Tue, 08/15/2006

Inventor of All-Electronic TV Celebrates Centennial

Celebrate the centennial of Philo T. Farnsworth's (1906-71) birth on August 19.

As described by Jeff Kisseloff in his book The Box: "That Farnsworth succeeded in becoming anything other than a poor Utah farmer is amazing in itself.... his college education ended midway through his freshman year with the sudden death of his father. To keep the family going, he worked as a radio installer, an electrician's trainee, and a janitor, without ever losing sight of his dream of perfecting a television system."

Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television states that Farnsworth "independently demonstrated in 1927 a device similar to [Vladimir K.] Zworykin's iconoscope— the "dissector" tube or orthicon, capable of dividing an image into parts whose light values could be restored to form a reproduction of the original picture."

In the excerpt below, Philo T. Farnsworth's widow Elma "Pem" Farnsworth (pictured above) talks about the patent wars Philo fought with RCA over television technology, in part eight of her Archive of American Television interview...

“[Philo] wanted to finance his work by selling licenses to his patents. RCA was always coming out and saying that Vladimir Zworykin was the originator of television, and, so … no one was going to buy a license from Farnsworth if RCA had it, you know? …. So Phil went to the patent office and he said, we need a ruling on this. And so they were taking depositions [from] everyone that had anything on the subject. And this went on for quite while. It was 1934. They asked Phil if he had told anyone about his television ideas, because RCA said, no boy of fifteen could come up with that complicated a concept. So they found Phil’s old chemistry teacher… [who] produced a page of Phil’s notebook where Phil had made a drawing of the camera tube, and I guess from all we hear, he had shown that to every class he’d ever had…. This was in 1922, and it’s the last time they’d seen each other, and so RCA had to give in on that idea.”

Jeff Kisseloff conducted the Archive of American Television's 12-part interview with Elma Farnsworth (1908-2006) on June 25 & 26, 1996.