Elma Farnsworth


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

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About
About this interview

In her seven-hour Archive interview, Elma Farnsworth (1908-2006) discusses her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's first television invention - the Image Dissector Tube - and the excitement of seeing its first moving image. She describes how Philo toiled to create the first electronic television, while RCA and Vladimir Zworykin worked on a similar invention, both trying to finish before the other. Farnsworth also talks about the heated competition and the ensuing patent fights between Philo and General David Sarnoff, then President of RCA. She talks about Philo's colleagues, laboratories, and companies, and speaks of the couple's home life, as well. Jeff Kisseloff conducted the interview on June 25, 1996 in Salt Lake City, UT.

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Elma Farnsworth on the reaction of her and her husband, inventor Philo T. Farnsworth (and colleagues Cliff Gardner and Carl Christensen), on September 7, 1927 when he produced the first all-electronic TV picture (a simple straight line) with his Image Dissector tube
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's battle with RCA for electronic television's patents, declaring that Farnsworth was the initial inventor of electronic television
Elma Farnsworth on RCA licensing Philo T. Farnsworth's patents in 1939 - the first time RCA ever licensed a patent 
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's appearance on I've Got a Secret
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's phone call with Albert Einstein
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On the story of the birth of her husband, Philo T. Farnsworth; on Philo's childhood, hobbies and talents; on her childhood 
On Philo's family moving to Rigby, Idaho when he was a youngster; on Philo seeing electricity for the first time
On Philo reading Invention magazine as a child and first learning about mechanical television

Chapter 2

On Philo entering a contest in a magazine; on Philo's idea for electronic television and studying math and chemistry in school
On how she met Philo; on Philo's time in the Navy

Chapter 3

On getting engaged to Philo; on Philo telling her his idea for electronic television
On Salt Lake City's Community Chest; on Philo hiring George Everson, Les Gorrell, and Cliff Gardner; on getting married
On becoming Philo's assistant; on moving to Los Angeles to set up a laboratory

Chapter 4

On police mistaking Philo's lab for a home distillery; on moving to San Francisco and Philo patenting television in 1927; on securing funding for experimental television
On setting up their lab on Green Street; on Philo enlisting a professor at UC Berkeley to assist in glass-blowing; on her role in the laboratory

Chapter 5

On the race to invent electronic television; on the drawbacks to mechanical disc television and the obstacles Philo encountered when creating electronic television
On the reaction of her and her husband, inventor Philo T. Farnsworth (and colleagues Cliff Gardner and Carl Christensen), on September 7, 1927 when he produced the first all-electronic TV picture (a simple straight line) with his Image Dissector tube; on perfecting the tube
On some of the first televised images - film strips; on a visit to her husband electronic TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth's lab from Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and producer Joseph Schenck so they could see television
On the press conference announcing electronic television and Philo being pursued by RCA; on famous visitors to Philo T. Farnsworth's lab, including Vladimir Zworykin

Chapter 6

On the press conference announcing Philo's invention, contd.; on Philco licensing Farnsworth's television for an experimental television station; on Philo leaving Philco and setting up the Eastern Division of Television, Inc.
On Vladimir Zworykin at RCA copying Philo T. Farnsworth's image dissector for RCA's electronic television system; on public demonstrations of television 

Chapter 7

On how young Philo conducted his research when he was a child living on a farm; on how her husband Philo T. Farnsworth used to solved problems while he slept
On RCA's David Sarnoff's attempts to buy Philo T. Farnsworth's patent for television; on Philo's experimental television station W3XPF and the man who ran it, Bill Eddy
On makeup and talent they featured on experimental television; on problems with intense lighting and lobbying for a commercial television license

Chapter 8

On Philo's battle with RCA for electronic television's patents; on Philo's input on commercial broadcast standards for the United States
On the creation of the Farnsworth Radio and Television Corporation and their workings with John Logie Baird, creator of the mechanical spinning disc television system

Chapter 9

On the formation of the Farnsworth Television and Radio Company; on Philo's poor health circa 1940 and the 1939-40 World's Fair
On the expiration of Philo T. Farnsworth's original television patents and the beginning of manufacturing television sets; on the International Telephone and Telegraph Company purchasing the company

Chapter 10

On several of her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's inventions - baby incubator, electron microscope, satellite technology; on Philo's camera tube being a part of the Apollo mission to the moon in 1969, and his work in fusion and hydroponics
On Philo being asked to work on The Manhattan Project and his phone call with Albert Einstein; on Philo's work on fusion
On Philo's dwindling health

