Who is the inventor of television? You have really opened up a can of worms with
that question! Probably no other invention in history has been so hotly disputed
as the prestigious claim to the invention of 'Tele-vision or 'long-distance sight'
Since Marconi's invention of wireless telegraphy in 1897, the imagination of many
inventors have been sparked with the notion of sending images as well as sound,
wirelessly. The first documented notion of sending components of pictures over a
series of multiple circuits is credited to George Carey. Another inventor, W. E.
Sawyer, suggested the possibility of sending an image over a single wire by rapidly
scanning parts of the picture in succession.
On December 2, 1922, in Sorbonne, France, Edwin Belin, an Englishman, who held the
patent for the transmission of photographs by wire as well as fiber optics and
radar, demonstrated a mechanical scanning device that was an early precursor to
modern television. Belin's machine took flashes of light and directed them at a
selenium element connected to an electronic device that produced sound waves.
These sound waves could be received in another location and remodulated into
flashes of light on a mirror.
Up until this point, the concept behind television was established, but it wasn't
until electronic scanning of imagery (the breaking up of images into tiny points of
light for transmission over radio waves), was invented, that modern television
received its start. But here is where the controversy really heats up.
The credit as to who was the inventor of modern television really comes down to two
different people in two different places both working on the same problem at about
the same time: Vladimir Kosma Zworykin, a Russian-born American inventor working
for Westinghouse, and Philo Taylor Farnsworth, a privately backed farm boy from the
state of Utah.
'Zworykin had a patent, but Farnsworth had a picture''
Zworykin is usually credited as being the father of modern television. This was
because the patent for the heart of the TV, the electron scanning tube, was first
applied for by Zworykin in 1923, under the name of an iconoscope. The iconoscope
was an electronic image scanner - essentially a primitive television camera.
Farnsworth was the first of the two inventors to successfully demonstrate the
transmission of television signals, which he did on September 7, 1927, using a
scanning tube of his own design. Farnsworth received a patent for his electron
scanning tube in 1930. Zworykin was not able to duplicate Farnsworth's
achievements until 1934 and his patent for a scanning tube was not issued until
1938. The truth of the matter is this, that while Zworykin applied for the patent
for his iconoscope in 1923, the invention was not functional until some years later
and all earlier efforts were of such poor quality that Westinghouse officials
ordered him to work on something 'more useful.'
Another player of the times was John Logie Baird, a Scottish engineer and entrepreneur who 'achieved his first transmissions of simple face shapes in 1924 using mechanical television. On March 25, 1925, Baird held his first public demonstration of 'television' at the London department store Selfridges on Oxford Street in London. In this demonstration, he had not yet obtained adequate half-tones in the moving pictures, and only silhouettes were visible.' - MZTV
In the late thirties, when RCA and Zworykin, who was now working for RCA, tried to
claim rights to the essence of television, it became evident that Farnsworth held
the priority patent in the technology. The president of RCA sought to control
television the same way that they controlled radio and vowed that, 'RCA earns
royalties, it does not pay them,' and a 50 million dollar legal battle subsequently
In the height of the legal battle for patent priority, Farnsworth's high school
science teacher was subpoenaed and traveled to Washington to testify that as a 14
year old, Farnsworth had shared his ideas of his television scanning tube with his
With patent priority status ruled in favor of Farnsworth, RCA for the first time in
its history, began paying royalties for television in 1939.
Philo Farnsworth was recently named one of TIME Magazine's 100 Greatest Scientists
and Thinkers of the 20th Century.
The United States Patent Office patent interference #64,027