Philo Taylor Farnsworth was a 14-year-old farm boy in 1922 when he came up with the concept for all-electronic television while plowing a field. This exhibit honours his often overlooked genius and finally acknowledges Farnsworth’s amazing contributions to mankind.
This is a harrow disk from the actual plow 14-year-old Philo Farnsworth used in 1921 to create the lines in the dirt that inspired his concept for electronic television. His “big idea” was that if he could train electrons to scan a picture the way his horses moved across the field, he could send images to distant locations where they could be reconstructed line by line. He had not yet been to high school.
In 1926, 19-year-old Phil Farnsworth (he dropped the “o” from his name) secured an investment of $6,000 from two Salt Lake City businessmen, George Everson (right) and Les Gorrell (left), and began work in earnest on television. This tube, labeled “1,” is actually the very first electronic television camera. It never worked, but it was the start.
After World War II, Farnsworth’s patents started to expire. Anyone could use his technology without paying a royalty. Farnsworth’s tiny company couldn’t compete with RCA’s marketing power. Philo was driven to bankruptcy. He had a breakdown and moved to Maine to go fishing. Then he came up with an idea he thought was better than television. The television below is one of the last sets manufactured at the Farnsworth factory in Indiana.
Dated September 7, 1927, this is the first working electronic television camera tube. It was created by Pem Farnsworth’s brother, Cliff Gardner, based on Phil’s patents. The rounded lens resembled an eyeball and it broadcast a single line. As his wife danced around the lab, the 21-year-old inventor said, “I said I’d invent television and there it is.” When his backers asked when they might see some money in the “damn thing,” his next broadcast was a dollar sign.
The inventor’s progress is traced in this official Farnsworth Television Journal. On September 7, 1927, he wrote, “The received line picture was evident this time.” This bound volume, filled with descriptions, diagrams, and photographs, is marked as evidence in the Farnsworth patent victory over RCA.
This is the image dissector camera tube Philo Farnsworth took to show investors how the system worked. He had the lens sawed off to reveal a simulated picture on the optical image plate. That image was then scanned and converted to a trail of electrons.
The first television sets constantly needed adjusting. The tiny cathode ray tubes glowed greenish-gray images. This 1930s Farnsworth Television and camera recreated by Richard Grosser reveals how much “do-it-yourself” was required. Often, experimental television stations had only a few dozen viewers who could receive an image, and consumers were given custom station call letters.
RCA challenged Farnsworth’s patents claiming Zworykin’s came first, but they had no proof his system ever worked. Though their design for the iconoscope was different from Farnsworth’s image dissector, RCA could not convince the judge theirs was not fundamentally based on his. The legal victory meant Farnsworth would receive a royalty on every television made, but delays and World War II pushed his patents past expiration and he did not profit from his invention.
Visitors are welcome to purchase admission tickets in-person upon arrival, or here on our website via the ‘Buy Tickets’ button below. Take a deep dive into the history of television. Enjoy browsing the world’s most comprehensive collection of television receivers. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday (2pm-5pm), Saturday (10am-6pm), and is closed Sunday & Monday.
|Seniors and Students||$5|
|Groups 10 +||$5|
|Children 12 and under||FREE|