DOA Q&A | Philo Farnsworth, Inventor of Television

Q&A | Phil Farnsworth, Inventor of Television

For a medium that is so universally derided as television, a surprising number of people have claimed credit for it. Over the years, encyclopedias and history books have been revised and revised again, but the most current thinking is that it was a teenage inventor named Philo Farnsworth who actually conceived it, and a few years later, created the first transmission of an electronic television signal in 1927, effectively ushering in the era of screen-based media that has dominated society ever since.

Prophetically, Farnsworth's first successful transmission was the electronic image of a dollar sign. Farnsworth's battle for the history books was well documented in Aaron Sorkin's Broadway play, "The Farnsworth Invention," but he died in 1971, before those revisions were made. The following brief Q&A is extrapolated - posthumously - from a few interviews and public comments made by Farnsworth before his death, and sadly, from an episode of What's My Line? that he appeared on in 1957 in which he posed as the mystery guest. Sadly, because the contestants had a great deal of trouble naming him.

In some ways, you are the father of screen-based electronic media in that what you invented was the precursor to everything from high-definition TVs to the iPad. How do you feel about your role in the history of media?
Sometimes it's most painful. I think that generally speaking, it has been a blessing.

Do you have any regrets about inventing television?

The history books say you were a teenager when you had the lightbulb moment. Exactly how old were you when you invented television?
I was 14.

Technically speaking, there had been forms of television developed before you came up with the current standard of broadcasting. How did they differ, and why was your approach an important breakthrough?
Yes, there had been attempts to devise a television system using mechanical discs, rotating mirrors, and vibrating mirrors, but [they were] all mechanical. My contribution was to take out the moving parts and to make the thing entirely electronic. That was the concept I had when I was just a freshman in high school.

What inspired you to come up with something so revolutionary?
I know that I have never invented anything. I have been a medium by which these things were given to the culture as fast as the culture could earn them. I give all the credit to God.

What did you tell your son about television when he was growing up?
There's nothing on it worthwhile, and we're not going to watch it in this household, and I don't want it in your intellectual diet.

But you changed your mind about that after watching the television broadcast of man landing on the moon.

That made it all worthwhile. Before that, I wasn't so sure.

What do you think the most significant development for TV and other screen-based media will be in the future?
Better utilization of the bandwidth. 

Next story loading loading..