Television History and the Cathode Ray Tube

Electronic television was based on the development of the cathode ray tube.

A Cathode Ray Tube for a black and white television
Thomas J Peterson / Getty Images

The development of electronic television systems was based on the development of the cathode ray tube (CRT). A cathode ray tube aka picture tube was found in all electronic television sets up until the invention of the less bulky LCD screens.


  • A cathode is a terminal or electrode at which electrons enter a system, such as an electrolytic cell or an electron tube.
  • A cathode ray is a stream of electrons leaving the negative electrode, or cathode, in a discharge tube (an electron tube that contains gas or vapor at low pressure), or emitted by a heated filament in certain electron tubes.
  • A vacuum tube is an electron tube consisting of a sealed glass or metal enclosure from which the air has been withdrawn.
  • A cathode ray tube or CRT is a specialized vacuum tube in which images are produced when an electron beam strikes a phosphorescent surface.

Besides television sets, cathode ray tubes are used in computer monitors, automated teller machines, video game machines, video cameras, oscilloscopes and radar displays.

The first cathode ray tube scanning device was invented by the German scientist Karl Ferdinand Braun in 1897. Braun introduced a CRT with a fluorescent screen, known as the cathode ray oscilloscope. The screen would emit a visible light when struck by a beam of electrons.

In 1907, the Russian scientist Boris Rosing (who worked with Vladimir Zworykin) used a CRT in the receiver of a television system that at the camera end made use of mirror-drum scanning. Rosing transmitted crude geometrical patterns onto the television screen and was the first inventor to do so using a CRT.

Modern phosphor screens using multiple beams of electrons have allowed CRTs to display millions of colors.

A cathode ray tube is a vacuum tube that produces images when its phosphorescent surface is struck by electron beams.


German, Heinrich Geissler invents the Geissler tube, created using his mercury pump this was the first good evacuated (of air) vacuum tube later modified by Sir William Crookes.


German mathematician and physicist, Julius Plucker experiments with invisible cathode rays. Cathode rays were first identified by Julius Plucker.


Englishmen, Sir William Crookes was the first person to confirm the existence of cathode rays by displaying them, with his invention of the Crookes tube, a crude prototype for all future cathode ray tubes.


German, Karl Ferdinand Braun invents the CRT oscilloscope - the Braun Tube was the forerunner of today's television and radar tubes.


Vladimir Kosma Zworykin invented a cathode ray tube called the kinescope - for use with a primitive television system.


Allen B. Du Mont made the first commercially practical and durable CRT for television.


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Bellis, Mary. "Television History and the Cathode Ray Tube." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Bellis, Mary. (2021, February 16). Television History and the Cathode Ray Tube. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Television History and the Cathode Ray Tube." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).