John Logie Baird: The Man Who Invented Television
Memorial Sculpture of John Logie Baird
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
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
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".
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
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
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.
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
August 13, 1888
Transmits moving silhouette
Transmits ventriloquist dummy - the first moving image
First Public Demonstration
First transatlantic transmission
London to New York
UK & USA
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.
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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