The Father of Television

The Father of TelevisionAs you read this, you might be taking for granted the device you are reading this on. A computer, sure, but to be more specific: a screen. Before, and possibly after, you read this, chances are you were enjoying television. Perhaps you're enjoying your favorite show, or catching up on the local news. But did you ever stop to wonder where the television came from? No, I don’t mean the manufacturer, like Panasonic or Samsung. I mean the inventor of the television. Just like the telephone was invented by someone, so was the television.

According to the city of Rigby, Idaho the television was first created right in their town. It’s a small town, nestled between Rexburg and Idaho Falls along Highway 20. But, it’s home to the Jefferson County Historical Museum. This large museum is home to exhibits from the pre-electric and early electric eras. It tells the history of Jefferson County as well. Most notable, however, is that it showcases Idaho inventor Philo T. Farnsworth. Does that name sound familiar? It should. Philo T. Farnsworth is the man credited with the invention of the television. The museum even has the first television tube among its exhibits. It’s really quite interesting knowing that the television was invented right in our back yard!

That’s not to say that television wasn’t being worked on, or not talked about yet. It most certainly was. However, Mr. Farnsworth was the inventor that figured it out how to make it work first. How he became interested in science and inventing is a unique story all its own. From “Philo Taylor Farnsworth: Mathematician, Inventor, Father of Television” on we learn that Mr. Farnsworth was born in Beaver, Utah. Around the time he was 12, his family moved to Idaho. Rigby, Idaho to be precise. His uncle had a ranch there, and his family was sharecropping on the farm. This was Philo’s first experience with electricity. His uncle’s farm was fully wired, and ran off a generator. He learned a lot about electricity there, and his curiosity about inventions only grew. Before he moved on to invent the television, he used electricity to improve the family’s quality of life by operating the washing machine and sewing machine with electricity.

One day, however, Philo made a fantastic discovery. He found an old stash of science magazines hidden away in the attic. It was from these magazines that he first read about the then science fiction idea of the television. Television is much the same as the radios everyone used, except no one could quite figure out how to broadcast, and receive, images. But the idea stuck with Philo. And he made his first breakthrough while plowing a field. He noticed the neatly plowed rows, side by side, and the idea came to him that he could splice an image in the same way and transmit them row by row. His high school chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman, gave Philo special instruction, and was later incredibly influential in the patent battles Philo trudged through. Philo cracked the first problem of television, and he was still in high school! He successfully broadcast the first image on a television, a single line, at the age of 21.

Inventing the television turned out to be the easy part. Philo was able to figure out the problems, and his solution was the cathode ray tube, or CRT. Today, we rarely see CRT televisions or monitors anymore. The significantly slimmer and more efficient LCD and LED televisions and monitors have replaced most of them. But we wouldn’t have even gotten those if it wasn’t for Philo. The hard part of creating the television was winning his patent. He fought against companies like RCA for years when he tried to patent his invention. And if it hadn’t been for his chemistry teacher holding on to an early diagram, Philo might not have won his patent war. He did invent the television, and he had the patent to prove it.

So the next time you drive through Rigby, maybe you should take a detour and check out the Jefferson County Historical Museum. You can see Philo’s first television tube, and learn about the history of the television in a time when the radio was still young. And the next time you turn on your television to catch up on your latest show, you’ll know just how to thank: Philo T. Farnsworth, the father of television.

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