When Was the First TV Invented?

A Historical Timeline of the Evolution of the Television (1831-1996)

Cosole Television.

Yali Shi/Getty Images

Television was not invented by a single inventor, instead of many people working together and alone over the years, contributed to the evolution of television.


Joseph Henry's and Michael Faraday's work with electromagnetism jumpstarts the era of electronic communication.

1862: First Still Image Transferred

Abbe Giovanna Caselli invents his Pantelegraph and becomes the first person to transmit a still image over wires.


Scientists May and Smith experiment with selenium and light, this reveals the possibility for inventors to transform images into electronic signals.


Boston civil servant George Carey was thinking about complete television systems and in 1877 he put forward drawings for what he called a selenium camera that would allow people to see by electricity.

Eugen Goldstein coins the term "cathode rays" to describe the light emitted when an electric current was forced through a vacuum tube.

The Late 1870s

Scientists and engineers like Paiva, Figuier, and Senlecq were suggesting alternative designs for Telectroscopes.


Inventors Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison theorize about telephone devices that transmit image as well as sound.

Bell's Photophone used light to transmit sound and he wanted to advance his device for image sending.

George Carey builds a rudimentary system with light-sensitive cells.


Sheldon Bidwell experiments with his Telephotography that was similar to Bell's Photophone.

1884: 18 Lines of Resolution

Paul Nipkow sends images over wires using a rotating metal disk technology calling it the electric telescope with 18 lines of resolution.

1900: And We Called It Television

At the World's Fair in Paris, the first International Congress of Electricity was held. That is where Russian Constantin Perskyi made the first known use of the word "television."

Soon after 1900, the momentum shifted from ideas and discussions to the physical development of television systems. Two major paths in the development of a television system were pursued by inventors.

  • Inventors attempted to build mechanical television systems based on Paul Nipkow's rotating disks or
  • Inventors attempted to build electronic television systems based on the cathode ray tube developed independently in 1907 by English inventor A.A. Campbell-Swinton and Russian scientist Boris Rosing.

1906: First Mechanical Television System

Lee de Forest invents the Audion vacuum tube that proved essential to electronics. The Audion was the first tube with the ability to amplify signals.

Boris Rosing combines Nipkow's disk and a cathode ray tube and builds the first working mechanical TV system.

1907: Early Electronic Systems

Campbell Swinton and Boris Rosing suggest using cathode ray tubes to transmit images. Independent of each other, they both develop electronic scanning methods of reproducing images.


Vladimir Zworykin patents his iconoscope a TV camera tube based on Campbell Swinton's ideas. The iconoscope, which he called an electric eye becomes the cornerstone for further television development. Zworkin later develops the kinescope for picture display (aka the receiver).

1924-25: First Moving Silhouette Images

American Charles Jenkins and John Baird from Scotland, each demonstrate the mechanical transmissions of images over wire circuits.

John Baird becomes the first person to transmit moving silhouette images using a mechanical system based on Nipkow's disk.

Charles Jenkin built his Radiovisor and 1931 and sold it as a kit for consumers to put together (see photo to right).

Vladimir Zworykin patents a color television system.

1926-30: Lines of Resolution

John Baird operates a television system with 30 lines of resolution system running at 5 frames per second.


Bell Telephone and the U.S. Department of Commerce conducted the first long-distance use of television that took place between Washington D.C. and New York City on April 7th. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover commented, “Today we have, in a sense, the transmission of sight for the first time in the world’s history. Human genius has now destroyed the impediment of distance in new respect, and in a manner hitherto unknown.”

Philo Farnsworth, files for a patent on the first completely electronic television system, which he called the Image Dissector.


The Federal Radio Commission issues the first television station license (W3XK) to Charles Jenkins.


Vladimir Zworykin demonstrates the first practical electronic system for both the transmission and reception of images using his new kinescope tube.

John Baird opens the first TV studio, however, the image quality was poor.


