That’s a simple question that does not yield a simple answer. Pinpointing exactly who was solely responsible in the invention of television is like trying to find a specific grain of sand on a beach. Many people credit Philo Taylor Farnsworth as the inventor, but the truth is that many different people were involved in television’s conception. It must also be noted that television went through various formats, all of which have their own respective pioneers. Before television as we know it, there was mechanical television and electronic television.
Who invented mechanical television?
Paul Gottlieb Nipkow was credited with developing the Nipkow disk in 1884. This rotating-disc technology was capable of transmitting picture through wire. Nipkow was the first person to discover television’s scanning principle, where small portions of an image could be analyzed and transmitted through light intensities. Charles Francis Jenkins and John Logie Baird contributed to the work of Nipkow to really help television grow during its mechanical infancy. Before the age of the CRT…
What is CRT?
German scientist Karl Braun invented the cathode ray tube (CRT) oscilloscope in 1897. If you have ever seen a pre-flat-screen era television, the CRT is the picture tube fitted into these enormous boxes making up the rounded screen. This gave birth to the electronic television movement, which was further perfected by the likes of Russian inventor Vladimir Kosma Zworykin and Philo Taylor Farnsworth.
In 1929, Zworykin improved on the CRT of Braun and created his own variant called the kinescope. The kinescope was crucial to the future of modern picture tubes and demonstrated television’s growing potential and capabilities in the market of media.
Farnsworth is credited as the inventor of the first fully-functional all-electronic television system. In 1927, he was also the first inventor to transmit a television image comprised of 60 horizontal lines. He also invented the dissector tube, which became the foundation of many then-current electronic televisions. Oh, and in case you were wondering about the first image that he transmitted, it was a dollar sign ($).
What about ‘rabbit ears’ and color TV and cable?
You can thank Marvin Middlemark for the invention of the “rabbit ears” or the “V” TV antennae. Of course, most Millennials reading this might not know what this refers to so here’s a brief description. Back in the day, way before flat screen TVs and whole-home DVRs, viewers received television signal via antennae. The principle was similar to how a lot of radios and cars functioned with antennae (before sleeker, shark-finned designs became dominant).
“Rabbit ears” were for receiving TV picture and they could be configured in various ways to make the picture better or worse. Some people also modified them using aluminum foil.
As far as color goes, while it’s true that the first FCC-authorized broadcast of color television was on December 17, 1953, the history is much older. A German patent issued in 1904 is the earliest-known proposal for color TV, and the aforementioned Zworykin filed a patent for an all-electronic color television in 1925.
As for cable, formerly known as CATV (Community Antenna Television), that was born in the late 1940s up in the mountains of Pennsylvania.