
transmitting another picture the camera man was smoking and some of the smoke appeared on the film when they
Then they knew that you could have a moving image. The first moving image done on purpose was a burning
cigarette. The only problem with the “cigarette show” was that the smoker had to get so close to the transmitter
(because there were no zoom-in or zoom-out capabilities at that time) that he blistered his nose on the hot lights.
Phil always tried new images: still photographs, other pictures painted on glass, a hand holding a pair of pliers,
and finally a motion picture using an old projector and a sixteen minute movie of a hockey game. This was TV’s first
sports show. At this time Phil was only twenty. Even though Farnsworth was considered the boy wonder of television,
Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was not about to take his developments just lying down. RCA wanted
television patents sos their attorneys fought Farnsworth’s patent applications, but platoons of lawyers could not shake
In August 1930 Farnsworth, who was now twenty-four, received his own television patents. Later, after more
fighting, Farnsworth won and got his own patents. His patents were the only ones RCA ever had to buy. It is said that
the RCA attorney had tears in his eyes when he bought Farnsworth’s patents.
Television was presented at the 1939 World’s Fair which was held in Queens, New York(Appendix M). It
was demonstrated to the public by RCA and Phil recieved no credit. During the decade of the 1930s when he was
perfecting television he created more inventions that led him to new discoveries. These included the electronic
microscope, the baby incubator, and a gastroscope which viewed inside the human’s stomach without surgery.
Ironically, at the 1939 World’s Fair Philo Taylor Farnsworth was known more for his baby incubator than his
television. In the early 1940s Farnsworth made a machine that could send copies of documents over the phone lines.
Yes, Philo Farnsworth invented the fax. Unfortunately, in the 1940’s phone lines were expensive and delivery boys
were cheap. So much for the fax at that time. Later most of Farnsworth’s patents were sold to RCA and Valdimir
Zworykin, the executive engineer at RCA got most of the credit. He and Phil were great rivals.
In 1957 Phil appeared on the television show, I’ve got a Secret. Host, Gary Moore, introduced him as “Mr.
X.” Panelists had to guess each contestant’s secret. Moore was sure Phil’s name would give him away. The panelists
could not guess his secret. While Phil whispered into Gary Moore’s ear, the words flashed on television sets all over
the country:”I invented electronic television in 1922 at the age of fourteen” (Dugan, 1997). It must of been fun for Phil
to be on the other side of the camera for a change.
Some of the shows in the 1950s and 1960s seemed ridiculous to Phil. He told Pem that he was sorry he had
anything to do with the creation of television, but on July 20, 1969 when he saw men walk on the moon he told
Pem,”This has made it all worthwhile” (Farnsworth, E., 1990, p.328).