The Inventors Behind the Creation of Television

TV was not born overnight nor created by a single inventor

TV and cords

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Television wasn't invented by a single person. The efforts of many people working over the years, together and separately, contributed to the evolution of the technology.

At the dawn of television history, two competing experimental approaches led to the breakthroughs that eventually made the technology possible. Early inventors attempted to build either a mechanical television based on Paul Nipkow's rotating disks or an electronic television using a cathode ray tube developed independently in 1907 by English inventor A.A. Campbell-Swinton and Russian scientist Boris Rosing. 

Because electronic television systems worked better, they eventually replaced mechanical systems. Here is an overview of the major names and milestones behind one of the most important inventions of the 20th century. 

Mechanical Television Pioneers

German inventor Paul Gottlieb Nipkow developed a rotating disc technology in 1884 called the Nipkow disk to transmit pictures over wires. Nipkow is credited with discovering television's scanning principle, in which the light intensities of small portions of an image are successively analyzed and transmitted.

In the 1920s, John Logie Baird patented the idea of using arrays of transparent rods to transmit images for television. Baird's 30-line images were the first demonstrations of television by reflected light rather than back-lit silhouettes. Baird based his technology on Nipkow's scanning disc idea and other developments in electronics.

Charles Francis Jenkins invented a mechanical television system called Radiovision and claimed to have transmitted the earliest moving silhouette images on June 14, 1923. His company also opened the first television broadcasting station in the U.S., named W3XK.

Electronic Television Pioneers

German scientist Karl Ferdinand Braun entered history books by inventing the cathode ray tube (CRT) in 1897. This "picture tube," which for years was the only device that could create the images viewers saw, was the basis for the advent of electronic television.

In 1927, American Philo Taylor Farnsworth became the first inventor to transmit a television image—a dollar sign—comprising 60 horizontal lines. Farnsworth also developed the dissector tube, the basis of all current electronic televisions.

Russian inventor Vladimir Kosma Zworykin invented an improved cathode ray tube called the kinescope in 1929. Zworykin was one of the first to demonstrate a system with all the features that would come to make up televisions.

Additional Television Components

In 1947 Louis W. Parker invented the Intercarrier Sound System to synchronize television sound. His invention is used in all television receivers in the world.

In June 1956 the TV remote controller first entered the American home. The first TV remote control, called "Lazy Bones," was developed in 1950 by Zenith Electronics Corp., then known as Zenith Radio Corp.

Marvin Middlemark invented "rabbit ears," the once-ubiquitous V-shaped TV antennae, in 1953. His other inventions included a water-powered potato peeler and a rejuvenating tennis ball machine.

Plasma TV display panels use small cells containing electrically charged ionized gases to generate high-quality imagery. The first prototype for a plasma display monitor was invented in 1964 by Donald Bitzer, Gene Slottow, and Robert Willson.

Other Television Advances

In 1925, Russian TV pioneer Zworykin filed a patent disclosure for an all-electronic color television system. Following authorization by the FCC, a color television system began commercial broadcasting on Dec. 17, 1953, based on a system invented by RCA.

TV closed captions are hidden in the television video signal, invisible without a decoder. They were first demonstrated in 1972 and debuted the following year on the Public Broadcasting Service. 

Television content for the World Wide Web was rolled out in 1995. History's first TV series made available on the Internet was the public access program "Rox."