Who Invented The First Television?

Philo Farnsworth invented the television tube when he was only 14. RCA and David Sarnoff sued him for the patent, lost, then won it back taking the credit.

Philo Farnsworth was just a fourteen year old high school student when he came up with the idea that an electron beam could scan pictures back and forth and transmit them to remote screens- in other words, he thought up TV! While such an amazing invention could not be the work of one man alone, figures such as John Logie Baird and Vladimir Zworykin deserve their due, Philo Farnsworth should be commended for his place in history.

Born in a log cabin and raised to work hard in the fields, young Farnsworth was fascinated by electrons and electronics, and convinced his science teacher to let him sit in on a senior level electronics course. Throughout his life he would credit this teacher, Justin Tolman, for inspiring and encouraging him, and giving him the information he needed. Tolman thought Farnsworth's explanation of the theory of relativity was the clearest he'd ever heard, and Farnsworth was only fifteen years old at the time of that explanation!

Farnsworth's family moved to Beaver City, Utah under instructions from Brigham Young himself. When he was only fifteen he was admitted to Brigham Young University. He had to drop out a couple of years later when his father died, but he was already more advanced in electronics than anyone at Brigham Young and most people in the world.

When he was 21 and living in California with his wife, Philo Farnsworth gathered financial supporters and set about figuring out how his invention would work. He was able to figure it out, as he knew he would, and set about patenting various aspects of the invention.

Unfortunately a Russian immigrant named Vladimir Zworykin, PhD had the same idea at the same time. He made a patent application in 1923 for the same kind of tube for transmitting electronic data. His employer, David Sarnoff at RCA didn't want to pay Farnsworth a royalty on the invention and took him straight to court.

Although Zworykin had a patent, there was no evidence he'd made a working transmitter from the design. Farnsworth's old teacher, Justin Tolman testified on his behalf that not only did he invent the thing while studying under him in high school, Tolman still had the drawings he made of it!

RCA lost, appealed and lost again, and eventually agreed to pay Farnsworth royalties on the invention. WWII came and production of TV sets was halted to support the war effort. By then Farnsworth's patents were almost expired. RCA snapped them up the moment it could, leaving Farnsworth in the lurch as it launched a publicity campaign touting Sarnoff and Zworykin as the inventors of television!

Life went downhill for poor Philo after that. He sunk into depression and alcohol abuse, spent time in psychiatric hospitals and underwent shock treatments. During an appearance on "What's My Line?" he was asked if he'd invented a mechanical device that caused pain when used. His answer was, "Yes. Sometimes it's most painful."

Farnsworth didn't allow television viewing in his home. He said there was nothing good on it that was worthwhile.

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