After a rich career working in the field of broadcasting and engineering of broadcast facilities, spanning 30 years, there are a few stand-out people that have contributed to the industry and warrant our admiration for invention and innovative thinking that fueled the development of television. Many will not know the name John Logie Baird, but everyone will know of his invention. Logie Baird invented television as we know it today. While some might dispute the claim, most historians place Logie Baird ahead of the American inventor, Philo Farnsworth. Both men were prolific inventors with many patents and worthwhile creations that impacted everyday life. But, Logie Baird is commonly considered to be the true father of the TV.
It is on this date, 90 years ago, on January 26th, 1926, that Logie Baird first held a public demonstration of his invention in a UK laboratory in Soho in front of members from the Royal Institution and a journalist from the Times.
Although the pictures were small, measuring just 3.5 by 2 inches, the process was revolutionary. “The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred, but substantiated a claim that through the ‘televisor,’ as Mr Baird has named his apparatus, it is possible to transmit and reproduce instantly the details of movement, and such things as the play of expression on the face,” wrote the reporter from the Times after the demonstration. As innovative as the demonstration had been, the journalist wasn’t convinced that it would take off. “It has yet to be seen to what extent further developments will carry Mr Baird’s system towards practical use,” they wrote.
Still, that was better than the reaction of the Daily Express newspaper who, when Baird approached them with the invention in 1925, kicked him out. (1)
The development of television was the result of work by many inventors. Among them, Baird was a prominent pioneer and made major advances in the field. Many historians credit Baird with being the first to produce a live, moving, greyscale television image from reflected light. Baird achieved this, where other inventors had failed, by obtaining a better photoelectric cell and improving the signal conditioning from the photocell and the video amplifier.
No invention is entirely the work of a single inventor. Normally, the creation is an elaboration or extension of work that proceeded the tipping point when the success was achieved. This is the case for the television too. There were many failed attempts that finally coalesced in Logie Baird’s success.
Between 1902 and 1907, Arthur Korn invented and built the first successful signal-conditioning circuits for image transmission. The circuits overcame the image-destroying lag effect that is part of selenium photocells. Korn’s compensation circuit allowed him to send still facsimile pictures by telephone or wireless between countries and even over oceans, while his circuit operated without benefit of electronic amplification. Korn’s success at transmitting halftone still images suggested that such compensation circuits might work in television. Baird was the direct beneficiary of Korn’s research and success.
In his first attempts to develop a working television system, Baird experimented with the Nikkow disk. Paul Gottlieb Nipkow had invented this scanning disc system in 1884. Television historian Albert Abramson calls Nipkow’s patent “the master television patent”. Nipkow’s work is important because Baird and many others chose to develop it into a broadcast medium. (2)
In the 1980s, I was the representative in Canada for Rank Cintel, which was the modern day company that grew out of Logie Baird’s original business. Rank was an interesting company with its hands in many pots – hotels, Xerox, Pinewood Movie Studios, feature films, and technology. We learned many things about Logie Baird while working with Rank Cintel. They told us that before the formal introduction of television in the UK, he conducted many experiments while he was living in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. His housekeeper saw early images broadcasts and report Logie Baird’s activities to the locals. They tried to stone him to death thinking he was a witch. So, back to London he went and in a hurry. Is this story factual, I cannot say for sure, but this is what we were told nonetheless.
Logie Baird’s involvement with radar in World War II is still another grey area of his history, he did extensive research on television between 1939 and 1946. Baird’s television research is well documented in 28 patents, as well as the numerous photographs, articles and reports of demonstrations. He was rarely seen for several years during WWII. Some speculate that he was collaborating to develop radar technology which is aligned to his television work. However, there is little documented evidence to suggest that the radar rumours are true. The invention of radar is normally attributed to Watson Watt, but some believe that Logie Baird was heavily involved under the cloak of strict secrecy.
John Logie Baird’s television research during World War II was highly productive. Although it received little publicity at the time, it was taken up by other companies including RCA in the United States. Baird’s spinning colour wheel was part of the design of the special NASA colour camera which televised the moon landing in 1969 and it is also a feature of many digital light projection (DLP) televisions. Modern 3D television, using polarized glasses, can be traced back to the work of Baird over 90 years ago.(3)
John Logie Baird was a true innovator and demonstrated perseverance that is rarely seen today. His legacy lives on and is viewed by billions around the globe every day. I was privileged to have spent many years in the broadcasting industry that he helped to create. I own John Logie Baird a debt of gratitude.
About the Author:
Michael Martin has 40 years of experience in broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital video communications technologies. He is a Senior Executive Consultant with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 11 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN:TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO:TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX:TSX.V). He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of four different Colleges in Ontario as well as for 16 years on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three Masters level degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.
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(1) McGoogan, C. (2016). Who invented the television? How people reacted to John Logie Baird’s creation 90 years ago. The Telegraph. Retrieved on January 26, 2016 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/google-doodle/12121474/Who-invented-the-television-John-Logie-Baird-created-the-TV-in-1926.html
(2) Wikipedia. (2016). John Logie Baird. Retrieved on January 26, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Logie_Baird
(3) Baird, M. (2010). What did John Logie Baird really do in World War II? Retrieved on January 26, 2016 from http://www.bairdtelevision.com/war.html