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There are many inventors who have contributed to the development of Television as we know it (see 'Pioneers' section). Just as in cinema there is debate about exactly which inventors' contributions were the most significant to the development of the system that we use today, but generally it is accepted that the first television set of any description, was assembled and demonstrated by Scotsman John Logie Baird.
Baird made his first patent application No. 222,604 for his system of transmitting images on 26th July, 1923.
After having successfully demonstrated the transmission of 'shadowgraphs' by wireless in 1925, Baird subsequently delivered the world's first public demonstration of a mechanical television apparatus at his laboratory in Frith Street to members of the Royal Institution in 1926.
Also in 1926, a book by Alfred Dinsdale was published called: 'Television — Seeing by Wireless'. It contains a history of television development, ending with an explanation of Baird's mechanical system in some detail. It is considered to be the world's first book on the subject of television published in the English language, and is also notable for containing the first ever photograph taken of a television image.
The first television sets were not entirely electronic. The display on the screen was created by a small motor with a spinning disc and a neon lamp, which worked together to give a blurry orange picture not much bigger than a matchbox. The period before 1935 is called the 'Mechanical Television Era' and this type of television is not compatible with the type of television that we use today.
Across the Atlantic, on April 7th 1927, Dr. Herbert Ives and Dr. Frank Gray conducted a public demonstration of mechanical television over both wire and radio circuits on behalf of Bell Telephone Labs and AT&T. It was claimed that no difference in quality was experienced between either method of transmission. Pictures and sound were sent by wire from Washington D.C., to New York City. A wireless demonstration also occurred 22 miles away, from Whippany, New Jersey, to New York.
The demonstration was based around a speech by Herbert Hoover, the then Secretary of Commerce, which originated in Washington D.C. The 50-line pictures, transmitted at 18 frames per second, were received on a screen measuring 2" x 3".
To view a newspaper report of the event from the 'The Indianapolis Star', published two days after the demonstration, please click here.
Also on September 7th of that same year, American Philo T. Farnsworth successfully demonstrated his fully electronic television system in the presence of friends by transmitting an image of a simple straight line.
In one room, his associate (and glass-blower) Cliff Gardner, placed a glass slide upon which the image of the line was painted, between an image dissector and a carbon arc lamp. In another room, Philo and friends scrutinized the screen of the receiver. When the system stabilized, a shimmering image of a straight line could be seen - and when the slide was rotated, all present could see the image on the receiver rotating also, proving beyond doubt that they were witnessing the transmission of the image from one place to another.
You can see a reconstruction of this demonstration by clicking here. You will need Real Player. This link comes courtesy of Paul Shatzkin's 'Farnovision' site named after Philo T. Farnsworth, the pioneer of 'electronic' television.
On 30th September 1929, Baird began making daily experimental transmissions. The following year, the world's first mass-produced television set to be sold to the public was produced in the UK in the form of Baird's 'Televisor' set. About 1000 were sold and it is often credited as being the first commercially available TV set in the world, but technically Baird had sets for sale as early as 1928.
On 22nd August 1932, the first daily television service began when the BBC commenced broadcasts using Baird's 30 line low definition system.
Also in 1932, a picture of the image seen on a Baird Televisor set was published in a French book called 'Experimental Television' by J. G. R. Van Dyck. It was a very comprehensive book containing 150 illustrations and photographs. The book was dedicated to Paul Nipkow, 'The Father of Television' — so named in recognition of his important contribution to early mechanical television.
His invention, the 'Nipkow Disc', patented in 1885, was the world's first electromechanical television system. The system utilized the principle of dissecting an image and transmitting it sequentially and consisted of a rapidly rotating disk placed between a scene and a light sensitive selenium element. Its image had only 18 lines of resoution but was nevertheless the first television scanning device and a fundamental component of mechanical television throughout the 1920s. John Logie Baird was the first inventor to use it successfully when he created the first television pictures in 1925 and subsequently in models of his Televisor sets which he produced into the early 1930s.
A demonstration of an actual Baird Televisor set can be seen in an excellent short film (11mins.) entitled 'The Origins of Television' which also commendably demonstrates the sequence of events which led to the earliest forms of television. The film is available for you to watch by clicking on the image below.
In May 1934, the British Postmaster General set up a committee to advise him on the development of high definition television. The following year, a government committee headed by Lord Selsdon recommended that the BBC should begin a high definition service to the public, with broadcasting initially restricted to the London area. A trial was set up pitching Baird and Marconi-EMI against one another and they were given the simultaneous opportunity to supply equipment for the service, with a minimum acceptable standard set at 240 lines at 25 pictures per second.
Also in 1935, Germany began broadcasting a regular service with mechanical cameras and using 180 line pictures. Television sets were still too costly for many however, so the German Post Office set up dedicated television rooms accommodating 20-40 people in order to make broadcasts more accessible. The first of these facilities opened in April 1935.
Although the BBC claims to have broadcast the world’s first high definition service, Germany claims to have beaten Britain to it by some 20 months, although this obviously depends on one’s interpretation of ‘high-definition’ as the British standard was set by the Selsdon committee at 240 lines, as opposed to Germany's 180 lines .
When Selsdon himself visited Germany as part of his research, the Germans gained the impression that Britain were planning to commence a regular high definition service by the end of 1935. Consequently, the head of State Radio, Gerhardt Goebel, stated: 'If Britain is intending to begin regular broadcasts by the end of 1935 we could well do it beforehand.'
The BBC planned to launch their high definition service in November 1936. However, the date was brought forward unexpectedly by new BBC Director, Gerald Cock. After a somewhat desperate rush, test equipment by both Baird and Marconi-EMI was installed in separate studios at Alexandra Palace in North London. Between 26th August and 5th September, demonstration transmissions were made using both systems.
On 2nd November, at 3.00pm, the BBC 240 line television service officially began, using — for the first week — the Baird system, which was scheduled to alternate on a weekly basis with the Marconi system. However, this was short-lived, as Baird was to suffer a major setback.
On the 30th of November at approximately 7.30pm, a fire started at the Crystal Palace which spread in minutes to engulf the building. John Logie Baird looked on helplessly as his experimental equipment was destroyed.
On the 16th of December, the Television Advisory Committee announced their decision to abandon Baird’s system in favour of Marconi-EMI. From this moment onwards, the status of the all-electronic television system as the system of the future was secured.
©2009 Paul Pert