John Logie Baird: The Man Who Invented Television

Updated on December 30, 2017
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Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in a wide range of contexts.

Memorial Sculpture of John Logie Baird

Memorial bust of John Logie Baird.
Memorial bust of John Logie Baird. | Source

The Inventor of Television

The world will always remember John Logie Baird as the man who invented television.

While later scientific developments and refinements in technology dwarfed his original idea, John Logie Baird deserves credit as television’s inventor.

It was his early experiments in a small laboratory he put together in the attic rooms of his London apartment that led to the first successful transmission of primitive, moving, gray-scale images. The details of the mechanisms would change later, but he was the first person to broadcast a live moving image.

He had not been alone in trying.

The German inventor, Arthur Korn, was close on his tail. In October 1906 he had broadcast a still, black-and-white image of a photograph. The broadcast was remarkable because it happened over a distance of over 1000 miles. It was an incredible achievement. But Korn never figured out how to send a live, moving image.

Another German, by name of Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, had invented a method of transmitting a fuzzy, static image.

The live moving image was the Holy Grail that these knights of science were seeking. It was John Logie Baird who would find it.

The Site of the First Television Demonstration

The where John Logie Baird invented television.
The where John Logie Baird invented television. | Source

John Logie Baird: Electrocution and Eviction!

During the early 1920s, John Logie Baird had rooms and a small laboratory in the seaside town of Hastings, on the coast south of London in the UK.

It was in that laboratory he first projected, by televisual means, a moving silhouette across the walls.

During a later experiment he electrocuted himself. Tinkering late at night with one of his instruments he took a shock of over 1000 volts. Not only did this leave him shaken and lucky to be alive but it also blew out the fuse box in the entire building.

The landlord had been suspicious of the strange goings on in the curious Scottish gentleman's apartment and he asked Baird to leave.

After that he moved to more modest accommodation in Soho, London. There is now a blue plaque on the building, commemorating his invention.

First Public Television Broadcast

A publicity shot issued 1956 for the 30th anniversary of NBC's first. public broadcast.. The Felix the Cat was already a popular character.
A publicity shot issued 1956 for the 30th anniversary of NBC's first. public broadcast.. The Felix the Cat was already a popular character. | Source

John Logie Baird's First Demonstration of 'The Televisor'

In his new apartment, John Logie Baird continued his research and experiments.

He knew he was close to a breakthrough and spent many hours late into the night refining and adjusting his apparatus.

Success smiled on him and on October 25th, 1925 he transmitted his first moving, gray-scale image. It was of a talking ventriloquist's dummy.

This was the first time anyone achieved such feat. Unfortunately, he was alone in his laboratory at the time and his eyes were the only ones to witness it. He took photographs of the images, although I could not get rights to reproduce them here.

He called his invention "The Televisor".

The Televisor

Baird demonstrated his first apparatus, which he named "The Televisor" to an audience of enthralled witnesses on June 16th, 1926.

None of them imagined just what an impact his invention would have on the modern world.

What Was the First Television Picture Like?

The first images John Logie Baird broadcast were primitive compared to today's technology.

They had only 30 vertical lines rather than the millions of pixels that make up our images now.

The image was refreshed five times a second to create an illusion of movement. Although by the time he made his first public demonstration, Baird had increased the rate to 12.5 times per second.

The first images were poor in terms of clarity but no less astonishing for that.

The First Domestic Television

Commissioners in New York inspect the first 'light weight' television set suitable for domestic use in 1939. Seventy years on and I have a device in my pocket that I can watch TV on!
Commissioners in New York inspect the first 'light weight' television set suitable for domestic use in 1939. Seventy years on and I have a device in my pocket that I can watch TV on! | Source

The First Public Demonstration of Television.

After his success that night in October, John Logie Baird invited a special audience of 50 people to squeeze into his attic laboratory to witness his invention.

Among the guests at this historic event were scientists from The Royal Institution and several press reporters.

Baird showed them the transmission apparatus and explained how the technology worked.

Then he transmitted live images of the same ventriloquist's dummy and his assistant moving and speaking.

Color Television and Simultaneous Sound Broadcast.

That demonstration was only the beginning. John Logie Baird worked hard on further improving and developing his mechanisms.

He transmitted images over ever longer distances and made the first transatlantic broadcast in 1928.

The pioneer of color television, too, he showed the first experimental color television images in 1928.

By 1930 he had developed a system for broadcasting simultaneous sound along with the images.

Television was born.

Working Reconstruction of the First Television

How Did the First Television Work?

Baird’s first television had a mechanical design. A camera used a spinning disk punctured with holes that swept a narrow spiral of light over the subject.

Light reflected onto a photoelectric cell which outputted electrical signals of varying frequency depending on the intensity of the light. The subject had to sit in a dark booth.

A receiver picked up these impulses and transferred them to a neon lamp. The lamp brightened and darkened according to the impulses received. A projector cast light through another spinning disk the same as the transmitter.

The result was a small, fuzzy image projected onto a screen.

Early Television System Diagram

This is a diagram showing how the early mechanical television system worked.
This is a diagram showing how the early mechanical television system worked. | Source

The Beginnings of Commercial Television

The commercial exploitation of television began soon after its invention.

The earliest commercial broadcasts all used the same mechanical technology that John Logie Baird had pioneered.

But once the dollars rolled, the technology advanced fast.

By the 1930s EMI and Marconi had become the market leaders and had invested a lot of money into developing the superior electronic television.

The last broadcast using Baird's system was by the BBC in 1937.

Family Television

A family watching television together in 1958.
A family watching television together in 1958. | Source

John Logie Baird: Later Career

Baird continued to make many important contributions to television.

He not only devised the new cathode ray system, but he also outlined the first method for making 3D television.

