Monday, February 22, 2010

Philo Farnsworth

Philo Taylor Farnsworth (August 19, 1906 – March 11, 1971) was an American inventor. He is best known for inventing the first fully electronic television system, including the first working electronic image pickup device (video camera tube), and for being the first to demonstrate fully electronic television to the public.

Farnsworth was born on August 19, 1906 to Lewis Edwin and Serena Amanda Bastian Farnsworth, a Mormon couple then living in a log cabin built by Lewis's father in a place called Indian Creek near Beaver, Utah. The family moved to a farm in Rigby, Idaho in 1918. Philo was excited to find his new home was wired for electricity, with a Delco generator providing power for lighting and farm machinery. He was a quick study in mechanical and electrical technology, repairing the troublesome generator, and upon finding a burned out electric motor among some items discarded by the previous tenants, proceeding to rewind the armature and convert his mother's hand-powered washing machine into an electric-powered one. Philo developed an early interest in electronics after his first telephone conversation with an out-of-state relative and the discovery of a large cache of technology magazines in the attic of the family’s new home.

Farnsworth worked out the principle of the electronc television in the summer of 1921, not long before his fifteenth birthday, and demonstrated the first working version on September 7, 1927, having turned 21 the previous August. A farm boy, his inspiration for scanning an image as series of lines came from the back-and-forth motion used to plow a field.

In the course of a patent interference suit brought by RCA in 1934 and decided in February 1935, his high school chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman, produced a sketch he had made of a blackboard drawing Farnsworth had shown him in the spring of 1922. Farnsworth won the suit; RCA appealed the decision in 1936 and lost. The video camera tube that evolved from the combined work of Farnsworth and many others was used in all television cameras until the late 20th century.

Although he was the man responsible for its technology, Farnsworth appeared only once on a television program. On July 3, 1957, he was a mystery guest ("Doctor X") on the TV quiz show I've Got A Secret. He fielded questions from the panel as they unsuccessfully tried to guess his secret ("I invented electronic television."). For stumping the panel, he received $80 and a carton of Winston cigarettes.

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