John Logie Baird, inventor of the television



John Logie Baird (August 13, 1888 – June 14, 1946) was a Scottish engineer, who is best known as the inventor of the first working television system. If he were alive today, he'd be amazed at the progress of television, with LCD and plasma slim screens doing away with the vacuum tube and copper coils. We think that he'd be pleased to see such progress. Baird was born in Helensburgh, Scotland, the son of a clergyman. Despite suffering from health problems, he showed signs of brilliance quite early in life, with some novel ideas.

Baird was born in Helensburgh, Argyll, Scotland, the son of a clergyman. He was educated at Larchfield School (now part of Lomond School), Helensburgh; the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (which later became the University of Strathclyde); and the University of Glasgow. His degree course was interrupted by World War I and he never graduated. Being rejected by the forces as unfit, he started serving as superintendent engineer of the Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company.




John Logie Baird, inventor of the television


John Logie Baird



Television experiments


In his first attempts to invent television, Baird experimented with the Nipkow disk and demonstrated that a semi-mechanical analogue television system was possible with the transmission of a static image of a ventriloquist's dummy in London in February 1924. This early system was highly primitive—images were difficult to view and transmitted only in shades of brown. On October 30, 1925 the first moving image was transmitted—the now famous grainy image of a ventriloquists dummy's head. Baird later transmitted the image of a local boy he had paid to take part in his experiments to a crowd of onlookers. Although the development of television was the result of work by many inventors (including Baird, Paul Gottlieb Nipkow and Boris Rosing; see Television: History), Baird is one of its foremost pioneers. He is generally credited with being the first person to produce a discernible television image, and went on to produce other advances in the field. Hastings, in East Sussex, UK, claims to be the 'Birthplace of Television' as it was there he was living for health reasons when he did much of his research work into his televisor. Hastings would claim to be the place where electro-mechanical television was first actually perfected and demonstrated.


From December 1944 until his death in 1946, Baird lived at a house in Station Road, Bexhill On Sea - immediately north of the Station itself. Currently named "Baird Court" Rother District Council gave permission for this property to be demolished and the land used for a modern block of flats in 2006, despite the efforts of many local residents who believed that this property should be listed and preserved due to its historical importance.




John Logie Baird with his "televisor", circa 1925



First public demonstration


The first public demonstration of moving silhouette images was in the Selfridges department store in London in 1925. The first true television system (with gradations of light and shade) was demonstrated to the Royal Institution and a reporter from The Times on January 26, 1926 in the Soho district of London (at 22 Frith Street).


On October 30, 1925, John Logie Baird had been successful in transmitting his first true television picture in the laboratory: the head of a ventriloquist's dummy. Looking for publicity he visited the Daily Express newspaper to promote his invention. The news editor was terrified. Later he was quoted by one of his staff as saying:" For God's sake, go down to reception and get rid of a lunatic who's down there. He says he's got a machine for seeing by wireless! Watch him-- he may have a razor on him." [1]




Inventor of television, John Logie Baird





In 1927 Baird transmitted a long-distance television signal over 438 miles of telephone line between London and Glasgow. He then set up the Baird Television Development Company Ltd, which in 1928 made the first transatlantic television transmission from London to Hartsdale, New York and also made the first television programme for the BBC. He televised the first live transmission of the Epsom Derby in 1931.


From 1929-1935, the BBC broadcast television programs using the 30-line Baird system. In late 1936 the BBC began alternating Baird 240-line intermediate film transmissions with EMI-Marconi's electronic scanning system which had recently been improved to 405-lines. The BBC ceased broadcasts with the Baird system in early 1937.


Though John Logie Baird is often given credit for 'inventing' television, Baird himself never claimed this, as his early experiments were all with mechanical systems. High definition electronic television as we know it was not invented by any one person, but through the efforts of many.


However, the research and development team at EMI in Hayes, assembled in by Isaac Shoenberg in 1932, was undoubtedly the first to produce a viable system. This was proved later when, following a series of test transmissions at Alexandra Palace from November 1936 to February 1937, the EMI 405-line system was chosen by the BBC for the worlds first regular television service.


Alan Blumlein, as head of this team, was therefore the key figure in the development of the electronic high definition television system.


Baird's television systems were therefore replaced by an electronic television system developed by EMI-Marconi under Isaac Shoenberg, similar to the system described by A.A. Campbell-Swinton, improved by Kalman Tihanyi in 1926, and initially developed by Vladimir Zworykin. Philo T. Farnsworth's Image Dissector camera was available to Baird, however it was found to be lacking in light sensitivity.




John Logie Baird


Other inventions


Baird's numerous other developments demonstrate his particular talent at invention. He developed, in 1928, a primitive video recording device, which he dubbed Phonovision. The system consisted of a Phonodisc, which was a 78rpm record that could play a 30 line video signal. His other developments were in fibre-optics, radio direction finding, infrared night viewing and radar. There still remain, however, questions about his exact contributions to the development of radar, for his wartime defense projects have never been officially acknowledged by the British government. According to Malcolm Baird, his son, what is known is that in 1926 Baird filed a patent for a device that formed images from reflected radio waves, a device remarkably similar to radar, and that he was in correspondence with the British government at the time. Much of the information regarding Baird's work in this area is just beginning to emerge.