In 1944 he presented to the world the first color television set.

He died in 1946.

His invention transformed modern life: how we communicate, how we see each other and the world, and how we spend our time.

I wonder what he would have made of modern broadcasting.

John Logie Baird and His Televisionin a Nutshell

What
Where
When
Born
UK
August 13, 1888
Transmits moving silhouette
Hastings
1924
Transmits ventriloquist dummy - the first moving image
Soho, London
1925
First Public Demonstration
London
1926
First transatlantic transmission
London to New York
1928
Commercial television
UK & USA
1930
Color Television
UK
1944
Died
Bexhill, UK
June 14, 1946

Rare Footage of John Logie Baird - on Television!

I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out about John Logie Baird and television as much as I have.

I’m sure the universal spread of his invention to all corners of the Earth and the impact it has had, both good and bad, on modern society would astonish him.

Please take a moment to answer the poll before you go.

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Sources of Reference

  • Encyclopedia Britannica
  • BBC History
  • Russell W. Burns, John Logie Baird, Television Pioneer (London: The Institution of Engineering and Technology, 2000, ISBN 978-0852967973
  • Abramson, Albert. The History of Television, 1942 to 2000. McFarland & Company, 2003. ISBN 978-0786412204
  • Rowland, John. The Television Man: The Story of John Logie Baird. New York: Roy Publishers, 1966.

© 2013 Amanda Littlejohn

Hey, leave a comment - I'd love to hear from you!

Submit a Comment

  • stuff4kids profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Littlejohn 

    4 years ago

    Hey, LongTimeMother!

    Thanks for that great contribution to the hub - I had no idea!

    Bless you :)

  • LongTimeMother profile image

    LongTimeMother 

    4 years ago from Australia

    Did you know that Australia's television awards are called the 'Logies'? Just as America has the Emmy Awards, we have the Logie Awards - named after John Logie Baird.

    Kids might be interested to know that Kylie Minogue won a Gold Logie when she was just 19 (in 1988) as an actress on 'Neighbours' and became the youngest person to win a Gold Logie.

    http://www.tvweeklogieawards.com.au/

  • stuff4kids profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Littlejohn 

    5 years ago

    Hi Kosmo!

    I'll confess I'd never heard of Zworykin, so thanks for that information! But I did mention both Arthur Korn and Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, who may be the Germans you are referring to.

    In the end, however, it was Baird who finally cracked it and I think he deserves the credit for that. If we credit all contributing antecedents we end up back at the Big Bang! ;)

    Yes, science is the best. Well, if you don't count organic, home made lemon cookies, that is.

    Thanks for dropping in. Bless you :)

  • Kosmo profile image

    Kelley 

    5 years ago from California

    This Baird fellow is very impressive. But don't forget guys like Vladimir Zworykin, who was working with CRTs, as well as a sending and receiving system about the same time as Baird. There was also some German scientist who was working with the basics of television back in the late 1800s. To be fair, they should all be given credit for inventing TV. At any rate, very good hub. Isn't science fun to write about? Later!

  • stuff4kids profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Littlejohn 

    5 years ago

    Hi ytsenoh!

    Thanks for reading and making such a supportive comment. I'm happy that you learned something new here. Yes, I remember the old television. I also remember long before the days of 24/7 programming. Even in the afternoon sometimes there would be literally nothing on television!

    As you say, we have come a long way since then but I wonder that it hasn't done us much good.

    Bless you :)

  • ytsenoh profile image

    Cathy 

    5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    What an absolutely comprehensive hub about a medium that has taken over to many lives!! Good job and thumbs up for sure. This was very interesting and informative and you did a great job in your displays and images. And, I learned something new. I never knew who invented the television. I do remember the metal boxed contraption we had when I was younger that was only in black and white. Amazing how far we have come since then! Thanks.

  • stuff4kids profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Littlejohn 

    5 years ago

    Hi stephanieb27!

    Thanks for the votes! It's funny how many people have never heard of him! I love the old photos, too. And that footage of the very first TV image is astonishing, isn't it?

    Thank you so much for your lovely comment. Bless you :)

  • stephanieb27 profile image

    stephanieb27 

    5 years ago from United States

    Voted up and interesting! I, too, have not heard of John Baird before today. I loved the old pictures! :)

  • stuff4kids profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Littlejohn 

    5 years ago

    Hi pstraubie48!

    Thanks for your kind comment. It's interesting that there are quite a few folk who really have never heard of John Logie Baird before, even though almost all of us have televisions now days.

    Thanks for the angels. Bless you :)

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 

    5 years ago from sunny Florida

    So maybe we should begin tinkering around to see what we can come up with. this is very interesting...before today I had not known of Mr Baird.

    thanks for sharing

    Sending Angels your way :) ps

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 

    5 years ago from sunny Florida

    So maybe we should begin tinkering around to see what we can come up with. this is very interesting...before today I had not known of Mr Baird.

    thanks for sharing

    Sending Angels your way :) ps

  • stuff4kids profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Littlejohn 

    5 years ago

    Yes, it's all John Logie Baird's fault!

    In the early days, to be fair to him, when the BBC made the first television programs they said their mission was 'to educate and inform.' I don't think he ever imagined that it would be used for some of the things that go out now.

    I have a television in a cupboard somewhere but I haven't watched it for a very long time. I'm too busy and when I want to relax, there are other more fulfilling pursuits that I enjoy.

    Thanks for your comment, billybuc. Bless you :)

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    5 years ago from Olympia, WA

    So that's who we have to blame for this mess we have now. :) Good to know! Actually that was quite interesting and I had no idea he was the one. I remember the first color telecast, or one of the first....Disneys Wonderful World of Color.....how exciting that was! Now we don't even own a television and don't miss it at all.

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