Philo Farnsworth Electronic Television
January 24, 2012 by staff
Philo Farnsworth Electronic Television, Philo Taylor Farnsworth (August 19, 1906 – March 11, 1971) was an American inventor and television pioneer. Although he made many contributions that were crucial to the early development of all-electronic television, he is perhaps best known for inventing the first fully functional all-electronic image pickup device (video camera tube), the “image dissector”, the first fully functional and complete all-electronic television system, and for being the first person to demonstrate such a system to the public. Farnsworth developed a television system complete with receiver and camera, but he failed to produce his system commercially.
Farnsworth was born near Beaver, Utah. His family moved to Rigby, Idaho, when he was 11 years old, where Farnsworth began experimenting with electricity. In 1920, when Farnsworth was 14, he showed his high school chemistry teacher a design he had made for an electronic television. The next year Farnsworth entered Brigham Young University as a special freshman. Farnsworth soon left school and worked at odd jobs until he met a willing investor who lent him money to start building his television.
The television systems being experimented with at that time consisted of a system of spinning disks with holes punched in them and mirrors designed to convert light to electricity. These disks and mirrors could give only poor resolution. Farnsworth called his device an image dissector because it converted individual elements of the image into electricity one at a time. He replaced the spinning disks with cesium, an element that emits electrons when exposed to light. Farnsworth applied for a patent for his image dissector in 1927. The development of the television system was plagued by lack of money and by challenges to Farnsworth’s patent from the giant Radio Corporation of America (RCA). He spent his career as head of the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation, which he founded in 1929.
In 1934, the British communications company British Gaumont bought a license from Farnsworth to make systems based on his designs. In 1939, the American company RCA did the same. Both companies had been developing television systems of their own and recognized Farnsworth as a competitor. World War II (1939–1945) interrupted the development of television. When television broadcasts became a regular occurrence after the war, Farnsworth was not involved. Instead, he devoted his time to trying to perfect the devices he had designed.
Farnsworth also worked as a consultant in electronics and later as a researcher in atomic energy. He conducted research on radar and on nuclear energy. Farnsworth held 165 patents, mostly in radio and television.
In later life, Farnsworth invented a small nuclear fusion device, the Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor, or simply “fusor”, employing inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC). Although not a practical device for generating nuclear energy, the fusor serves as a viable source of neutrons. The design of this device has been the acknowledged inspiration for other fusion approaches including the Polywell reactor concept in terms of a general approach to fusion design.
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