Chapter 11

On her husband Philo's work on fusion at the end of his life
On Philo's appearance on I've Got a Secret
On Philo's thoughts on commercial television towards the end of his life; on why history has largely forgotten Philo T. Farnsworth's name; on Philo's amazing achievements

Chapter 12

On her husband Philo's achievements at such a young age; on his personality
On Philo's colleagues and family members
B-roll photos from her life with husband Philo T. Farnsworth
Shows

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's colleagues, and Harry Lubcke naming the Emmy Awards after the image orthicon tube

I've Got a Secret

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Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's appearance on I've Got a Secret
Topics

Emmy Awards

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Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's colleagues, and Harry Lubcke naming the Emmy Awards after the image orthicon tube

Moon Landing

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Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's camera tube being a part of the Apollo mission to the moon in 1969

Technological Innovation

View Topic
Elma Farnsworth on Philo's idea for electronic television
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo patenting television in 1927
Elma Farnsworth on the reaction of her and her husband, inventor Philo T. Farnsworth (and colleagues Cliff Gardner and Carl Christensen), on September 7, 1927 when he produced the first all-electronic TV picture (a simple straight line) with his Image Dissector tube
Elma Farnsworth on the drawbacks to mechanical disc television and the obstacles Philo encountered when creating electronic television
Elma Farnsworth on Vladimir Zworykin at RCA copying Philo T. Farnsworth's image dissector for RCA's electronic television system
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth lobbying for a commercial television license
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's battle with RCA for electronic television's patents
Elma Farnsworth on RCA licensing Philo T. Farnsworth's patents in 1939 - the first time RCA ever licensed a patent 
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's input on commercial broadcast standards for the United States
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's camera tube being a part of the Apollo mission to the moon in 1969
Professions

Inventor

View Profession
Elma Farnsworth on the reaction of her and her husband, inventor Philo T. Farnsworth (and colleagues Cliff Gardner and Carl Christensen), on September 7, 1927 when he produced the first all-electronic TV picture (a simple straight line) with his Image Dissector tube
Elma Farnsworth on the drawbacks to mechanical disc television and the obstacles Philo encountered when creating electronic television

Technology Innovators

View Profession
Elma Farnsworth on the drawbacks to mechanical disc television and the obstacles Philo encountered when creating electronic television
Elma Farnsworth on the reaction of her and her husband, inventor Philo T. Farnsworth (and colleagues Cliff Gardner and Carl Christensen), on September 7, 1927 when he produced the first all-electronic TV picture (a simple straight line) with his Image Dissector tube
People

Albert Einstein

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Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's phone call with Albert Einstein and Einstein's advice to him
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's phone call with Albert Einstein

George Everson

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Elma Farnsworth on Philo T. Farnsworth hiring George Everson, Les Gorrell, and Cliff Gardner 
Elma Farnsworth on George Everson raising funds for Philo T. Farnsworth's experimental television 
Elma Farnsworth on Philo T. Farnsworth and George Everson raising funds to work on inventing television and forming the company, Television, Inc.
Elma Farnsworth on the creation of the Farnsworth Radio and Television Corporation and their workings with John Logie Baird, creator of the mechanical spinning disc television system

Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

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Elma Farnsworth on a visit to her husband electronic TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth's lab from Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and producer Joseph Schenck so they could see television (and surmise its threat to the movie industry) circa early-1930s

