75 years of Innovators: Philo Taylor Farnsworth

Jan. 8, 2004
In 1927, at the tender age of 21, Philo Taylor Farnsworth produced the first all-electronic television image.

In the 75 years since Machine Design began publication, here are some of the people who have changed the way we live.

Philo Taylor Farnsworth
Introduced the world to television

He painted a glass square black and scratched a straight line across the center. A slide dropped between a cold cathode-ray tube (called the "Image Dissector") and a hot, carbon-arc lamp. When the slide was turned 90°, it moved, and the first all-electronic television picture was transmitted.

However, in 1933 a Russian electrical engineer, Vladimir Zworykin who was working for RCA, had patented a camera tube similar to Farnsworth's Image Dissector but never was able to build an all-electronic TV. A legal battle began, ending in 1934 with the U.S. Patent Office awarding the invention rights to Farnsworth. RCA appealed this and lost, but it was years before RCA began paying Farnsworth royalties. However, with the onset of World War II, the government suspended sales of TVs. By the time the war ended, Farnsworth's patents expired and RCA took over production and sales of TVs, touting Zworykin as the father of TV.

Farnsworth also invented the first simple electronic microscope, used radio waves for direction (an early version of radar), as well as black light for seeing at night used in World War II.

Perhaps the most ironic thing was that Farnsworth refused to have a TV in his household, allegedly touting it as "a monster, a way for people to waste a lot of their lives."

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