Charles Jenkins broadcasts the first TV commercial.

The BBC begins regular TV transmissions.


Iowa State University (W9XK) starts broadcasting twice-weekly television programs in cooperation with radio station WSUI.


About 200 hundred television sets are in use worldwide.

The introduction of coaxial cable, which is a pure copper or copper-coated wire surrounded by insulation and aluminum covering. These cables were and are used to transmit television, telephone, and data signals.

The first experimental coaxial cable lines were laid by AT&T between New York and Philadelphia in 1936. The first regular installation connected Minneapolis and Stevens Point, WI in 1941.

The original L1 coaxial-cable system could carry 480 telephone conversations or one television program. By the 1970s, L5 systems could carry 132,000 calls or more than 200 television programs.


CBS begins its TV development.

The BBC begins high definition broadcasts in London.

Brothers and Stanford researchers Russell and Sigurd Varian introduce the Klystron. A Klystron is a high-frequency amplifier for generating microwaves. It is considered the technology that makes UHF-TV possible because it gives the ability to generate the high power required in this spectrum.


Vladimir Zworykin and RCA conduct experimentally broadcasts from the Empire State Building.

Television was demonstrated at the New York World's Fair and the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition.

RCA's David Sarnoff used his company's exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair as a showcase for the 1st Presidential speech (Roosevelt) on television and to introduce RCA's new line of television receivers, some of which had to be coupled with a radio if you wanted to hear the sound.

The Dumont company starts making tv sets.


Peter Goldmark invents 343 lines of the resolution color television system.


The FCC releases the NTSC standard for black and white TV.


Vladimir Zworykin developed a better camera tube called the Orthicon. The Orthicon (see photo right) had enough light sensitivity to record outdoor events at night.


Peter Goldmark, working for CBS, demonstrated his color television system to the FCC. His system produced color pictures by having a red-blue-green wheel spin in front of a cathode ray tube.

This mechanical means of producing a color picture was used in 1949 to broadcast medical procedures from Pennsylvania and Atlantic City hospitals. In Atlantic City, viewers could come to the convention center to see broadcasts of operations. Reports from the time noted that the realism of seeing surgery in color caused more than a few viewers to faint.

Although Goldmark's mechanical system was eventually replaced by an electronic system he is recognized as the first to introduce a broadcasting color television system.


Cable television is introduced in Pennsylvania as a means of bringing television to rural areas.

A patent was granted to Louis W. Parker for a low-cost television receiver.

One million homes in the United States have television sets.


The FCC approves the first color television standard which is replaced by a second in 1953.

Vladimir Zworykin developed a better camera tube called the Vidicon.


Ampex introduces the first practical videotape system of broadcast quality.


Robert Adler invents the first practical remote control called the Zenith Space Commander. It was proceeded by wired remotes and units that failed in sunlight.


The first split screen broadcast occurs on the Kennedy - Nixon debates.


The All-Channel Receiver Act requires that UHF tuners (channels 14 to 83) be included in all sets.


A joint international collaboration between AT&T, Bell Labs, NASA, British General Post Office, the French National Post, Telegraph, and Telecom Office results in the development and launch of Telstar, the first satellite to carry TV broadcasts - broadcasts are now internationally relayed.


Most TV broadcasts are in color.


July 20, first TV transmission from the moon and 600 million people watch.


Half the TVs in homes are color sets.


Giant screen projection TV is first marketed.


Sony introduces Betamax, the first home video cassette recorder.


PBS becomes the first station to switch to all satellite delivery of programs.

1981: 1,125 Lines of Resolution

NHK demonstrates HDTV with 1,125 lines of resolution.


Dolby Surround Sound for home sets is introduced.


Direct Broadcast Satellite begins service in Indianapolis, In.


Stereo TV broadcasts approved.


Super VHS introduced.


Closed captioning required on all sets.


The FCC approves ATSC's HDTV standard.

A billion TV sets worldwide.