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Philo  T.  Farnsworth
the inventor of television

Philo T. Farnsworth demonstrating his early television system, 1928       short profile

books about Philo T. Farnsworth

television history

motion pictures, other media


Farnsworth first demonstrated electronic scanning televison devices to news media in 1928,
and to the public at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on August 25, 1934.

          Philo Taylor Farnsworth was born on 19 August 1906 on a farm near Beaver, Utah to a family of Mormons [L.D.S.]. When the family moved to Rigby, Idaho, Philo found a stash of technology magazines in the attic of the new house and became fascinated with electronics and electrical power. He invented the principle involved in scanning television while plowing a field – row after row after row, back and forth and back again – at the age of 14; by the age of 21 he had produced his first working model. He attended Brigham Young University in Utah, and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After returning to Idaho, he married Elma 'Pem' Gardner [1908-2006] and they moved to the San Francisco area. He found funding for his experiments, formed a partnership with George Everson called Crocker Research Laboratories, and operated research facilities in Idaho and San Francisco and Los Angeles.
          Earlier experiments & patents for television were electro-mechanical, and Farnsworth is credited with the invention of a working technology involving electronic scanning for both pickup and display. On 23 September 1927, Farnsworth's Image Dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line, at his laboratory at 202 Green Street in San Francisco. {Legend has it that Farnsworth's response was "God damn! It works!"}
          He first demonstrated the electronic scanning televison devices to news media in 1928, showing the image of a dollar sign. Newly-hired R.C.A. scientist Vladimir Zworykin [1889-1982] visited Farnsworth under false pretenses in 1930, and later incorporated Farnsworth's principles in R.C.A.'s Iconoscope/Kinescope equipment, leading to lengthy patent court cases. In 1931, R.C.A. president David Sarnoff offered to buy Farnsworth's patents for $100,000, but was refused; Farnsworth joined the Philco company in June of that year and moved his laboratory to Philadelphia, along with his wife and two children. Farnsworth suffered setbacks – his son died in 1932, the British chose the R.C.A. technology. R.C.A.'s patents on television and radio tubes limited Farnsworth's saleability, and Philco was pressured to sever ties with Farnsworth in 1934.
          Farnsworth's first public demonstration was at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on 25 August 1934. He formed a company and by 1936 was transmitting regular experimental programs. He sold his patents to R.C.A. for a million dollars in 1939. (Sarnoff's strategy of tying Farnsworth's patents up with long court cases delayed Farnsworth's window of opportunity to get fair payment for his work: Farnsworth should have received a much larger price). The World's Fair of 1939 featured demonstrations of R.C.A.'s television, and TV receivers went on sale to the public later that year.

          Farnsworth switched his attention to nuclear fusion, and was issued patents in 1966 & 1968. The Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor has not evolved into a power source, as intended, but is currently produced commercially as a practical source of neutrons. I.T.T. owned the Farnsworth company at the time, and dropped electronic research in 1967. Farnsworth moved to Brigham Young University and worked independently, but had used up all his savings (from the TV patent sale) by 1970; the I.R.S. seized the company's assets in February 1971. Farnsworth caught pneumonia and died on 11 March 1971 {officially of emphysema} in Salt Lake City at age 65. His widow strove to secure his place in history until her death in April 2006.
          Controversy continues over who really is the 'father of television', fed by the Zworykin-Sarnoff-R.C.A. contingent, but Farnsworth has been enshrined in many ways as the visionary that he was. Several plaques have been installed; three identical statues of him were placed at the Utah State Capitol {dedicated in May 1990}, in the National Statuary Hall in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building, and outside the county courthouse in Beaver, Utah (his birthplace); the Boy Scouts of America delivered a posthumous Eagle Scout Award to his widow in 2006; the U.S. issued a 20¢ postage stamp honoring Farnsworth in September 1983; and Rigby, Idaho maintains the Farnsworth TV & Pioneer Museum, under the motto 'The Birthplace of TV'.

Philo T. Farnsworth [1906-71]: the inventor of television

Philo T. Farnsworth Archives official website
Philo T. Farnsworth entry at Wikipedia

Books About Philo T. Farnsworth

Life of Philo T. Farnsworth by George Everson  "The Story of Television: The Life of Philo T. Farnsworth" [1949]
by George Everson

Nabu Press 10x7 pb [8/2010] for $21.85
Arno Press 8½x5½ hardcover [6/74] for $26.95
Distant Vision by Elma G. Farnsworth  "Distant Vision: Romance & Discovery On An Invisible Frontier"
[1990] by [Philo's widow] Elma G. Farnsworth

Pemberly Kent Publrs 9¼x6¼ hardcover [8/90] out of print/rare
TV's Forgotten Hero  "TV's Forgotten Hero: The Story of Philo Farnsworth"
[ages 9-12; 1996] by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson

CarolRhoda Books 9¼x7¼ hardcover [10/96] for $30.60
Philo Farnsworth & The Invention of TV  "Philo Farnsworth and The Invention of Television"
[ages 4-6; 2000] by Russell Roberts

Mitchell Lane Publrs 9½x6¾ library hardcover [9/2000] for $25.70
Philo T. Farnsworth bio by Donald Godfrey  "Philo T. Farnsworth: The Father of Television" [2001]
by Donald Godfrey

