FARNSWORTH, PHILO

U.S. Inventor

Philo Taylor Farnsworth, who has been called the forgotten father of television, won a prize offered by the Science and Invention magazine for developing a thief proof automobile ignition switch, at the age of thirteen. Most remarkable from his high school experience was the diagram he drew for his chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman. This drawing proved to be the pattern for his later experiments in electronics and was instrumental in winning a patent interference case between Farnsworth and Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Farnsworth's work spanned the continent. His first laboratories were in his Hollywood home; later he and his family moved to San Francisco, Philadelphia, Fort Wayne, Indiana and Salt Lake City. Farnsworth's experimentation began in 1926 in San Francisco, where he established his first corporation, Farnsworth Television Incorporated in 1929. And here the first crude television image was created from the Farnsworth system when a photograph of a young woman was transmitted in the San Francisco Green Street laboratory on 7 September 1927. The first patents for the Farnsworth television system were filed January 1927.

In 1931, Farnsworth moved to Philadelphia to establish a television department for Philco. By 1933 when Philco decided that television patent research was no longer a part of its corporate vision, Farnsworth returned to his own labs. In 1938, he established the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation. This research and manufacturing company was later purchased by the International Telephone and Telegraph Company (IT and T). Farnsworth's work for IT and T included both television and nuclear fusion. In December 1938, Farnsworth moved to Salt Lake City to organize his last venture: Philo T. Farnsworth and Associates. Its purpose was to continue the work on fusion he started at IT&T.

According to the corporate prospectus for Farnsworth and Associates the development of Farnsworth's ideas over the years resulted in "every television set sold utilizing at least six of his basic patents." Historian Leonard J. Arrington credits Farnsworth with 150 U.S. patents and "more than 100 foreign patents on various foreign inventions."

Farnsworth was an independent experimenter, a charismatic scientist, an idea person who was able to initiate ideas and convince investors. However, his primary focus was always in the laboratory. He was a workaholic and often left the business, investment and management responsibilities of his corporations to others as his experiments continued. He was often so immersed is his inventions that it was reported he would forget to eat. His health proved to be a challenge throughout his life. His wife, Elma "Pem" Gardner-Farnsworth worked with him in the earliest labs as a technician and a bookkeeper and Philo himself said, "my wife and I started television." After Philo died it was Pem who worked to assure his recognition for his inventions and his consequent place in history. In many ways his work brings to an end the era of independent inventors. He was the recipient of numerous awards from scientific and honors societies, and the 1983 U.S. postal stamp commemorates the inventor. In 1981 a historical marker was placed on the San Francisco Green Street Building where the first Farnsworth television image was projected. In 1990 a statue was dedicated in Washington's Statuary Hall--the inscription reads Philo Taylor Farnsworth: Inventor of Television.

-Donald Godfrey

 

PHILO T(AYLOR) FARNSWORTH. Born in Beaver Creek, Utah, U.S.A., 19 August 1906. Educated at Rigby Idaho High School; attended Brigham Young University, 1923-25. Married Elma "Pem" Gardner, 1926, four children. Research director at Crocker Research Labs, 1926; founded Farnsworth Television Incorporated, 1929; organized television department for Philco, 1931-33; vice-president and director of research and engineering at Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation, 1938; researcher in television and nuclear fusion for International Telephone and Telegraph Company, from 1949; president and director of research for Farnsworth Research Corporation, 1957; president and director of Philo T. Farnsworth Associates, Inc., 1968. Honorary doctorates of science from the Indiana Institute of Technology, 1951; Brigham Young University, 1968. Member of American Physics Society. Named to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, 1968. Died in Salt Lake City, Utah, 11 March 1971.

FURTHER READING

Barnouw, Erik. Tube of Plenty: The Evolution of American Television. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Everson, George. The Story of Television: The Life of Philo T. Farnsworth. New York: Norton, 1949.

Farnsworth, Elma G. Distant Vision. Salt Lake City, Utah: Pemberly Kent, 1989.

Farnsworth Papers. Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, and University of Utah Libraries, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Godfrey, Donald G., and Alf Pratte. "Elma 'Pem' Gardner Farnsworth: The Pioneering of Television." Journalism History (Northridge, California), Summer 1994.

Hofer, Stephen F. "Philo Farnsworth: Television's Pioneer." Journal of Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), Spring 1979.

 

See also Television Technology