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The TV Guy

Philo T. Farnsworth, 1906-1971

Philo Farnsworth

A young Philo T. Farnsworth.

In short:

It may sound hard to believe, but a farmboy from Utah invented the television!  Think how that has changed the world. Philo T. Farnsworth, who came from a little community outside of Beaver, built on the work of others. But he was the one who made the image dissector camera tube that put the first images on a television screen.  His invention opened up entirely new avenues for entertainment, information, and exploration--and landed him on a postage stamp in 1983!

More of the story:

He changed the world!
Philo T. Farnsworth changed the way people all over the world talk to each other, learn about things, and entertain themselves.  His invention made Sesame Street, news programs, sitcoms, dramas, and all the other television programs possible.

How did community and family life change because of television?

Born into a very different world.
Philo Farnsworth came into a world just beginning to be electrified in 1906. His family’s first house, near Beaver, Utah, had no electricity. So when the family moved to a new house in Idaho, young Philo was fascinated! Lights that came on when you flipped a switch and electric tools for the farm intrigued him.

By the age of 13 he had won his first national contest, sponsored by Science and Invention magazine, for a thief-proof lock.

In 1922 he drew a design for his high school chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman. The drawing had nothing to do with the class assignment, but Tolman kept it. Farnsworth believed that he could transform electricity into pictures by controlling the speed and direction of fast-flying electrons.

Philo did very well in high school and was excited to go to Brigham Young University.  But before he could finish college, his father died and his family could no longer afford for him to be at school. 

Photo

One of the many television tubes Farnsworth made and experimented with. To see images of many more television tubes, see our photo collection here.

How to make a TV??
Philo was still thinking about how to send images through the air. But he had no money to work on his idea. Eventually, he met a pair of Californians who invested money in his idea. They gave him enough money that he could experiment with the device he had worked on in high school.

So he worked. And worked. Tried and tried.

Success!
He successfully transferred his first image in 1927--at age 21. So what was the first real television image? Just a simple line!

A challenge.
Other people had also been working inventing a television. Another inventor, John Logie Baird, also had successful tests using his own methods that year and in 1928, so Philo spent several years after that fighting over the right to claim he invented the television. 

He worked for several different companies in his life, and he never stopped inventing.  His designs and ideas were the forerunners of many things in our lives, like radar, electron microscopes, and incubators. 

But Farnsworth was sad and bitter that the public did not recognize his work to make television a reality. He died with little money or fame.

Finally, people noticed.
However, in 1985 students and teachers from Ridgemont Elementary School in Salt Lake City started working to give him the recognition he deserved. They lobbied the state legislature to choose Philo T. Farnsworth as the second of two statues Utah was allowed to place in the U.S. Capitol Building. (The first statue is Brigham Young.) So now a statue of Farnsworth stands in Statuary Hall in Washington in the United States Capitol.

What's more, Time magazine named Philo T. Farnsworth to their list of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century!