Transmitting signals over long distances was one of the greatest triumphs of 19th-Century inventors. Yet even their ingenuity failed to solve the ultimate challenge: the transmission of clear sound and images. Many tried, leading to a long list of supposed ‘pioneers’ of television, the most famous being the Scottish inventor John Logie Baird. In January 1926 he gave the first-ever demonstration of the transmission of moving images, and by 1929 Baird was selling ‘Televisor’ sets for £25 – equivalent to £1,500 today. Baird’s design offered small, flickering, black-and-white images and involved the use of a spinning, perforated disk invented in 1894 by German engineer Paul Nipkow that scanned images for transmission as electrical signals.
John Logie Baird © Getty
The technology needed to give television its mass appeal is generally credited to the brilliant American inventor Philo Farnsworth. While still a teenager, he realised that emerging electronic technology could scan images far faster and more finely than any mechanical device, and in 1927 demonstrated the first electronic television. A bitter patent dispute with the US electronics company RCA then broke out. Despite ultimately winning and being awarded a settlement plus royalties, Farnsworth and his key role in the invention of television are now largely forgotten.
Philo Farnsworth © Getty
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