How Television Came Into Being


Zworykin has a colourful story. During the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Rosing was exiled and Zworykin almost became a victim of the army crackdown. The charge: He ‘mistreated’ a soldier by asking him to repeat the same words over and over again into a microphone while Zworykin was working with the equipment in another room (Mike testing 1 2 3 ?). However, the court dismissed the silly charges. But his knowledge soon came to be well-known and he was drafted as a signal corps officer in the Russian army during World War I. The story on television would not have taken a dramatic turn if Zworykin had not escaped to Paris. He briefly studied X-rays under Paul Langevin, before migrating to the United States in 1919.

Although scientists were making great strides, technology on the other hand was still immature for the demands of television. When Lee DeForest developed a three-element vacuum tube ‘audion’ in 1907, this triode valve could amplify weak signals for the first time. Though Lee DeForest could put television on fast track, he was not convinced of the present or future of television. He said in 1926, “So I repeat that while theoretically and technically television may be feasible, yet commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility; a development of which we need not waste little time in dreaming.” But it was around that time Baird and Jenkins were making major inroads into television.

Charles Jenkins, an American inventor, had been working on television since 1894. He even published an article, ‘Motion Pictures by Wireless’ in the Electrical Engineer, describing a method of electrically transmitting pictures. In 1920, at a meeting of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, he introduced his prismatic rings—a device that replaces the shutter on a film projector. Using this important invention called ‘radiovision,’ he transmitted silhouette images of a toy windmill in motion on June 14, 1923 over a distance of 8 km from a naval radio station in Maryland to his laboratory in Washington. The resolution: 48 lines! On June 13, 1925, Jenkins publicly demonstrated synchronised transmission of pictures and sound.

March 25, 1925, the 16th anniversary of the Selfridge’s department store in London was an occasion they would remember. For on that day Baird demonstrated televised silhouette images in motion.

Logie Baird was born on August 14, 1888, but suffered from bad health even as a child. While other children of his age made toy telephones with strings and matchboxes, he made a telephone exchange and connected his home to four of his friends. Unfortunately, one of its low-hanging wires led to an accident and he was forced to shut his exchange down. Never one to waste resources or lose heart, the boy used these wires to set up a lighting system for his house. He even made a homemade glider which unfortunately threw him with a terrific bump onto the lawn.

In a return trip from Trinidad in 1920, he met by chance an old friend, Captain O. G. Hutchinson, who offered him help for his research. But in late 1922, he became gravely ill and was forced to quit his job. Destitute, he became dishevelled, shaggy-haired and sallow. His clothes wore thin, which he mended with crude patches but continued his thankless research. Can anybody beat Baird in his optimism?

In his own words, “Funds were going down, the situation was becoming desperate and we were down to our last £30 when at last, one Friday in the first week of October 1925, everything functioned properly. The image of the dummy’s head formed itself on the screen with what appeared to me with almost unbelievable clarity. I had got it!

“I could scarcely believe my eyes and felt myself shaking with excitement. I ran down the flight of steps to Mr Cross’ office and seized by the arm his office boy, William Taynton, hauled him upstairs and put him in front of the transmitter. I then went to the receiver only to find the screen a blank.

“William did not like the lights and the whirring disks and had withdrawn out of range. I gave him 2/6 (two shillings and six pence) and pushed his head into position. This time he came through and on the screen I saw the flickering but clearly recognisable image of William’s face—the first face seen by television—and he had to be bribed with half a crown for the privilege of achieving the distinction.”

Thus William Taynton became the first TV actor and a professional at that.

By now Zworykin migrated to America and started as a research engineer with the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company.


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