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John Logie Baird: the Man Who Invented Television

Updated on June 18, 2017
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Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in a wide range of contexts.

Memorial of John Logie Baird

Memorial bust of John Logie Baird.
Memorial bust of John Logie Baird. | Source

The Inventor of Television

John Logie Baird will always be remembered as the man who invented television.

While it is true that subsequent scientific developments and refinements in technology later dwarfed his original idea, it is only right that John Logie Baird is still given credit for the invention of the television.

It was his early experiments in a small laboratory he had put together in the attic rooms of his London apartment that lead to the first successful transmission of primitive, moving, gray-scale images. The details of the mechanisms would later be radically changed, but he was the first person to broadcast a live moving image.

He had not been alone in making the attempt.

The German inventor, Arthur Korn, was close on his tail. In October of 1906 he had been able to live broadcast a still, black-and-white image of a photograph. The broadcast was remarkable because it happened over a distance of over one thousand miles. It was an incredible achievement at the time. However, Korn never managed to figure out how to send a live, moving image.

There was another German, by name of Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, who had invented a method of transmitting a fuzzy, static image.

The live moving image was the Holy Grail that these knights of science were seeking. It was John Logie Baird who would find it.

The Site of the First Television Demonstration

The where John Logie Baird invented television.
The where John Logie Baird invented television. | Source

John Logie Baird: Electrocution and Eviction!

During the early nineteen twenties, John Logie Baird had rooms and a small laboratory in the sea-side town of Hastings, just on the south coast from London in the UK.

It was in that laboratory that he first succeeded in projecting, by televisual means, a moving silhouette across the walls.

Unfortunately, during a later experiment he electrocuted himself quite badly. Tinkering later at night with one of his instruments he took a shock of over one thousand volts. Not only did this leave him shaken and lucky to be alive but it also blew out the fuse box in the entire building.

The landlord had been suspicious for some time of the strange goings on in the curious Scottish gentleman's apartment and he was politely asked to leave.

It was after that that he moved to a more modest - and perhaps less particular - accommodation in Soho, London. There is now a blue plaque on the building which commemorates his invention.

First Public Television Broadcast

A publicity shot issued 1956 for the 30th anniversary of NBC's first. public broadcast.. The Felix the Cat was already a popular character.
A publicity shot issued 1956 for the 30th anniversary of NBC's first. public broadcast.. The Felix the Cat was already a popular character. | Source

John Logie Baird's First Demonstration of 'The Televisor'

In his new apartment, John Logie Baird continued his researches and experiments.

He knew he was close to a breakthrough and spent many hours late into the night carefully refining and adjusting his apparatus.

Success finally smiled on him and on October 25th, 1925 he was able to transmit his first moving, gray-scale image. The image that he transmitted was of a talking ventriloquist's dummy.

This was the first time that any such feat had been achieved. Unfortunately, he was alone in his laboratory at the time and his eyes were the only ones to witness it. However, he did take photographs of the images, although I have been unable to obtain rights to reproduce them here.

He called his invention 'The Televisor.'

The Televisor

Baird demonstrated his first apparatus, which he named 'the televisor' to an audience of enthralled witnesses on June 16th, 1926.

None of them imagined just what an impact his invention would have on the modern world.

What Was the First Television Picture Like?

The first images that John Logie Baird managed to broadcast were very primitive compared to today's technology.

They were composed of only thirty vertical lines (rather than the millions of pixels that now make up our images).

The image was 'refreshed' (to create the illusion of movement) about five times every second, although by the time he made his first public demonstration, John Logie Baird had got that figure up to twelve and a half times per second!

The first images were quite poor in terms of clarity but no less astonishing for that.

The First Domestic Television

Commissioners in New York inspect the first 'light weight' television set suitable for domestic use in 1939. Seventy years on and I have a device in my pocket that I can watch TV on!
Commissioners in New York inspect the first 'light weight' television set suitable for domestic use in 1939. Seventy years on and I have a device in my pocket that I can watch TV on! | Source

The First Public Demonstration of Television.

After his success that night in October, John Logie Baird went on to invite a special audience of fifty people to squeeze into his attic laboratory to witness a demonstration of his invention.

Among the guests at this historic event were scientists from The Royal Institution and a number of press reporters.

Baird showed them the transmission apparatus and gave an explanation of how the technology worked.

Then he transmitted live images of the same ventriloquist's dummy and his assistant - moving and speaking!

Color Television and Simultaneous Sound Broadcast.

That demonstration was only the beginning. Over subsequent years, Baird worked hard on further improving and developing his mechanisms.

He managed to transmit images over ever longer distances, achieving the first transatlantic broadcast in 1928.

He became the pioneer of color television, too. He was even showing the first experimental color television images as early as 1928.

By 1930 he had managed to develop a system for broadcasting simultaneous sound along with the images.

Television had truly been born.

Working Reconstruction of the First Television

How Did the First Television Work?

The first television was mechanical in design. The camera used a spinning disk punctured with holes that swept a narrow spiral of light over the subject.

The light was reflected onto a photoelectric cell. The cell outputted electrical signals of varying intensity depending on the intensity of the light. The subject had to sit in a dark booth.

The receiver picked up these impulses and transferred them to a neon lamp. The lamp brightened and darkened according to the impulses received. The light was cast through an identical spinning disk to that of the transmitter.

