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A Brief History Of Television

The history of television has been a brief but exciting one. In fact, it has been so short that many of our parents were there from the beginning or if you are young enough, your grandparents.

Unlike many other inventions throughout history, the history of the television credits many inventors instead of just one. In this case, there were many inventors working on the idea of watching pictures on a screen. 

Inventors from all over the world had been working on transmitting pictures or objects onto a screen since the 1830’s, but the first physical television didn’t evolve until the 1900’s.  Five men became the most popular and prestigious inventors of what we know today as television, giving the history of TV a rich beginning.

Early TV Designs

Photo: Antique TV

1960's portable television

Photo: Antique TV

1958 retro television

Photo: Antique TV

1952 console television set

A German inventor named Paul Nipkow invented the first rotating disk that would allow pictures to transmit over wire in 1884.  His discovery was the first electromechanical television scanning system in the world.  This rotating disk would rotate at a fast pace, while light passed through the holes to create a picture on a screen.

John Baird became famous when he invented the first pictures in motion that were televised in Europe in 1924.  He later transmitted the human face onto a screen, and during World War II invented the first color picture tube.  While it would be some time before color TV became a staple in American households, his contribution to the history of TV was enormous.

Charles Jenkins invented a mechanical television that he called “radiovision,” which was said to have transmitted one of the first moving images in 1923.  This American inventor went on to promote his theories in the technology of the television along with other inventors when they transmitted the first live pictures onto a screen.  This pilgrim in the history of the television is also famous for creating the first television station in North America.

Vladimir Zworykin invented the Cathode Ray tube, which he named the Kinescope and started a new era in the history of TV.  Before the Kinescope, televisions in the 1920’s were mechanical.  The Cathode Ray tube was not only needed for transmission; this device transformed the television into an electronic device.

Finally, an American farmer named Philo Farnsworth made a breakthrough in the history of TV at the age of 13, when he discovered a way to transmit images onto a screen by the use of 60 horizontal lines, which made the picture clearer.  Farnsworth also invented over 165 devices, including the dissector tube, which became the groundwork for televisions we use today.

First Commercial Televisions

People were very curious and excited about the new televisions coming to the public.  However, some feared the new technology, thinking that televisions could transmit personal conversations onto the TV.  The 1928 Baird model mechanical television sets were introduced to the public at the “Olympia” Radio Exhibition in 1929.  These mechanical TV sets projected orange-red blurry images on a screen about the size of a dollar coin.

The first televisions sold for about fifty-five dollars, which only people of wealth could afford.  Electronic televisions were introduced to the United States at the 1939 World’s Fair. The first electronic television set was the 1938 DuMont Model 180 and cost around one hundred twenty-five dollars.

Early Television

When the first television came on the market, you could only watch a play on a screen the size of a dollar coin.  The actors also had to take turns in front of the camera, because the screen was only big enough to see one person at a time.  The real millstone of the era - the Cathode Ray Tube would in one form or another be the basis for all televisions for nearly 100 years . In 1931 Allen B. Du Mont made the first commercially practical and durable CRT for television. The CRT technology allowed TV screens to get bigger and better. But it's easy to forget that all televisions during these early years were black and white. It wasn't until 1953 that the introduction of the first color TV broadcasts occured and manufacturers raced to make color TVs for eager consumers. Most people did not get a color Tv until the mid 60's.

TVs and the VCR

Another milestone in making TV more modern was nothing to do with the TV itself, but in one of its accessories, the VCR. Now, people did not need to be actually watching their television sets when the program they wanted to see came on. They could setup a video cassette recorder to record the show for playback later when it was more convenient for them. The VCR also became a standard for watching Hollywood movies at home. This was the first nail in the coffin of Hollywood’s power. Next came the DVD. This was an optical media that had much higher resolution and a cleaner picture than VCR’s could attain due to its all digital nature. This milestone wet peoples appetites for increasing   picture quality an eventually led to HDTV, one of the largest milestones since color television. This brought the number of lines of resolution up from 525 to 1080. The difference was night and day.  

The replacement of DVD with Blu Ray was another milestone in the history of television. Now the Hollywood movies we brought home could be viewed in the modern 1080p format. The latest milestone for television is 3D. This is agued to no end as to whether or not it really is a milestone or just a fad. Originally theaters used 3D to try to bring people out of their home theaters and back into the real theaters. It was no time, however, before 3D made the move to home theaters. Theater owners will have to come up with something new to drag people from their televisions again.                                    

A Bright Future for TV’s

The future of TV is as bright as has been the history of television. We look ahead to the next milestone, the 4K resolution. This refers to the horizontal resolution of the picture. Compared to 1080P, this will yield a 4 to 6 fold improvement in resolution depending on the vertical resolution used.

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