Saturday, February 5, 2011

20th Century 20 - 13

Philo T. Farnsworth. Not an easily recognized name. When he went on the tv show I've Got a Secret the contestants failed to guess his secret.

He invented television.

The basic idea he worked out early, and it should be noted that his was the most successful electronic television, thanks to his video camera tube. Beyond the technical, however, Farnsworth created a device that the average American family greedily spends 50 hours a week with.

Television is the great entertainer. I worked with teachers who, going to visit their students in abysmal trailers and shacks, were bowled over to see that, even though their student may be wearing soiled clothes, the family had a big screen tv. It makes sense though: this device is a babysitter, therapist, and source of news in one. And that's not all...

As for the role of television in modern life, Farnsworth turned his back on his invention. He thought it was being used for rubbish, which it honestly is most of the time. He seemed to have changed his tune, though, with the broadcast of moon landing.

“I find television very educating. Every time some turns the set on I go in the other room and read a book.” This, from Groucho Marx who it must be said profited from the box's exploitation.

Personally I stumbled, literally, across the place of Farnsworth's genius. Trying to get to an evening engagement I found myself in a back alley at the base of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. I saw a plaque on the side of a warehouse-type building that recorded this site was where television had been invented.

I hurried on.

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