Baird made many other contributions to the field of television before and after his mechanical system fell into disfavor. In 1928 he demonstrated the first colour television and true stereoscopic television. In 1932 he was the first to demonstrate ultra-short wave transmission. In 1941 he demonstrated a 600 line HDTV colour system, and during 1944 he tried to persuade British authorities to adopt his 1000+ line Telechrome electronic colour system as the new post-war broadcast standard. He also demonstrated a big screen television system at the London Coliseum, Berlin, Paris and Stockholm.








Baird came to Hastings, Sussex in the spring of 1923 after suffering a health breakdown. The south coast of England was then considered to have restorative powers, a view which shared by Baird of the sea air, having staged an earlier recovery with the help of the sea. The Baird family rented a house at 1 Station Road, across the road from the train station and London trains. A new company called John Logie Baird Ltd. had been formed to promote his recent inventions which included the "Telechrome", the world's first cathode ray tube for colour television.

By the late 1930s the Baird family enjoyed an affluent lifestyle in a large house in Sydenham, Kent, near the Baird company's laboratories and factory. This company went into receivership when broadcast television was stopped at the outbreak of war. 


The inventor carried on doing research on television at his own expense, while his wife and two children Malcolm (born 1935) and Diana (born 1932) moved to the remoteness and relative safety of North Cornwall.


With the end of the war in sight in 1944, their house at Sydenham had become uninhabitable due to bomb damage. For this reason the family moved to Bexhill in January 1945.



The secret life of John Logie Baird

Memoirs of John Logie Baird, Televeision and Me







Baird died in Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, England in 1946 after suffering a stroke in February of that year. He'd spent the last 18 months of his short and eventful life in Bexhill, where he died on June 14th at the age of 57. 





In 1944, the end of World War II was in sight. A British government committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Hankey, was set up to consider the future of television broadcasting and the television industry after the end of the war. 


Among the many witnesses from the BBC and industry was one private citizen, John Logie Baird. His contribution was given in 6 parts:

1. War research and television development
2. Reopening of service on the 1939 standard of definition
3. Television research
4. New television service of radically improved type
5. Home market
6. Foreign market



Part 4 of the above 6, reveals Baird’s ideas for the long-term technical future of television, reproduced below in part. It is most interesting to compare his predictions as to the development of television, with that having taken place. For example plasma and LCD developments, to name but a few.

4. New television service of radically improved type

The ideal television service should show a picture in colour and stereoscopic relief and should operate on an international standard of the order of definition represented by 1000 lines in conjunction with an International worldwide Television Broadcasting Service.

Before this position can be arrived at considerable time must lapse and, in my view, one or more intermediate steps are inevitable.

The first step and the one in which I am most immediately interested in is the introduction of colour and stereoscopic relief and I would like to make clear the position in regard to these branches of television.

Colour and stereoscopic television were shown for the first time when I gave a demonstration at the annual meeting of the British Association in 1928. In 1939 I showed colour television using a cathode ray tube in front of which revolved a disc fitted with colour filters. The system was developed by me during the war, and was also taken up by the Columbia Broadcasting company and the General Electric Company in the United States of America.

The disadvantage of having to use a revolving disc led me to evolve a system with no moving parts.

The first system used was to superimpose optically coloured images produced side by side on the face of a cathode ray tube. This had the disadvantage that the picture on the fluorescent screen could not be received directly. The disadvantage was overcome in a second system, which gives a very bright picture directly on the fluorescent screen without any optical projection.


John Logie Baird, Scottish inventor of television and broadcaster


Stereoscopic television (forerunner of 3D)

I have developed several forms of stereoscopic television. The first has the advantage of simplicity and can be used with a two colour system with no alteration to the receiver. The audience must, however, [wear] coloured glasses. In the second system no glasses are required, the picture being viewed directly. It is restricted to a few persons sitting in a fixed position. In this system the restriction is overcome and the picture can be viewed from any position, no glasses being required.

A diagram of the 3-gun Telechrome television picture tube. Three colour reproduction was by means of three electron beams acting on a screen. The screen was coated with phosphors which emitted the three colour bands as required.

The best results have been given by a three colour system showing stereoscopic relief without the aid of glasses. A three colour system such as this gives better colour rendering than a two colour, and stereoscopy without glasses is much to be preferred to the use of glasses. A two colour system gives however, so many practical advantages, and so greatly simplifies the apparatus both for colour and stereoscopy that, in my view the most practical apparatus that I have developed - for present transmitting conditions - is a two colour 600 line stereoscopic system.

This has the following advantages:

1. Colour pictures sent out can be received on pre-war television sets without alteration as monochrome pictures.

2. No change is required in present wireless transmitters and only small change in studio equipment.

3. Pictures in stereoscopic relief can be received on colour receiving sets without any alteration in these sets.

4. No revolving discs or moving parts necessary.

5. Definition can be increased to 600 lines or the present 405 lines used.

If the British Broadcasting Corporation decided to add colour and stereoscopy on this system attachments could be fitted to their existing apparatus so that items in colour or in stereoscopic relief could be introduced into their programmes, possibly in the first place as experimental interludes.

With his childhood friend, Jack Buchanan, Baird formed a new company with the idea of creating an independent television company broadcasting a colour TV service. He was years ahead of his time.



Oil portrait of John Logie Baird






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