Univ UT Press 9¼x6½ hardcover [7/2001] for $30.00
Boy Genius & The Mogul  "The Boy Genius and The Mogul: The Untold Story of Television"
[2002] by Daniel Stashower

Broadway 9½x6½ hardcover [4/2002] for $24.95
Last Lone Inventor  "The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius, Deceit & The Birth of Television" [2002]
by Evan I. Schwartz

Harper 8x5½ pb [5/2003] for $11.66
HarperCollins 8¾x5½ hardcover [5/2002] out of print/used
Life of Television's Forgotten Inventor  "Philo T. Farnsworth: The Life of Television's Forgotten Inventor"
[ages 9-12; 2003] by Russell Roberts

Mitchell Lane Publrs 9½x7½ pb [7/2003] for $12.21
The Boy Who Invented Television  "The Boy Who Invented Television: A Story of Inspiration, Persistence & Quiet Passion" [2004]
by Paul Schatzkin

Tanglewood Books 9x6 pb [9/2004] for $16.95
'Philo Farnsworth & Television' children's graphic novel  "Philo Farnsworth and The Television" graphic novel [ages 6-12; 2006]
by Ellen Sturm Niz, Illustrated by Keith Tucker

Capstone Press 9x7 pb [9/2006] for $8.10
Capstone Press 9¼x7¼ hardcover [7/2006] for $25.26
Capstone Press 9¼x7¼ library hardcover [9/2006] for $26.97

Television History

more links & books & information on the
History of Radio & Television Pages at Magic Lantern

All About Television Magazine  "All About Television" Magazine [1927]
published by sci-fi publisher Hugo Gernsback [1884-1967], with its [prescient] cover showing a family sitting around a TV set watching football
Great Television Race  "The Great Television Race: A History of The American Television Industry, 1925-1941" [1982]
by Joseph H. Udelson

Univ AL Press 9¼x6 pb [11/90] for $18.95
Univ AL Press 9¼x6 pb [6/89] for $35.00
Please Stand By  "Please Stand By: A Prehistory of Television" [1994]
by Michael Ritchie

Overlook 9¼x7 pb [9/95] for $15.95
Overlook hardcover [9/94] out of print/many used
Invention of Television  "Tube: The Invention of Television" [1996]
by David E. Fisher & Marshall Jon Fisher

Harvest Books 9x6 pb [11/97] out of print/used
Counterpoint hardcover [9/96] out of print/many used
Television History Book  "The Television History Book" [2004]
by Michele Hilmes

British Film Institute 9½x7¼ pb [3/2004] for $27.95
British Film Institute 10x7½ hardcover [3/2004] out of print/rare
History of Wireless book by Ira Brodsky  "The History of Wireless: How Creative Minds Produced Technology For The Masses" [2008] by Ira Brodsky
Part I covers Volta, Faraday, Maxwell, Lodge & Hertz; Part IIA covers the tele- graph, the telephone, Marconi, Fessenden, de Forest & Armstrong {not Tesla?}; Part IIB covers the birth of broadcast radio & TV, Sarnoff, Farnsworth & Zworykin; Part III is a comprehensive history of mobile radio, cellular & digital cellular.
Telescope Books 8¾x6 pb [1/2008] for $17.95

Motion Pictures, Stageplays, Other Media
Philo T. Farnsworth credits [since 1935] at Internet Movie Database

Philo appeared on CBS-TV's "I've Got A Secret" TV program on 3 July 1957: the panel was unable to guess his true identity;
for stumping them he took home $80 and a carton of the sponsor's cigarettes.

PBS Big Dream, Small Screen video  
"Big Dream, Small Screen: The Story Behind The Television - A Biography of
Philo T. Farnsworth" [P.B.S./American Experience airdate 10 Feb 1997]

Written & directed by David Dugan
PBS Home Video color VHS [4/97] out of prodn/used
full credits at IMDb
P.B.S./American Experience program site

"Philo T. Farnsworth: A Vision of Genius" TV movie [2006] /tt2072197/

Farnsworth Invention play poster  "The Farnsworth Invention" play on Broadway [2007]
Started as a movie script by Aaron Sorkin, turned into a play which began previews on 15 October 2007 at the Music Box Theatre on 45th Street in New York City; listed on TIME Magazine's Top Ten Best Theater Shows of The Year (12/2007) Written by Aaron Sorkin; original music by Andrew Lippa; directed by Des McAnuff; choreographed by Lisa Shriver; starring Hank Azaria {as David Sarnoff} & Jimmi Simpson {as Philo}
stageplay credits [Dec 2007 - March 2008] at Internet Broadway Database
stageplay official website
performed April-July 2010 at TimeLine Theatre in Chicago {watch 2 short videos}

L i n k s
Philo T. Farnsworth Archives official website
Philo T. Farnsworth credits [since 1935] at Internet Movie Database
Philo T. Farnsworth entry at Wikipedia
Paul's 'FarnoVision' site
Paul's Fusor Research site
National Inventors Hall of Fame entry
Farnsworth Collection at University of Utah
listed in 1999 on TIME Magazine's 100 Scientists & Thinkers

early test pattern for black-and-white televison

Philo T. Farnsworth [1906-71] Page at Spirit of America Bookstore

top of page short profile books about P.T. Farnsworth television history other media links


Online sales in association with  Televison History & Criticism category at Amazon.com

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