I'm Phoebe Zimmermann.
I'm Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about a man who made possible
one of the most important communications devices ever created -- television. His name was Philo Farnsworth.
In nineteen sixty-nine, American astronaut Neil
Armstrong climbed down the side of the space vehicle that had taken him to the
As his foot touched the surface of the moon, pictures
of the event were sent back to televisions on Earth. The pictures were not very good. It was hard to see astronaut Armstrong
clearly. The surface of the moon was
extremely bright. And the moon lander
vehicle created a very dark, black shadow.
But the quality of the television pictures was not important.
man, woman and child who saw the television pictures understood they were
watching an important event. They were
watching history take place as it was happening many hundreds of thousands of
a few minutes, the poor quality television pictures captured the imagination of
millions of people throughout the world. Experts believe about six hundred
million people around the world watched as Neil Armstrong stepped from the space
vehicle to the surface of the moon.
In the years since then, people around the
world have shared in many events.
Television has made it possible for people in distant places to share a
television system changes light and sound waves from a moving picture into
electronic signals that travel through the air.
The signals are changed back into sound and pictures in a television
in Britain, Germany, France, Japan, the former Soviet Union and the United
States all made important discoveries that led to the development of modern
television. Yet it was a young boy living on an American farm who was the first
person to invent and design what became television. He first thought of the idea of an electronic
television when he was only fourteen years old.
His name was Philo Taylor Farnsworth.
Farnsworth was born on August nineteenth, nineteen-oh-six, near Indian Creek in
the western state of Utah. The house he
lived in for the first few years of his life had no electric power. But Philo read about electricity. He was very excited when his family moved to
a new house in Idaho that had electric power.
He quickly began to experiment with electricity. He built an electric motor when he was
twelve. Then he built the first electric
washing machine for clothes that his family had ever owned.
Philo Farnsworth attended a very small school near his
family's farm. He did very well in
school. He asked his teacher for special
help in science. The teacher began
helping Philo learn a great deal more than most young students could
night, Philo read a magazine story about the idea of sending pictures and sound
through the air. Anyone with a device
that could receive this electronic information could watch the pictures. The magazine story said some of the world's
best scientists were working on the idea.
It said these scientists were using special machines to try to make a
kind of device to send pictures. The
story made Philo think.
Fourteen-year-old Philo decided these famous scientists
were wrong. He decided that mechanical
devices would never work. They could
never be made to move fast enough to clearly capture and reproduce an
electronic picture sent through the air.
decided that such a device would have to be electronic, not mechanical. Philo knew electrons could be made to move
extremely fast. All he would have to do
was find a way to make electrons do the work.
Very quickly Philo had an idea for such a
receiver. It would trap light in a
container and send the light on a line of electrons. Philo called it "light in a bottle."
days later, Philo told his teacher about a device that could capture
pictures. He drew a plan for it that he
gave his teacher. Philo's drawing seems
very simple. But it still clearly shows
the information needed to build a television.
In fact, all television equipment today still uses Philo's early idea.
Philo's teacher was Justin Tolman. Many
years later Philo would say Mister Tolman guided his imagination and opened the
doors of science for him.
Farnsworth had to solve several problems before he could produce a working
television system. One was that he was
only fourteen years old. He knew no one
would listen to a child. In fact,
experts say that probably only ten scientists in the world at that time could
have understood his idea.
Philo also had no money
to develop his ideas. His idea for a
working television would have to wait.
After only two years of high school, Philo entered Brigham Young
University in Utah. But he did not
finish his education. He was forced to leave school when his father died.
Philo did not give up his idea for creating a
television. He began serious work on it
when he moved to San Francisco, California a few years later. He was twenty-one years old.
September seventh, nineteen twenty-seven, Philo turned on a device that was the
first working television receiver. In
another room was the first television camera.
Philo had invented the special camera tube earlier that year.
image produced on the receiver was not very clear, but the device worked. Within a few months, Philo Farnsworth had
found several people who wanted to invest money in his invention.
August, nineteen thirty, the United States government gave Philo patent
documents. These would protect his invention
from being copied by others.
soon, however, several other inventors claimed they had invented a television
device. One of these inventors, Vladimir
Zworykin, worked for the powerful Radio Corporation of America. The RCA company began legal action against
Philo Farnsworth. It said Mister
Zworykin had invented his device in the nineteen twenties. The big and powerful RCA claimed that it, not
the small Philo Farnsworth Television Company, had the right to produce,
develop and market television.
The legal action between RCA and the Farnsworth company
continued for several years. RCA proved
that Mister Zworykin did make a mechanical television device. But it could not demonstrate that the device
the same time, RCA claimed that Mister Farnsworth had produced his television
image tube after Mister Zworykin had developed his. When Mister Farnsworth said he had developed
the idea much earlier, RCA said it was impossible for a fourteen-year-old boy
to produce the idea for a television device.
Company representatives said Mister Farnsworth was not even a
scientist. He had never finished
said Philo Farnsworth should be forced to prove he had invented the television
image tube. Philo could not prove he
invented it. But his high school teacher
could. In court, Justin Tolman produced
the drawing that Philo had made for him many years before as a student. At that moment, the legal experts for RCA
knew they had lost.
Philo Farnsworth won the legal action and the right to
own the invention of television.
However, he did not have the money or support to build a television
industry. It was the nineteen fifties
before television became a major force in American life. Vladimir Zworykin and
David Sarnoff, the head of RCA, became the names connected with the new
Farnsworth continued to invent more than one hundred devices that helped make
modern television possible. He also
developed early radar, invented the first electronic microscope, and worked on
developing peaceful uses of atomic energy. In his last years, Mister Farnsworth
became a strong critic of television. He did not like most of the programs
shown on television. Yet, as he watched Neil Armstrong's first step on the
moon, Mister Farnsworth knew the event clearly showed the power of his
Farnsworth died in March, nineteen seventy-one.
Today, a statue of him stands in the United States Capitol. He is considered one of the most important
inventors of the twentieth century.
program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Phoebe Zimmermann.
I'm Steve Ember. Listen again next week
for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.