So a small, fuzzy image was projected onto a screen.

Early Television System Diagram

This is a diagram showing how the early mechanical television system worked.
This is a diagram showing how the early mechanical television system worked. | Source

The Beginnings of Commercial Television

Television was exploited commercially almost immediately after its invention.

The earliest commercial broadcasts all used the same mechanical technology that John Logie Baird had pioneered.

However, once the dollars started to roll, the technology was rapidly advanced.

By the 1930s EMI and Marconi had become the market leaders and had invested a lot of money on the development of the superior electronic television.

The last broadcast using Baird's system was made by the BBC in 1937.

Family Television

A family watching television together in 1958.
A family watching television together in 1958. | Source

John Logie Baird: Later Career

Baird continued to make many important contributions to the development of television.

He not only devised the new cathode ray system, but he also outlined the first method for making 3D television!

In 1944 he presented to the world the very first color television set.

He died in 1946.

His invention completely transformed modern life, how we communicate, how we see each other and the world and how we spend out time.

I wonder what he would have made of the content of modern broadcasting.

John Logie Baird and His Televisionin a Nutshell

August 13, 1888
Transmits moving silhouette
Transmits ventriloquist dummy - the first moving image
Soho, London
First Public Demonstration
First transatlantic transmission
London to New York
Commercial television
Color Television
Bexhill, UK
June 14, 1946

Rare Footage of John Logie Baird - on Television!

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I hope that you have enjoyed finding out about John Logie Baird and the invention of television as much as I have.

I am sure that he would have been astonished by the universal spread of his invention to all corners of the Earth and the impact that it has had, both good and bad, on the development of modern society.

If you would like to explore this topic further, there are some links to useful resources below.

Please take a moment to answer the poll before you go. Thank you!

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© 2013 Amanda Littlejohn

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    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 3 years ago

      Hey, LongTimeMother!

      Thanks for that great contribution to the hub - I had no idea!

      Bless you :)

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      Did you know that Australia's television awards are called the 'Logies'? Just as America has the Emmy Awards, we have the Logie Awards - named after John Logie Baird.

      Kids might be interested to know that Kylie Minogue won a Gold Logie when she was just 19 (in 1988) as an actress on 'Neighbours' and became the youngest person to win a Gold Logie.

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi Kosmo!

      I'll confess I'd never heard of Zworykin, so thanks for that information! But I did mention both Arthur Korn and Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, who may be the Germans you are referring to.

      In the end, however, it was Baird who finally cracked it and I think he deserves the credit for that. If we credit all contributing antecedents we end up back at the Big Bang! ;)

      Yes, science is the best. Well, if you don't count organic, home made lemon cookies, that is.

      Thanks for dropping in. Bless you :)

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      This Baird fellow is very impressive. But don't forget guys like Vladimir Zworykin, who was working with CRTs, as well as a sending and receiving system about the same time as Baird. There was also some German scientist who was working with the basics of television back in the late 1800s. To be fair, they should all be given credit for inventing TV. At any rate, very good hub. Isn't science fun to write about? Later!

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi ytsenoh!

      Thanks for reading and making such a supportive comment. I'm happy that you learned something new here. Yes, I remember the old television. I also remember long before the days of 24/7 programming. Even in the afternoon sometimes there would be literally nothing on television!

      As you say, we have come a long way since then but I wonder that it hasn't done us much good.

      Bless you :)

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 4 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      What an absolutely comprehensive hub about a medium that has taken over to many lives!! Good job and thumbs up for sure. This was very interesting and informative and you did a great job in your displays and images. And, I learned something new. I never knew who invented the television. I do remember the metal boxed contraption we had when I was younger that was only in black and white. Amazing how far we have come since then! Thanks.

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi stephanieb27!

      Thanks for the votes! It's funny how many people have never heard of him! I love the old photos, too. And that footage of the very first TV image is astonishing, isn't it?

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment. Bless you :)

    • stephanieb27 profile image

      stephanieb27 4 years ago from United States

      Voted up and interesting! I, too, have not heard of John Baird before today. I loved the old pictures! :)

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi pstraubie48!

      Thanks for your kind comment. It's interesting that there are quite a few folk who really have never heard of John Logie Baird before, even though almost all of us have televisions now days.

      Thanks for the angels. Bless you :)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      So maybe we should begin tinkering around to see what we can come up with. this is very interesting...before today I had not known of Mr Baird.

      thanks for sharing

      Sending Angels your way :) ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      So maybe we should begin tinkering around to see what we can come up with. this is very interesting...before today I had not known of Mr Baird.

      thanks for sharing

      Sending Angels your way :) ps

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Yes, it's all John Logie Baird's fault!

      In the early days, to be fair to him, when the BBC made the first television programs they said their mission was 'to educate and inform.' I don't think he ever imagined that it would be used for some of the things that go out now.

      I have a television in a cupboard somewhere but I haven't watched it for a very long time. I'm too busy and when I want to relax, there are other more fulfilling pursuits that I enjoy.

      Thanks for your comment, billybuc. Bless you :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      So that's who we have to blame for this mess we have now. :) Good to know! Actually that was quite interesting and I had no idea he was the one. I remember the first color telecast, or one of the first....Disneys Wonderful World of exciting that was! Now we don't even own a television and don't miss it at all.