Why Television Was Invented

You simply cannot believe the number of people searching the Interwebs for "why was television invented?"

For the record, no-one knows why television was invented, though we might guess. And of all inventions perhaps television best fits the "why not" category.

So, Why?

Some believe the born to rule class invented TV to distract the poor from rich people's thieving ways.

Others claim that women would eventually tire of knitting - whilst pipe-smoking hubby read the newspaper, drumming his feet as an ever so subtle signal for her to deliver his slippers, or to retrieve more wood for the fire - and demand something to watch that was more tolerable than that misogynistic pig's sour face.

The strongest theory is that capitalism wanted to sell stuff, and its marketing arm knew that if a picture was worth a thousand words, a moving picture was worth a thousand still ones.

Scientists would only posit the postulate that television was invented because scientists are so clever it's invention was inevitable.

But Throsby points to the obvious: it was invented so we could watch it. 

How it was invented

If, however, you wish to know how it was invented, here is a potted history of TV written by the unpaid intern ~

No one person can be claimed as the inventor of television. Hundreds of scientists in various parts of the world have added individual ideas over the past one hundred years towards the development of TV as we know it, and advances are still being made.

In 1817, Baron Jons Jakob Berzelius, a Swedish chemist, discovered an element which he called selenium. His discovery was studiously ignored and filed under "barely useful" until the 1870s when an egghead stumbled upon the oddity that selenium - a non-metallic element - became a strong conductor of electricity when it is exposed to light. The term photoelectric was born.

Using the photoelectric properties of selenium, Russian engineer Paul Nipkow, working in Germany in 1884, proposed a theoretical television system.

Nipkow scanned his early television subjects by using a rotating disc perforated with holes in a spiral pattern. The light reflected from the subject passed through each hole and fell with varying intensity on selenium cells. The fluctuating voltage produced by the cells changed the brightness of a lamp in the receiver.

A second disc, similar to the one used to scan the subject and revolving in step with it, was placed between the lamp and the observer, who thus saw a reproduction of the subject.

Scottish inventor John Logie Baird began experiments in 1923, using the Nipkow disc, combined with optics and vacuum tube amplifiers. [Side note: Annual Australian television awards, similar to the Oscars, are named "Logies" a moniker that has startled foreign visitors to that country for decades.]

Baird gave the first demonstration of his 'televisor' to forty selected guests in his London laboratory on January 27th, 1926. The flickering image measured seven inches high by three inches wide, and was composed of thirty narrow strips.

Baird struggled to convince the BBC of television's potential (some believe he is still trying to) and it wasn't until September 30th, 1929, that the first public telecast was made. The viewing audience was watching fewer than thirty receivers.

In 1928, Baird was working on 'colour' television, but his private notes suggest he wasn't convinced it would reach full potential until lcd flat screens were invented. 

He proved the possibility of outside broadcasting in 1931, when he televised the Derby race meeting. The following year, an astounded theatre audience watched the race on Baird's TV screen, measuring eight feet by ten feet.

The first all-electronic and totally iconic television camera tube, the iconoscope, was invented in 1923 and eventually successfully introduced in 1933 by the American engineer, Vladimir Kosma Zworykin [Discussion continues on whether that was his real name or the operational status of his prototypes].

This all-electronic system, using cathode ray tubes, displaced the mechanical system, and is the basic principle used today.

During the 1930s, almost identical television advances were made in Britain and the United States - which strongly suggests industrial spying, and we know which side of the pond they most likely came from (ah stole it fair 'n square) - and stations were increasing their regular TV transmissions.

On April 30th, 1939, the first regular commercial television broadcasts were begun in New York. All television production was suspended during World War II, but experiments continued.

In 1941, Baird had developed a six hundred line 'colour' television system, which was a very high resolution affair, as at its analogue peak, the 625 line systems (PAL) were to be the most widely praised, if not adopted, while the Americans were to ultimately make do with their sad little 525 lines. Baird was working on stereoscopic TV when he died in 1945. 

In 1946, after World War II, TV began to burst upon the scene with a speed unforeseen even by the most optimistic leaders of the industry. The novelty of seeing TV pictures in the home caught the public's fancy and began a revolution in the world of entertainment.

By 1950, television had grown into a major part of show business. Many film and stage stars switched to TV. Television audiences increased. Stations that once telecast a few hours a day sometimes telecast around the clock in the 1960s.

Even as audiences dwindle, operating hours of small regional networks run 24 hours and the number of independent feeds (digital channels)  doubles yearly.


Some (those who work in the industry) believe that television has only a decade or two of life remaining (circa 2020/30) before becoming indistinguishable from the sea of media, due mainly to ubiquitous links to the Internet in 21st century technology with all appliances eventually web-connected.

As I writes this (2012) an exit poll of 2000 acquaintances confirms no-one under 30 years of age watches television, and none of primary school age can identify or name the call signs of their regional channels .. or can explain even what that means.

As a child, I recall the entire population of our small city would squeeze into a local theatre as the audience of a live radio show. Radio!! What's that?

Also at this time (2012) sales of Internet-ready television sets with full computer/network connectivity are universal, guaranteeing a rapid loss of identity for conventional industry media sources.

Interesting times. 

Plagiarism note

Kids, knock yerselves out. Free for re-use. But be creative. Teach will find this with a quick search, so insert your plagiarisms in parenth. The more astute of you will suspect many phrases above might be found in a certain Wikipedia article. The intern was sacked without pay.

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