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TELEVISION: Window on the World - Section C: Our Friend the Electron

Jeffrey Syken

“Now, we add sight to sound”
David Sarnoff

When Sarnoff, president of RCA, formally introduced television to the world (from a podium in front of the RCA Exhibit Building at the 1939 New York World’s Fair), he heralded it as: “the birth of a new art and a new industry, which eventually will provide entertainment and information for millions.” He was right. There were many others who would be instrumental in the development of “Seeing-at-a-Distance” (a/k/a “Tele-Vision”), some of them you’ve probably heard of such as Philo T. Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworykin, but there were many others whose names have been lost to history (i.e. Charles Francis Jenkins and John Logie Baird). Although David Sarnoff’s contribution was not technical, it was critical in that it was his vision of television’s potential (and his willingness to sacrifice millions of RCA dollars in pursuit of that vision) that would, ultimately, make the modern television industry a practical reality.

In its formative years, television - a derivative of radio, was seeking a path-of-least-resistance to commercial acceptance. By the mid-1920s, it seemed “Mechanical Television,” whereby a motor-driven spinning scanning disk formed images, was the answer. But there were those who realized the limitations of mechanical television and, instead, pursued an electronic solution, building upon the work of those who came before them. This would lead to the development and acceptance, by 1932, of “Electronic Television” as “the way forward.” Delayed by WWII, after the war monochrome (black-and-white) television would develop both technically and commercially into the fledgling industry David Sarnoff had foreseen. By the mid-1950s, the focus was on Chroma (color) television and, by the mid-1960s, color television had come-of-age. In the ensuing years, the “Holy Grail” would be “Mural TV” (flat-screen). With major advances in electronic technology, that too was made manifest.

In 1925, a Japanese high school teacher named Kenjiro Takayanagi began research on television after reading about the new technology in a French magazine. He developed a system similar to that of J.L. Baird, using a “Nipkow disk” to scan the subject and generate electrical signals. However, unlike Baird, Takayanagi took the important step of using a Cathode-Ray Tube (CRT) to display the received signal, thereby developing the first “All-Electronic” television receiving set. On December 25, 1926, Takayanagi successfully demonstrated his system at Hamamatsu Industrial High School where, at the time, he was teaching. This demonstration occurred several months before P.T. Farnsworth demonstrated his first fully electronic system (which did not require a Nipkow disk) on September 7, 1927. In 1923, Vladimir Kosma Zworykin filed a patent application for an Iconoscope (“image observer”) - the first practical television transmission tube. The device used the photo-electric effect (the ejection of electrons from metals by the action of light) as a basis for scanning and converting images into electric currents. The last serious obstacle to practical electronic television had been removed.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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