Philo T. Farnsworth

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Elma Farnsworth on the story of the birth of her husband, Philo T. Farnsworth
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's talents 
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's photographic memory
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's phone call with Albert Einstein
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo entering a contest in a magazine
Elma Farnsworth on Philo's idea for electronic television
Elma Farnsworth on getting engaged to Philo T. Farnsworth
Elma Farnsworth on Philo T. Farnsworth telling her his idea for electronic television
Elma Farnsworth on Philo T. Farnsworth hiring George Everson, Les Gorrell, and Cliff Gardner; on getting married
Elma Farnsworth on moving to Los Angeles with Philo T. Farnsworth to set up a laboratory
Elma Farnsworth on police mistaking her husband Philo's lab for a home distillery
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo patenting television in 1927
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo getting funding, and setting up materials and personnel for inventing television; on her role with the creation of television
Elma Farnsworth on the reaction of her and her husband, inventor Philo T. Farnsworth (and colleagues Cliff Gardner and Carl Christensen), on September 7, 1927 when he produced the first all-electronic TV picture (a simple straight line) with his Image Dissector tube
Elma Farnsworth on a visit to her husband electronic TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth's lab from Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and producer Joseph Schenck so they could see television (and surmise its threat to the movie industry) circa early-1930s
Elma Farnsworth on the drawbacks to mechanical disc television and the obstacles Philo encountered when creating electronic television
Elma Farnsworth on famous visitors to Philo T. Farnsworth's lab, including Vladimir Zworykin
Elma Farnsworth on Philo T. Farnsworth raising funds to work on inventing television and forming his company, Television, Inc.
Elma Farnsworth on Philo T. Farnsworth's dollar sign demonstration of television for his financial backers
Elma Farnsworth on public demonstrations of television to interest people in licensing Philo T. Farnsworth's patents; on Philco licensing Farnsworth's television for an experimental television station and Phil leaving the company
Elma Farnsworth on Philo T. Farnsworth starting the Eastern division of Television, Inc., the patents the company held, and Philo's aspirations for television
Elma Farnsworth on Philo T. Farnsworth demonstrating television at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia - the first public demonstration of television in 1934
Elma Farnsworth on how young Philo balanced conducting research and doing chores while growing up on a farm
Elma Farnsworth on how her husband Philo T. Farnsworth used to solved problems while he slept
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth putting her image on television
Elma Farnsworth on RCA's David Sarnoff's attempts to buy Philo T. Farnsworth's patent for television
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth lobbying for a commercial television license
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's battle with RCA for electronic television's patents
Elma Farnsworth on RCA licensing Philo T. Farnsworth's patents in 1939 - the first time RCA ever licensed a patent 
Elma Farnsworth on the creation of the Farnsworth Radio and Television Corporation and their workings with John Logie Baird, creator of the mechanical spinning disc television system
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's difficulties with disloyal personnel and the formation of the Farnsworth Television and Radio Company
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's poor health circa 1940
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth avoiding the television demonstration at the 1939 World's Fair
Elma Farnsworth on the expiration of Philo T. Farnsworth's original television patents and the beginning of manufacturing television sets
Elma Farnsworth on the International Telephone and Telegraph Company purchasing Farnsworth Television and Radio Company and Philo T. Farnsworth working on satellites and space exploration
Elma Farnsworth on several of her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's inventions, including the baby incubator
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's camera tube being a part of the Apollo mission to the moon in 1969
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's fusion and hydroponic work, and his love of science fiction
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth being asked to work on The Manhattan Project
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's phone call with Albert Einstein
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's work on fusion at the end of his life
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's appearance on I've Got a Secret  (the same night Buster Keaton was on the program)
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's thoughts on commercial television towards the end of his life
Elma Farnsworth on why history has largely forgotten her husband, Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of electronic television
Elma Farnsworth on what she thinks her husband Philo T. Farnsworth might have changed if he had the chance to do so; on whether or not an underdog can win in the American system
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's determination and spirit
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's achievements with electronic television
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's achievements at such a young age
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's personality and strengths
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's colleagues
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's colleagues and people he looked up to in the field; on demonstrating electronic television for John Logie Baird (inventor of mechanical television)
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's family members and their contributions to his work
Elma Farnsworth on a photo of a statue of her husband Philo T. Farnsworth holding an image dissector tube
Elma Farnsworth on a photo of her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's television demonstration at the Franklin Institute

Buster Keaton

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Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's appearance on I've Got a Secret  (the same night Buster Keaton was on the program)

Harry Lubcke

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Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's colleagues, and Harry Lubcke naming the Emmy Awards after the image orthicon tube

Garry Moore

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Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's appearance on I've Got a Secret  (the same night Buster Keaton was on the program)

Mary Pickford

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Elma Farnsworth on a visit to her husband electronic TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth's lab from Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and producer Joseph Schenck so they could see television (and surmise its threat to the movie industry) circa early-1930s
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth giving Mary Pickford a demonstration of his television system

Don Pike

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Elma Farnsworth on a photo of Don Pike using an early Farnsworth television camera

David Sarnoff

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Elma Farnsworth on RCA's David Sarnoff's attempts to buy Philo T. Farnsworth's patent for television
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's battle with RCA for electronic television's patents
Elma Farnsworth on RCA licensing Philo T. Farnsworth's patents in 1939 - the first time RCA ever licensed a patent 

Joseph Schenck

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Elma Farnsworth on a visit to her husband electronic TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth's lab from Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and producer Joseph Schenck so they could see television (and surmise its threat to the movie industry) circa early-1930s

Vladimir Zworykin

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Elma Farnsworth on famous visitors to Philo T. Farnsworth's lab, including Vladimir Zworykin
Elma Farnsworth on Vladimir Zworykin at RCA copying Philo T. Farnsworth's image dissector for RCA's electronic television system
Elma Farnsworth on her husband Philo T. Farnsworth's battle with RCA for electronic television's patents

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